During the 2017-18 season, teenagers played more first team minutes at Hearts than at any other team in a European top flight, a total of 4,826 minutes (the equivalent of 3.5 days).
Scottish football, whilst not the prettiest, or perhaps of the highest quality, can still identify a decent young player and whether they go on to be a top player here, south of the border or at any level, clubs are always proud to give young players a chance. Here’s 10 of the best under 20 years old playing in the Scottish top tier.
Lewis Ferguson (Aberdeen)
A graduate of the Hamilton Academical youth system, most notable for producing both James McArthur and James McCarthy, Lewis Ferguson made his senior debut in January and became a mainstay in the side after Greg Docherty’s departure to Rangers.
Ferguson would sign a pre-contract with Aberdeen in May, making his debut for the Dons in July in the first leg of their Europa League tie with Burnley. In the second leg, at Turf Moor, he’d truly announce himself. An outrageous overhead kick was his first senior goal which flashed past Anders Lindegaard, Aberdeen eventually losing in extra time.
The 19 year-old also headed the winner in the Betfred Cup semi-final victory over dad Derek and uncle Barry’s former club Rangers to set up a final with Celtic and appears have the world at his feet in this his breakthrough season.
Connor McLennan (Aberdeen)
A teammate of Ferguson’s, Connor McLennan seems to be one of a handful of exciting young players that the Dons fans can get used to seeing time to time. After signing with the Dons at just eight years old, he turned professional at 16 years of age. Still only 19, there’s plenty of time for McLennan to make his mark.
He made his debut away at St Johnstone in April 2016 and has had a few loan spells at Brechin City, in both League 1 and the Championship following City’s promotion. On his first start for Aberdeen, he scored to extend their lead against lowly St Mirren and it appears this young man is just getting started. Hopefully there’s plenty more opportunities to come to showcase his talent.
Mikey Johnston (Celtic)
You could sit for a wee while and name a load of players plying their trade in England, in one of the greatest leagues in the world, that were sold on by Celtic. They can develop players like there’s no tomorrow but they certainly prefer when it’s one of their own they can work on.
Glaswegian born winger Mikey Johnston is no different. Unfortunately, he may have to go elsewhere and prove he’s got it, there’s a plethora of midfielders that the Hoops can bring in at any time and arguably why they’re ahead of everyone, their depth is ridiculous.
Should he get the chance, he’ll take it. He’s contracted to Celtic until the end of the 2022-23 season, bags of time available to the 19 year-old but a loan spell would do no harm to get a run of games behind him, that’s for sure.
Harry Cochrane (Heart of Midlothian)
It was against Mikey Johnston’s Celtic that Harry Cochrane would burst onto the scene, scoring the first goal in the Jambos’ famous 4-0 victory over Celtic to end their record-breaking undefeated domestic run of 69 games. In doing so, he became Hearts youngest ever league goalscorer aged just 16 years and eight months old.
The 17 year-old is a wonderkid on both Fifa and Football Manager so here’s hoping he can emulate his potential self on both video games, for Scotland’s sake at least. With Hearts recruiting heavily in the summer, particularly in midfield, Craig Levein has stressed opportunities will always come at Hearts for youngsters regardless of the position they play.
After transferring from Rangers at under 13 level, it appears Cochrane made a smart choice to play in Gorgie, one of a number of players firmly in the first team thanks to current manager and director of football Levein reshaping Hearts academy for the better.
Anthony McDonald (Heart of Midlothian)
In February, Levein tipped both Cochrane and Anthony McDonald to one day play in the English Premier League. Whether they can get there or not, we’ll wait and see but in the meantime, the signs are certainly there.
Another that joined Hearts after being elsewhere, McDonald opted to join the Jambos at under-14 level signing from Livingston. You need only look at some of the players Livingston have produced down the years to see that the Lions can spot a player.
This appears to be a real steal for Hearts, McDonald provided the assist for the opening goal for Hearts in his first senior start in a 2-0 victory over Dundee. Opportunities will hopefully continue to come, McDonald appearing to be a real talent again aged just 17.
Callumn Morrison (Heart of Midlothian)
The real reason perhaps preventing McDonald from kicking on has been the emergence of 19 year-old Callumn Morrison this season who appears to be enjoying every minute of his breakthrough season for the Jambos this campaign.
Two loan spells at local side Stirling Albion have helped Alva-born Morrison develop, the winger having registered over 30 appearances for the Binos at the lowest level of the SPFL in League 2. After also spending time on loan at Brechin City last season, whilst City were in the Championship, Morrison appears to be making the right midfield slot his own at Tynecastle.
He’s already assisted in both the Premiership and Betfred Cup this season, here’s hoping he can continue to add goals and assists to his game both this season and beyond.
Ryan Porteous (Hibernian)
Across Edinburgh, Hibs have a very promising centre back on their books in the form of Ryan Porteous. A commanding centre half, Porteous is 6ft 2in tall and is built like a man rather than a teen, along with also proving he can play. Not your typical, no-nonsense defender.
A loan spell at League 2’s Edinburgh City for the 2016-17 season certainly helped his cause and Porteous even scored a couple times for City, helping them to their first ever SPFL win against Annan Athletic and also scoring against current League 1 side Arbroath.
After making his first team debut at Hibs last term, he’s contracted in Leith until 2023. The Hibees are notorious for churning out great young players and Porteous appears to be no different, having also played for Scotland’s under 21s in the 2018 Toulon Tournament. Certainly a player to keep tabs on.
Bobby Burns (Livingston, on loan from Heart of Midlothian)
A real shame emerged earlier this year when Livingston decided to scrap their youth system, having previously boasted the likes of Scotland internationals Graham Dorrans, Leigh Griffiths and Robert Snodgrass amongst their ranks.
An international currently playing in West Lothian is Northern Irishman Bobby Burns, on loan from Hearts. A whirlwind 12 months or so has seen Burns sign for Hearts in the summer from Glenavon, be loaned to Livingston and also seen him named in the Northern Ireland senior squad this month.
The 19 year-old has described his professional career as a ‘dream come true’ and had initially intended to study Mathematics at University College Dublin or Queen’s University Belfast. It appears Burns has made an excellent call with becoming a footballer and here’s hoping he can reach the very top, using his time in Scotland as a springboard.
David Turnbull (Motherwell)
A part of the Motherwell team that won the Scottish Youth Cup after defeating Hearts 5-2 just two years ago, David Turnbull is beginning to rack up the senior appearances in claret and amber, also having scored for the Steelmen a few times in the league so far this term.
The boyhood Motherwell fan joined their academy in 2009 and has played at both under 16 and under 19 level for Scotland. Having never had a loan spell in the lower leagues, Turnbull made his debut in February this year, a win away at Dundee in last season’s Scottish Cup.
This may well be the season where he cements himself in the first team, having scored in consecutive weeks against basement boys St Mirren and Dundee, netting away in Paisley before scoring a 25 yard thunderbolt at home to the Dark Blues, the team he made his debut against.
Glenn Middleton (Rangers)
A boyhood Rangers fan, Glenn Middleton is loving being firmly in the first team picture at Ibrox under the stewardship of one of Britain’s all-greats in Steven Gerrard. A youth career in England at both Northampton Town and Norwich City has brought him back to the city of his birth.
Having made his first team debut against FK Shkupi in the Europa League, the 18 year-old hasn’t looked back. He arrived in January whilst the Gers were in transition under Graeme Murty but it was Gerrard that gave the youngster his chance, with the winger keen to repay the manager’s faith.
Goals have come against Dundee and Motherwell in the league, a brace against Ayr in the Betfred Cup quarter final but most notably, away at Spartak Moscow in the group stages of the Europa League. Eighteen years of age, having netted already in continental competition as well as domestically, the sky really does appear to be the limit for the young Glaswegian winger.
There’s ten of the best teenagers that spring to mind, having not been ranked in any particular order just arranged by the name of their club. Debates can certainly arise as to the most promising youngster which can only be a good sign. Hopefully minutes can keep on coming for our young players. It appears, in Scotland, that the kids really are the future of our game.