Kieran Tierney used to tell his teachers at school in Motherwell that he was going to be a footballer. They would encourage him to put ‘joiner’ or ‘builder’ on his careers form but mostly he would refuse.
On Saturday, the young Arsenal defender can add an FA Cup final to a list of professional achievements that already includes 12 caps for his country and four Scottish titles. It would appear he was putting his ticks in the right box after all.
Tierney, signed by Arsenal from Celtic last summer, is 23 now but looks younger. Not long before he moved to London, he was still living at home with his parents and admitted he had never so much as made his own bed.
Soon after arriving, he admitted that he had found the adjustment difficult.
‘I have been living on my own for the first time and it’s not been great,’ he said last October. ‘But I will get there.’
On the field, progress has finally come and in Scotland they were not surprised to see Tierney contribute an outstanding performance as Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-0 in their FA Cup semi-final a fortnight ago.
Former Scotland manager Gordon Strachan gave Tierney his international debut in 2017 and tells Sportsmail: ‘He has the type of mind that allows him to think that whatever he tries will come off. He has complete faith in himself and it’s totally justified.
‘I played him at three positions for Scotland. Left back, left of three centre backs and also right back.
‘My two best players were left backs — Kieran and Andy Robertson — so I shifted Kieran across. He never complained. He just got on with it. That’s how good he is and that’s how good his attitude is.’
Tierney was actually born on the Isle of Man but his family moved to Scotland when he was only 10 months old. He was on Celtic’s books by the age of seven and when he was 17, he made his debut. On the days he was injured or — rarely — not selected, he would go to the game with his mates and sit in the crowd.
Those days are now gone. His early progress at Arsenal was stalled by a hernia injury but under new manager Mikel Arteta he has flourished.
When the Spaniard took the job last December he told Arsenal’s players they would have to change their mentality. Tierney was one of the few who, we presume, were exempt from that.
‘He has what I call that lunatic mentality, and I mean that in a good way,’ added Strachan.
‘He was like Scott Brown at Celtic. It gets cold in Glasgow you know but those two would walk around with just their T-shirts on.
‘Kieran has a first-class approach. He listens and takes in information and, crucially, he listens to what you are telling other players too so that he understand their roles also.
‘He is bright and he smells danger, just like Virgil van Dijk does at Liverpool. He isn’t in that class yet but there are similarities.
‘And he backs himself. He is brave like that.
‘Many full backs or central defenders won’t push out on to a winger, for example. They are happy to let them cross. At least they can’t get beaten or embarrassed that way.
‘Kieran won’t do that. He will get out there and say, “If you are gonna cross this, you will have to get by me first”.’
Tierney’s selection as a third centre back against City was a surprise and felt like a gamble. Ultimately, it paid off as Arsenal kept a clean sheet and Tierney chipped through a pass from his own half for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, who ran on to score the crucial second goal.
Strachan once played Tierney in that position against England as he wanted a central defender confident enough to push out on to Dele Alli.
The young defender does not lack courage — mental or physical. In the 2017 Scottish Cup Final win over Aberdeen he suffered a mouth injury so severe it required surgery.
But still, after his visit to A&E, he turned up back at Hampden Park in a taxi and — still in his kit — joined his team-mates to collect a winner’s medal.
Tierney may look like the lad straight from school at Wembley on Saturday but that appearance will be deceptive.
‘He is a man in every way,’ added Strachan. ‘An FA Cup final at Wembley will be right up his street.’