BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
JACK AITCHISON is dreaming of emulating Arsenal icon Thierry Henry courtesy of the expert advice offered by fellow Invincible Kolo Toure.
The Celtic starlet was brought up a Gunners fan after his dad was seduced by the sumptuous style of Arsene Wenger’s free-flowing side.
Aitchison has binged on YouTube compilations of Henry and used to travel to the Emirates to watch his heroes in the flesh as a schoolboy.
So it is understandable that the precocious 17-year-old has lapped up the lessons of Toure – recently named a technical assistant at Celtic after ending his one-year playing stint at Parkhead in the summer – as he draws on his experiences of attempting to shackle Henry in Arsenal training.
Aitchison said: “Kolo is probably the biggest help to me at Celtic. He’s the nicest guy you will ever meet. He’s very down to earth and he speaks away like a normal person. You wouldn’t know what he’s achieved in his career.
“He’s trained with Thierry Henry so he’s been trying to tell me what he used to do – the movements he’d make in games. If you’re learning from guys like that, it’s going to be beneficial.
“Funnily enough, I’m actually an Arsenal fan. Me and my dad both support them. So I have watched [Henry] on the internet and YouTube just to see how he played. He was unbelievable.
“I wouldn’t mind following in his footsteps with the way he played and the way he scored goals. To do that I will need to work hard.
“I have spoken to Kolo a couple of times about being in the Invincibles team and about guys like Henry and Robert Pires. He told me they were all brilliant trainers who didn’t just do it in games. Training is a big part of it too.
“You have to show the manager what you have got if you want to have a chance to play games for the first team and that’s something I’ll always keep in mind.”
Aitchison exploded onto the first-team scene for Celtic in May 2016, becoming their youngest ever competitive goalscorer when he found the net in a 7-0 win against Motherwell at the age of 16 years and 71 days.
However, first-team opportunities have proved scarce for the teenager since amid an embarrassment of riches in attack for Brendan Rodgers’ all-conquering Hoops side, and he is yet to enjoy a senior outing this term.
Nevertheless, he scored in the Uefa Youth League as Celtic suffered a narrow 3-2 defeat against PSG and helped them to a 2-1 triumph over Andelecht. All the while, he continues to be integrated into the set-up at Parkhead.
Aitchison continued: “Everyone thinks first-team footballers are different, but the Celtic guys are so down to earth. They all take time for you.
“We even eat together at lunch time. I know at some clubs, they keep the young boys away but it’s not like that at Celtic.
“We mingle together every day. In the canteen, Scott Brown can sit next to you. You can have a normal chat with them. I speak to Leigh Griffiths quite a lot as well because he’s obviously in my position.”
While Aitchison impresses at youth level for the Hoops, his challenge tomorrow will be to replicate that form on the international scene, with a hugely gifted France side the visitors for a mouth-watering friendly at the Tony Macaroni Arena.
The 20-man squad assembled by Bernard Diomede includes players from the lauded academies of Arsenal, Dortmund and PSG – but Aitchison is adamant the current crop of Scottish youngsters will not approach the test with any trepidation.
He added: “I don’t think we fear anyone. I have played against PSG in the Uefa Youth League and I am sure a few of their players will be in the squad for the game. We played well against PSG, we outplayed them, so I don’t think there is any fear when Scotland play France. We are going into the game full of confidence.”