BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
RYAN McGEEVER still recalls Andy Robertson’s swagger when he became the first Queen’s Park kid to pass his driving test.
Little did he know that his pal was embarking on a road that would take him to the Champions League final.
McGeever, now on the books of Brechin City, was Robertson’s teammate from the age of 15 as they emerged through the ranks together at Hampden – and he is adamant the astonishing rise to prominence could not have happened to a nicer lad.
Robertson will be charged with shackling Zinedine Zidane’s superstars on Saturday as Liverpool seek to halt the Real Madrid juggernaut, but McGeever is adamant the Giffnock boy will return to Scottish soil – regardless of result – as the same down-to-earth character.
“He was so cheeky, I remember he was the first one to pass his driving test and he let everyone know about it,” recalled McGeever.
“The boys were all just turning 17 and starting to do their tests – and he took no time at all. I guess he was always a quick learner!
“He’s a genuinely lovely, funny guy. He was from just up the road in Giffnock and came from a really nice family.
“If we were talking about someone who had a wee arrogant streak or anything, you might grudge the success, but Andy and his family deserve it.
“I’ve met him a couple of times for a coffee and the amazing thing is that he’s exactly the same wee guy.
“I messaged him on Instagram after the semi-final against Roma to tell him that my old man and I were watching and we were buzzing for him, and he got back in touch straight away to say thanks and how much he appreciated it.
“Just small things like that, when you consider how many folk must have been congratulating him, show what a top man he is.”
Released by his boyhood heroes, Celtic, for being too small as a schoolboy, Robertson was far from an immediate stand-out with the Spiders.
Nevertheless, he fought his way into the senior side within three years and, following a breakthrough 2012/13 campaign, he joined Dundee United. Hull City swooped after just one season in the Tannadice first-team.
Having spent three years roaring down the left-flank with the Tigers, Liverpool signed him for £8 million. ‘Meteoric’ hardly does justice to his progress.
“I don’t think Andy will mind me saying, but if you were to pick any of those boys at that stage to go on and play in a Champions League final, it probably wouldn’t have been him,” McGeever continued.
“There were guys who were maybe more naturally talented that aren’t even playing football today.
“However, he was always technically sound, never shirked a challenge and worked his socks off every single day.
“Andy and Lawrence Shankland were the first to come up from that youth team. Since then, Andy hasn’t looked back. He just embraces every single step-up he makes.
“Every time you watch him, he is playing in a bigger match, and just gets better and better. He is going up against the best footballers in the world and doesn’t look out of place.”
Indeed, his performances have drawn praise from across the board. Former Reds star Mark Lawrenson valued him at £40 million, Anfield icon Kenny Dalglish dubbed him ‘fantastic’ and Scotland boss Alex McLeish called the full-back an inspiration to the nation’s youngsters.
“It’s crazy when you hear him getting described as a £40 million player,” McGeever continued. “You could never have imagined that when he was coming through. Playing in a Champions League final is the pinnacle and it would be unbelievable if he wins it on Saturday. I really hope he does.”
Supporting his mate in Kiev, however, will prove a step too far for McGeever.
He laughed: “Sadly, my part-time wages at Brechin have stopped for the summer, so the flight to Kiev might have been a struggle! I’ll just need to catch up with him when he brings the trophy back to Scotland.”