Scottish Premier League

Six youngsters to watch in the SPL

August 6, 2009
By Neil McDougall

JOHN FLECK (Rangers): In recent days, the 18 year-old Rangers prodigy has suffered negative publicity, following reports of a training-ground bust-up (later denied by the club) between Fleck and Ally McCoist.

John Fleck
GettyImagesJohn Fleck: One to watch

However, his name has been more regularly linked to glowing testimonies over the last couple of seasons and although the teenager is thought to be frustrated at his lack of first-team opportunities, he will be one of the pivotal players if Rangers are to cling on to their SPL title in the 2009-10 campaign.

As the nephew of the former Ibrox star, Robert, he made rapid progress through the youth ranks at Murray Park, while also captaining his country at under-16 level, before, in February of this year, becoming the youngest Rangers player to start an Old Firm match since Derek Ferguson in 1984.

Fleck possesses raw pace, instinctive technical ability, and the knack of creating space where other players run down blind alleys. But a fiery temperament is in his genes and he will have to rein in a capacity for stumbling into controversy, otherwise Fleck could find himself in frequent trouble with referees.

AIDEN McGEADY (Celtic): Here is a player who has been around for so long it seems incredible that he is still only 23. Yet, while McGeady suffered a miserable season by his own lofty standards last year, both struggling for consistency and publicly falling out with the then Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan, he has already demonstrated his ability to tilt matches in his team's favour by orchestrating mayhem, with Scott Brown, as his club rallied from a home deficit to defeat Dinamo Moscow on Wednesday night.

The new boss, Tony Mowbray, has gone on the record as saying he wants to grant McGeady a licence to thrill and the relationship between the two men could be one of the key dynamics in determining whether Celtic can attain their fourth SPL title in five years. If he clicks, as there were ample signs of him doing against the Russians, McGeady will be granted every opportunity to spark panic throughout opposing defences.

ANDY DRIVER (Hearts): The 21 year-old Englishman has been at the centre of most positive things at Tynecastle since he moved to Edinburgh and graduated through the Hearts Football Academy into the first team in 2006. A young left winger with the talent to generate chances on a regular basis, Driver has plenty of pace, terrific crossing skills, and is not only the provider of opportunities for his colleagues, but finds the net frequently himself.

The trick now will be for him to build on the potential, which has seen him earn international recognition, because Hearts have served up entertaining football in recent times without scoring sufficient goals to mount a sustained challenge to the Old Firm. Yet Driver is the sort of player who will thrive on that ambition.

CHRIS MAGUIRE (Aberdeen): The Dons have suffered an embarrassing build-up to the new SPL campaign, and if they are to recover from European humiliation, require individuals such as Maguire to graduate into the big time with honours.

Chris Maguire
GettyImagesChris Maguire: The Dons' hope

The 20 year-old might be small of stature, but he is a striker in the grand Scottish tradition, and has already thrilled the Pittodrie faithful with some stunning goals, since gaining a regular spot in the first XI.

Now he must rise above being described as "promising" and convert his skills into galvanising a club, whose reputation has plummeted in recent years, and who will have to battle to halt that decline under new manager, Mark McGhee.

GARRY KENNETH (Dundee United): His surname is derived from the Gaelic word for "fire" and there is no disputing the passion which this 22-year-old brings to the party at Tannadice. As somebody who has risen through the youth development system in Raintown, Kenneth made his debut as a 17-year-old in the Scottish Cup against Queen of the South in 2005, and has shown towering qualities as a central defender for Craig Levein's side.

He was picked to represent his country as part of the under-19 squad, which reached the finals of the UEFA Championship in Poland three years ago, where the Scots nearly went all the way, losing narrowly to Spain in the final. But, despite initially struggling to break into the first team, Kenneth has grown in stature in the last 18 months and was particularly impressive against the Old Firm last season.

LEWIS STEVENSON (Hibernian): The 21-year-old midfielder is one of a string of excellent prospects to have emerged from Easter Road in the last few seasons, but with many of them having moved elsewhere, Stevenson will be crucial to his club's prospects in the SPL.

His debut in the championship came against Aberdeen in 2006 and his most notable appearance to date was winning the man-of-the-match award in the 2007 Scottish League Cup success. He is also a member of Scotland's burgeoning under-21 squad and has all the qualities to impress the new Hibs boss, John Hughes.

Once again, the key task for Stevenson will lie in translating his potential into the hard currency of victories.