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Rogic has the chance of a lifetime

GIVEN how deftly he evaded the question Tom Rogic has presumably heard the X-Factor comparisons before.

Tom Rogic played against Celtic as part of his prize for winning 'The Chance'. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Tom Rogic played against Celtic as part of his prize for winning 'The Chance'. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

That's not to say they are not valid, however. Simon Cowell's show plucks aspiring pop stars from obscurity, gives them a platform on which to demonstrate their talents (or otherwise), and, if good enough, turns them into global superstars. Rogic's meteoric rise has so far followed a similar path.

Celtic's latest signing was playing local football a few years ago when he was approached and asked if he wanted to enter "The Chance", a competition run by Nike to find and promote undiscovered talent. More than 75,000 hopefuls from 40 countries applied and Rogic made it through local, regional and national auditions to reach the last 100. The final stage – a three-day trial in London – produced eight winners, one of whom was a talented midfielder from Canberra, Australia. Rogic's reward was a year playing in the Nike Academy in England, part of which involved travelling all across Europe to play top youth sides including Celtic.

From there Rogic signed with Central Coast Mariners in the Australia A-League, his first involvement in professional football, and made such an impression that a queue of suitors soon formed. They included Reading and Fulham, and others in Spain, Belgium and beyond. It was Celtic, however, who won the race, doing enough to persuade the 20 year-old that his future lay in Scotland. Now Rogic, who a few years ago was playing the equivalent of Sunday League football, could soon be participating in a Champions League knock-out tie against Juventus. The most remarkable thing, though, about this rags-to-riches tale is just how relaxed and down-to-earth the player is about his stunning rise to prominence.

"My career path has been a bit of a strange one, not the typical route most players take," he said with some degree of understatement. "About two years ago I was playing in what was more or less a local league. There was a programme called the Nike Chance and, not being part of a professional football club, I entered it.

"That took me into the Nike Academy and I spent about six months there training and playing. Then, in January of last year, I signed with Central Coast Mariners in the A-League. That was my first professional football club so it was a big 12 months that led me to sign for Celtic.

"It sounds unreal when you think about it, almost unheard of. But in saying that I think have progressed quite well and done a lot of hard work over the past couple of years. It's really just beginning. The step-up here is massive but hopefully I can keep developing and become a better player at Celtic."

Given the option of playing in the Barclays Premier League or its Scottish equivalent, precious few these days choose the latter. Rogic explained why he did. "There was interest from Premier League clubs, but the decision was up to me. From the moment Celtic were interested, I felt quite positive about it. I believe I will get an opportunity to play here. It won't come easy and I will have to work hard but hopefully my time here will be a success. There were a lot of factors. A lot of the other clubs interested were in relegation battles and that can be a bit of a dogfight. A lot of things had an influence and only time will tell if it's the right move."

Rogic, who sees himself as a No.10 playing behind a striker, sought advice from Michael McGlinchey, the former Celtic youth player now with the Mariners, before signing his deal. "I spoke to my family, first and foremost, as well as a coaches and other people who have had an influence on my career. I spoke to Mikey as well and got words of advice about Glasgow and the lifestyle change. It was good.

"We didn't really speak about his experiences here. It was more about the football club and Glasgow – and how different that would be from what I am used to. The ground at Central Coast Mariners is right on the beach so it couldn't more different in that respect. The weather was one big change we discussed. But back home football is not the number one sport, whereas it is here and in most of Europe. I am enjoying that part a lot right now, seeing how passionate the fans are."

Manager Neil Lennon was happy to have got his man, and pointed to others who have taken an unusual route to the top. "It's funny – sometimes you get late bloomers," he said. "Roy Keane was at Cobh Ramblers and two months later he was stepping out at Anfield with Nottingham Forest and never looked back. I think Tom is a good player. He's six foot, 20 and is well balanced. I'm not saying he's our great white hope by any means but he fits the bill of the kind of player we are looking for – young, talented and hopefully will progress over the next couple of years here."

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