Barry Bannan was allowed to slip through Celtic's net as a 14-year-old at the height of Martin O'Neill's success. Now, he is being groomed as the next graduate of O'Neill's dynasty at Aston Villa.

The midfielder left his home town of Airdrie to pursue a dream even his closest friends regarded as unrealistic. He rejected a cursory offer to join Celtic's youth academy after a prolonged period of indifference and instead took up the invitation of a trial at Villa. He earned himself a two-year contract after a memorable trip to Germany for a youth tournament, helping Villa win the final against Mainz and flying home with the player of the tournament trophy.

That was merely the start of his Villa adventure. From nowhere, the young Scot made his debut in the Uefa Cup against CSKA Moscow in December and last weekend made a scoring debut after signing a month-long loan deal at Derby County. "It has been an amazing time but also quite weird," Bannan said. "No-one really knew who I was a few months ago and then, after I played in the Uefa Cup, I had seven-year-old kids chapping the door of my parents' house asking if Barry was home. It has been strange but good."

His is a victory for perseverance and positivity. He was advised against moving to Birmingham by mates and youth-team managers alike, who told him he was too small and not talented enough to survive in Scotland, let alone try his luck in England.

"I was playing for Lenzie youths on a Sunday and Celtic under-14s on a Saturday," he said. "Ian Stevenson, the manager at Lenzie, brought through boys like Stephen Crainey and Billy Dodds and was a huge influence on me. I was in and out of the Celtic team. I think they wanted to sign me but they made me wait around. I went on a trial with Villa and they wanted to sign me straight away. Celtic then tried a bit harder but, to be honest, because I was a Celtic fan I think they just took it for granted and assumed I would automatically sign for them."

Celtic's loss has been O'Neill's gain, albeit second time around. "When I first arrived five years ago, it was towards the end of David O'Leary's time. It was not a good place to be but the difference now is night and day and that is because of Martin O'Neill," he said.

And what of his first encounter with O'Neill? "He said he remembered me playing in a Celtic youth game. He didn't say if he thought I did well or not but he wanted to know my story, where I was from and how I ended up in England."

Others are now asking the same questions. On the back of his first-team introduction at Villa, Bannan has been called up by Billy Stark for the Scotland under-21 international against Albania next week. A well-kept secret to all but the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser, he is now rousing the curiosity of many observers north and south of the border. Bannan paused for breath to reflect on his remarkable ascent, starting with the surprise summons for Uefa Cup duty in Moscow.

"The manager only names his team an hour before kick-off," he recalled. "A few of the reserve boys were told to travel so I hoped I would get on the bench, but didn't expect to play. It was amazing to get on and I couldn't help but think of the people who had written me off; friends who were jealous of me and said I would never make it, that I was too small, not good enough and that I would struggle with the physical side of things. That drives me on."

So too does John Robertson, former winger at Nottingham Forest and a coach who has taken it upon himself to tutor his Scottish protege. "John Robertson has been great," he said. "There is nobody better to learn from if you are a wide player but he was more of an out-and-out winger than me. I can play right or left or through the middle and I am more of a passer than a dribbler."

He does not lack in confidence but given that Villa's success this season has been founded on the vibrancy of youth, he is in good company. "The manager's track record is brilliant but he also knows the name of every youth team player and what their potential is," said Bannan. "Look at Ashley Young, Curtis Davies, James Milner and Gabby Agbonlahor: some of these guys are now in England contention so it shows what has been achieved."

Bannan will be on duty for Derby against Barnsley this afternoon. Tomorrow, he will watch Villa's critical visit to Anfield from the family home. Should Villa complete their objective and finish fourth in the Barclays Premier League, it will provide further justification of Bannan's decision to chase his dream.

"To even stand a chance of taking part in the Champions League next season would be unreal," he said.