CELTIC and Rangers should act now to secure the signing of Carlisle youngster Jarrad Branthwaite according to his former manager Steven Pressley, who has backed the precocious defender to become an England internationalist.

Pressley, who came through the ranks at Ibrox before later playing for Celtic, gave Branthwaite his first-team debut as a centre-half at Brunton Park, and the 17-year-old hasn’t looked back since.

Such has been his rate of progress that Pressley isn’t surprised in the slightest that he has been catching the eye of the Glasgow giants, but he has warned them they will have to act quickly to secure his signature, having been inundated with enquiries about him from other interested parties.

And he believes that while the transfer fee they would have to pay may seem steep for a player of his age, they will make that money back 20 times over when he eventually moves on to even bigger and better things.

“Since leaving Carlisle I’ve had numerous phone calls about him from English Premier League and Championship clubs,” Pressley said.

“He is on the radar of so many clubs down south, so it’s no surprise to me that Celtic and Rangers would be looking at him too.

“I haven’t heard from either side of the Old Firm yet, but if you are asking me if I think they should act quickly to get him during this window, then I would say absolutely.

“Some people might baulk at the transfer fee it would take to get him, and yes, you might not ideally want to pay that kind of money for a 17-year-old. But trust me, it’s the best investment they could make.

“The model on both sides of the Old Firm just now is to identify young talent that will help them in the short term and make them money in the long term, and Jarrad is exactly the type of player they should be looking at.

“Whatever they pay for him just now, they will make 20 times that down the line. He’s that good.

“He’s got everything you need to be a top defender. He’s six foot four, he’s quick, and he can absolutely play. You wouldn’t know what foot is his preferred one really, because he’s so comfortable on the ball.

“For me, he is a future England internationalist. No question about it. That’s how highly I rate him. He’ll go to the very top of the game.”

Pressley knew the very first time he watched Branthwaite that he had a player on his hands, and he doesn’t think that the step up from turning out in front of a few thousand punters in England’s League Two to playing in front of 50,000-odd supporters in the Premiership would be an issue for him.

As well as displaying an aptitude beyond his years on the pitch, Branthwaite also possesses maturity between the ears.

“I first saw him playing in a youth match.” Pressley said. “He was a midfielder at that time but was filling in at centre-back. Straight away I could see that he really had something, and that he was a fantastic prospect.

“I moved him up to training with the first-team as a defender, and he took to it straight away. He threw himself into it and was always eager to learn.

“He’s a fantastic kid with a great family, so he is really grounded and humble and is focused on becoming the best player he can be. He adapted to it with no problems whatsoever.

“He was young, but I was so sure of him even at that age that I started to bleed him into the starting 11.

“I played him in the EFL Cup to begin with, and to be fair, he made a couple of mistakes in those early games, but he didn’t let it affect him and soon he was showing everyone just how good he was.

“So, in terms of his temperament, he has such a good head on his shoulders. Nothing has fazed him yet. He took going into that first-team environment with no problems, and even when we were playing big games live on the television in the FA Cup for example, he was never affected by it.

“So, while playing for either side of the Old Firm would be a step up again, I have no doubts at all about his ability to handle it.

“Yes, in some ways he would be a project, because he is so young and is still developing as a player. But he is already good enough to make an impact on either the Celtic or Rangers starting line-ups, and I would expect him to be part of the first-team picture in Glasgow in no time at all.

“Neil Lennon has thrown Jeremie Frimpong into the Celtic team and he has flourished, and I think Jarrad would blossom too if he goes somewhere with a manager who will give him a chance like that.”

The physical challenge of playing in Scotland would present no problems to Branthwaite either according to Pressley, having seamlessly handled the rough and tumble of life in League Two.

“Even at 17, there is no way he will be bullied,” he said. “He can handle the physical side of the game no problem at all.

“It’s a bit of a myth that the Scottish game is over-physical anyway. The game in England is much more physical in terms of the size of the players and the way that the game is played, and especially so in League Two. But it was never an issue for him, he would always fight his corner.

“As I said, his all-round game is so good that it is difficult to pick out many flaws, if any. If I was at either Celtic or Rangers, it would be a no-brainer for me to go and sign this kid.”