THEY are a brave band of men, the divide crossers. On Tuesday night, 20-year-old Liam Burt became the latest member of this exclusive club, scoring the deciding penalty for Celtic’s Under-21 side in a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer Challenge Cup tie against Queen’s Park. This came a matter of months after being released after a five-year period at Ibrox which saw him play just three times for the Rangers first team.

In fact, young Burt is now an honorary member of this group, having already made two excursions across this most polarised of football cities by the age of 20. He was part of Celtic’s academy system prior to signing for Rangers in 2014, with scouts at Parkhead keeping tabs on him ever since.

Dylan McGeouch is perhaps the case par excellence when it comes to internecine squabbling over a highly-rated young player, a boyhood Celtic fan who left the Parkhead side’s academy for Walter Smith’s Rangers after a family fall-out over his big brother Darren, only to be coaxed back across the city when Neil Lennon turned up in person at his door.

McGeouch never made a first-team appearance at Rangers but he did go on to make 20 or so at Parkhead. If Burt manages to do likewise he will become only the sixth player since World War II to have played a first team match for both teams. The others answers to this trivia question? Alfie Conn, Mo Johnston, Steven Pressley, Kenny Miller and – the one no-one will guess - goalkeeper Mark Brown.


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In a city where bragging rights are paramount, supporters scrambled to come to terms with the Burt affair. Most commentators down Govan way were wishing the player ill luck and enquiring if there were any other Rangers rejects they might want. Eros Grezda anyone?

Some Celtic supporters seemed equally perplexed. Surely, they asked, we can do better than signing a player who has reached the age of 20 with only a collection of low key matches in the lower reaches of the championship behind him? On the other hand ... if we could pick up a Rangers cast-off and make him a superstar without having to pay so much as a tribunal fee, just think how much ammunition we would have then.

The first thing worth pointing out is that the player should be commended for not letting the potential ramifications of a cross-Glasgow move stand in his way. Such transactions only tend to normalise the often poisonous state of affairs between two institutions which, at the end of the day, are football clubs.

Secondly, for all the money both sides lavish on youth development, and all the talent that resides in their youth academies, the pathway for young players into the respective first teams in both halves of the city is as congested as it has ever been. The arms’ race in Glasgow is hitting fever pitch as the battle for nine, and perhaps ten, league titles in a row begins.

With Jake Hastie, a product of Motherwell’s academy and one of Burt’s on-loan Alloa team-mates last season, apparently out the picture right now, it is a fair bet that Mikey Johnston will be the only Scottish player under 21 who will be a regular starter in either first team.


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For all the investment in youth at Rangers – a new stand was recently completed at the Hummel Training Centre – Steven Gerrard seems to have made the decision that this season isn’t a time for blooding young players. Ross McCrorie has gone out on loan to Portsmouth for the campaign, with Glenn Middleton – either to NAC Breda or Hibs – likely to follow.

The competition for a midfield role in Neil Lennon’s first team is arguably even greater, including the man playing alongside him in Celtic’s Under-21 side on Tuesday night, Ewan Henderson. But the Parkhead side clearly feel Burt is a player that they can do something with – even if it is working away with Tommy McIntyre’s reserve squad, appearing in the Caramel Wafer Cup for the Under-21s, and trying to catch Lennon’s eye from there.

Developing the best young talent remains a badge of honour for the likes of Celtic and Rangers, who opted out of the reserve league - along with Aberdeen and Hibs - in search of a better environment elsewhere. Celtic will feel they have won a watch if Burt fulfils his potential with them, not Rangers. But the clock is ticking. Wasting another two years in another team’s reserves will do no-one any good.