Exclusive: Is Bournemouth Goalkeeper Callan McKenna Scotland's Next Big Goalkeeper Talent?

By Stewart Ross

News • Mar 6, 2024

Exclusive: Is Bournemouth Goalkeeper Callan McKenna Scotland's Next Big Goalkeeper Talent?

Callan McKenna, one of Scotland’s most promising goalkeeping talents, recently transferred to Premier League Bournemouth from Scottish Championship side Queen’s Park.

A transfer that may have gone under the radar on the final day of the January window, Bournemouth beat off interest from a host of other Premier League clubs to secure the 17-year-old shot-stopper’s services in a move that could earn Queen’s Park up to £1m in future add-ons. 

The move caps a meteoric rise for McKenna in the last year. Making his professional debut at 16, the former Hearts and Celtic academy prospect caught the eye as he seized the opportunity to become the Spiders’ number one at the start of the season, taking over from previous first choice Calum Ferrie. 

The teenager belied his age to put in several assured performances as the Glasgow side, the oldest association football club in Scotland, enjoyed a strong start to the season. 

One standout moment came during a 1-0 victory over Arbroath last August, where McKenna pulled off an audacious Cruyff turn on his goal-line, skilfully evading pressure from a Red Lichties forward. It was a move that not only exhibited his ability with the ball at his feet but also underscored his confidence and composure.

Ferrie, who was named Goalkeeper of the Year in last season’s second tier in Scotland, was later reinstated as the Championship side’s first-choice goalkeeper, but clubs continued to closely monitor McKenna’s progress after his nine appearances in all competitions and he went on to make his Scotland under-19 debut earlier this year. 

Amidst a flurry of interest from topflight English clubs and Glasgow giants Celtic and Rangers, McKenna reportedly turned down a contract offer from Manchester United during the January window and instead opted for Bournemouth. Under the guidance of the Cherries’ highly regarded goalkeeping coach, Neil Moss, McKenna will now continue his development on the South Coast.

Following McKenna’s departure from Scottish football, Queen’s Park's Head of Goalkeeping, Glen Johnson, shared an exclusive insight into the young Scot's journey with Goalkeeper.com, offering a glimpse into his development so far. Johnson, who joined Queen’s Park not long after they ended their 152 years of amateur status to go full-time in 2019, said:

“One of the first things I did when I joined the club was set up a day release session for the U14s, U15s and U16s goalkeepers as, at the time, the academy was still just a couple of nights a week. We had to get in touch with the schools for them to get away early but we were able to do that pretty early on and that would be the first time I came across Cal.”

Even at that early stage, Johnson could see how big a prospect McKenna was, quite literally. 

“I think initially, you’ve only got to look at his size. He's a decent size for his age and I have always said though I can make a goalkeeper better; I can’t make them bigger. I'm sure he would have been just 14 when I started working with him and he was a good size then so that’s a great start. Then when I started getting the tactical aspects in and he picked it up really quickly so you are thinking ‘You are ticking a lot of boxes early doors here’.”

That led to McKenna going up to train with the first team soon after with Johnson, previously goalkeeping coach at Dagenham and Redbridge and Gillingham, saying the teenager was unfazed by that transition at such a young age. 

“Working with him, building those foundations in, you start to see the personality of a goalkeeper come through and it was apparent we had a special goalkeeper on our hands. He was training with the first team and he didn't look out of place. 

"I've had goalkeepers previously that I've worked with that have stepped up from youth team football into the first team environment. As we know, it's an unforgiving environment, it's sink or swim sometimes.

“With Cal though, every question that was asked of him, he just dealt with it. You could see that he handled it reasonably well early on for 14, 15-year-old training with a League One side as were at the time. Then last year in the Championship, he trained with us more regularly. I think he's got that mentality where things don't faze him. That's not necessarily something that you can  coach. It's ingrained into a person’s personality, in my opinion.”

After narrowly missing out on promotion to the Scottish Premiership under Owen Coyle last season, Queen’s Park, led on the football operations side at the time by former AZ Alkmaar Director of Football, Marijn Beuker (now Director of Football at Ajax), replaced Coyle with ex-Anderlecht assistant manager Robin Veldman. Johnson explained how the Dutch manager’s arrival at the start of this season helped open the door for McKenna. 

“He'd done well in the preseason games. Obviously, a new manager came in he didn't have any allegiances to anyone because he'd just come in. So, it was a clean slate. I think the Dutch style suited Cal because he is exceptional with his feet too. 

“So, that is something that probably put him slightly ahead of Calum Ferrie. The manager was not afraid to put young players in so it was almost like the perfect storm for Cal in that regard. All these things fell into place for him. He took his opportunity though and he did really well.”

Johnson stated the decision to reinstate Calum Ferrie after the first few months of the season wasn’t down to McKenna’s individual performances.

“It wasn't anything to do with Cal, his performances or anything like that. Ultimately, it was a case that we were struggling as a team for results. We just felt that we needed a little bit more experience in there. He was still 16 years old, that's a lot of pressure so to protect him a bit too, we took him out.

“We felt that if we kept him in there, it may have been detrimental. So, taking him out gave him a bit of breathing space as well because, and what I really like about him too, is that he's very demanding of himself and he holds himself to high standards and he was disappointed with some of the results.”

Johnson believes McKenna’s decision to turn down Manchester United for Bournemouth is further evidence of the young keeper’s determined mindset. 

“It is no surprise he has gone on and got this opportunity (to sign for Bournemouth). I think Bournemouth spoke to him and said, this is the pathway that we see for you. And when he looked at it, he felt that it was a better opportunity for his long-term pathway, which probably sums up his character. He's very focused and driven. That takes some guts, to turn down one of the biggest clubs in the world. It speaks volumes of him.”

In terms of just how far McKenna can go in the game, Johnson feels there is no limit to what McKenna can achieve. 

“I think he can go as far as he wants to go. I know it's a bit of a cop-out but I genuinely mean that he can be as good as he wants to. If he’s set himself a target to get in the Premier League, it would not surprise me if he got in the Premier League.

“For me, as I work in Scotland, I'm obsessed with producing and developing young Scottish goalkeepers and when I look at the pool of goalkeepers that we've got here, there are some really good young ones coming through and he's right in the mix there. 

“If he can continue his development in the trajectory that he's on and he's in the U19s and then he finds himself in the U21s, there's no reason why he can't get himself into the national team set up down the line. 

"But first and foremost, he's got to do well at Bournemouth and keep developing there, which he will do because they've got, with Neil Moss there, a strong goalkeeping department so they'll develop him in the right way. He's going to be in a fantastic environment. 

“He's got all the opportunities to kick on and why not be Scotland’s number one goalie in the future? It's difficult for me to say that he will be but if you're looking at it right now, if he continues on the same trajectory that he's been on recently, then there's every chance.”

Whether or not McKenna does go on to scale those heights, Johnson is just pleased to have played his part in developing Scotland’s latest top goalkeeping prospect.

“A lot of people have given me a nice pat on the back and credit but it's not just me, everyone at the club plays their part.

“I feel like I put a lot of time and a lot of effort into Cal though, both on and off the pitch and he's a great lad. I'm just so pleased for him. I'm proud of his development over the last nearly three years and now he’s been given this opportunity to go on and take his career to the very highest level.”

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