Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers told Rocco Vata he had to continue earning the right to play after the 18-year-old netted his first goal in a 5-0 Scottish Gas Scottish Cup victory over Buckie Thistle.
The winger has been linked with clubs such as Sampdoria, Bologna and Como and his contract expires in the summer, but he was handed his first appearance of the season and tapped home from close range to round off the win.
Rodgers, who also brought 18-year-old debutant Daniel Kelly off the bench, said: “Young players have to earn the right. There’s been a lot of noise around Rocco but any young player has to earn the opportunity. I’ve given many young players opportunities in my career.
“But I like Rocco, he has qualities. He is strong, he’s aggressive, he wants to get goals. When he came on he got his goal and he had other opportunities.
“And Daniel Kelly is a young player I really like. If he keeps progressing and developing he will have a big future. He is left-sided, he is quick and strong, he presses the game very well.
“They get a taste of it and hopefully that gives them the motivation and determination to continue progressing.”
When asked about Vata’s future, Rodgers said: “That will be up to him. He’s a talent.
“It depends what the mentality is with him and his representatives. You get some young players whose representatives will tell you if they are not playing in the first team, starting, they don’t want to stay. You better go then, because you have got to earn the right.
“He is 18, I don’t need players ready at 18 unless they are real, real special talents, but by 20-21 they need to be ready.
“But you can see he has tools and this can be a really good place for him to develop.”
When asked if there was an offer on the table for the teenager, Rodgers said: “I believe so. There’s been chats around that but my focus is purely on the playing aspect. But there will be something there for him, I’m sure.”
Although he gave chances to Vata and 18-year-old Kelly and rested captain Callum McGregor, Rodgers played a strong team and saw his side progress to the fifth round with Paulo Bernardo, Odin Thiago Holm, Kyogo Furuhashi and Luis Palma also on the scoresheet.
Rodgers said: “It was a good day for both clubs. From our perspective, professionally got the job done, played some really good football, scored some good goals, could have had more but the timing was a little bit out.
“And for Buckie Thistle, it’s an amazing day. The players gave everything and the support was there for the team right to the end.”
Celtic also had four goals disallowed and saw a potential penalty for a trip on Liel Abada ruled out because of an offside after a VAR review – sparking memories of a much-discussed penalty appeal for handball from Rangers on their recent defeat at Celtic Park.
Rodgers said: “It’s protocol, according to the fourth official, they have to look to see if it’s a penalty first before they look to disallow it because it’s offside, which just seems ridiculous really.
“If it’s offside then the penalty doesn’t even matter – as we know.”
Meanwhile, any hopes Celtic had of signing Owen Beck this month have ended after the left-back came on in Liverpool’s win at Bournemouth.
The Wales Under-21 international had been linked with Celtic after an impressive loan spell at Dundee but he cannot play for another team this season after featuring for his parent club.