The Scots trying to make it at Bayern

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November 17, 2021
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    Liam Morrison & Barry Hepburn in Scotland youth squadFormer Celtic youngsters Liam Morrison (left, top row) & Barry Hepburn (middle, front row) play together for Bayern Munich and Scotland

    Barry Hepburn and Liam Morrison are several minutes deep into a chat about Oktoberfest when Bayern Munich's media officer swivels the laptop in his direction to suggest the conversation should return to football.

    The interjection is good natured but his point stands. Hepburn and Morrison are here to talk about life in the Bayern academy, not the world's biggest beer festival.

    Before being silenced like schoolboys, Hepburn managed to squeeze in that his dad makes use of his boy living in Bavaria by attending the event. Starting a dodgy stag-do business is also mentioned when discussing how the pair get tickets for every first-team game at Allianz Arena.

    When the camera returns to the duo, the picture is slightly pixelated, but it is still clear enough to get a view of the background. You can see the Bayern's academy complex behind the Scottish teenagers, who are part of the under-19 squad.

    "The France national team were training here for the Euros," Hepburn says as he turns to look at the pitch. "We were at the window watching [Kylian] Mbappe, just down there," he adds, pointing. "It's wild to see these folk."

    As a 17-year-old, there is still a raw excitement about watching superstars at close quarters. Not only that, but an attitude and personality some perhaps thought was lost in young Scottish footballers is rooted deep in these two.

    Bold. Chirpy. Gallus. But most importantly, both are grounded, too. The fact they have a Bayern Munich badge blazoned on their tracksuits does not change that one bit.

    'It was a tough time mentally'

    The duo have shown immense resilience to not only bounce back from serious injuries, but also deal with the stresses of moving abroad so young.

    Factor in a global pandemic – meaning a lack of social life and non-virtual family contact – and it's clear these boys are made of strong stuff.

    "I woke up one day and I couldn't walk," Morrison says. "One of the discs in my back slipped out of place. I was injured for eight months, but during that time Covid hit. We were just trapped in the campus.

    "I got back, trained for three or four weeks, then tore my meniscus. I was thinking, 'this couldn't go any worse'. After that, I was due to play my first game back in nine months, but the league got cancelled because of Covid.

    "It was about a year since my last game when the league started back up, but I tore my meniscus a second time. I've just come back, but it was a tough time mentally."

    "It was hard for me as well because I broke my ankle in my second game," Hepburn adds. "I was out for four months. I couldn't train or go home to see my family. When I eventually got back, they cancelled the season."

    Barry Hepburn playing for Bayern MunichAttacking winger Hepburn, 17, left Celtic to join German giants Bayern Munich in the summer of 2020

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    'This language is rocket science'

    The language barrier is another issue. Despite living in the country for over two years now, Ayrshire man Morrison is still struggling to come to terms with it all.

    As for Bannockburn-born Hepburn, he is feeling pretty good about himself after receiving a decent pass mark in a recent exam.

    "I used to do languages in school," Morrison recalls. "I'd do Chinese and be amazing at it, but this language is honestly like rocket science at times. I can understand most of it, but speaking it is a whole new challenge."

    "I go to a place here that's basically just a language school," Hepburn adds. "I have that Monday to Thursday, nine in the morning to one in the afternoon. I've got that every week and I've just had an exam. I got 60% – I'll take that."

    'What have I done here?'

    There is big-brother vibes about Morrison, who has made life easier for Hepburn since his move to Bavaria. The pair were in and around the same youth teams for six years at Celtic before Morrison's departure to Munich in 2019.

    For a year, the 18-year-old was on his own when it came to settling in and meeting new people – something he struggled to deal with initially.

    "On my first week I went on a pre-season tour with the older age group," he says. "I didn't know anyone. I was thinking to myself, 'what have I done here?'. You start to miss your family and your friends, but after a couple months it was normal."

    While the move has presented its challenges, the lure or playing at a super-club like Bayern was always going to be too great to give up on.

    A "proper intense" training schedule is demanded, along with strict off-field education that has resulted in Morrison passing a diploma in business.

    But the determining factor boils down to the fact a doorway is open for you at one of the biggest clubs in the world – "the best" of the lot, according to Hepburn.

    "If I was to play for the best team in the world at any level, under-19s, under-17s, amateur, whatever, it's a big achievement," he says. "You're at the top level now, whether it goes wrong or great, it's not a bad thing."

    "As a young kid, I always wanted to be at one of the top clubs in Europe," Morrison adds. "When Bayern come in for you, it's hard to look away from that. It's a great opportunity and a great learning curve. If you make it all the way, it's a bonus."

    Liam Morrison playing for Bayern MunichCentre-back Morrison (far left) signed with Bayern Munich a year prior to Hepburn's arrival

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    'Sane tore me apart'

    While first-team contact is not regular, with the youth teams training at a separate complex, the players are constantly reminded that there is a pathway there providing they apply themselves as expected.

    Morrison – who played with forward Jamal Musiala, now a regular first-team player – knows fine well the level required to reach the senior side after experiencing a training match with the Bundesliga superstars.

    "I was marking Leroy Sane," he says, laughing. "I had just come back from an injury as well, and he tore me apart. But that's another reason why I wanted to come here – if you are training with the top players, you're only going to get better."

    Recent years have seen an increase in Scots moving to mainland Europe.

    While more established players such Aaron Hickey (Bologna, Italy), Lawrence Shankland (Beerschot, Belgium) and Liam Henderson (Empoli, Italy) are gaining first-team experience, Scotland's youth sides have their share of talent from top clubs.

    But both Hepburn and Morrison feel the correct route to the first team must be available for any youngster to take that step.

    "Going to a big club is brilliant," Morrison says. "They've got the big name and you can say you play for them. But if there's no pathway, there's no point. It needs to be the right plan for you to develop and become a better player."

    "Make sure the move benefits you and it's not going to take you back two steps," Hepburn adds. "If it makes you a better player, go for it. You might not make it, but you have a chance. As long as you have a chance, that's all it takes."

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