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SSFC Spotlight: Cameron Carter-Vickers scores game-winning goal in Old Firm derby

The center back has hit a new level in Scotland.

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Livingston v Celtic - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

Cameron Carter-Vickers delivered three points for Celtic in one of the footballing world’s most famous rivalries, scoring the game-winning goal against Rangers to extend a lead at the top of Scottish Premiership table. Coming off a free kick, the 24-year-old center back pounced on a loose ball and drilled his shot into the back of the net. His performances this season have drawn praise and the creative nickname of “Fridge” from teammates and supporters. The ongoing success comes at an interesting time, with the United States Men’s National Team backline still unsettled and months to play until the 2022 World Cup begins.

Carter-Vickers was born in the city of Southend-on-Sea to an English mother and American father, retired basketball player Howard Carter. A multi-sport championship athlete in basketball, rugby, and athletics, he began playing football in the youth squads of lower-league side Catholic United. While competing for the Essex Bhoys, Tottenham scouted him and added him to the academy. His rise was fast, skipping the U-16 level and reaching the reserves in 2014, while being praised for his impressive “physical presence.”

He was considered a top prospect for the Lilywhites and signed a two-year contract on his 17th birthday, spurning interest from Arsenal. Following a standout performance in a summer friendly against Juventus, his first-team debut came in September of 2016, playing 90 minutes against Gillingham in the EFL Cup. That season, Carter-Vickers had four appearances and was on the bench for several Premier League and Champions League fixtures. Then-manager Mauricio Pochettino expressed that the young defender had the potential to become “one of the best in England.”

In 2017, Tottenham sent him on loan to Championship side Sheffield United. He made 18 appearances before unexpectedly being recalled in January for “development” reasons. The defender then moved to Ipswich for the remainder of the season, impressing scouts with his “body strength” and intuitive way of handling mobile strikers.

Upon returning to Tottenham, Carter-Vickers signed an extension until July of 2021. “I’ve worked hard out on loan this season, trying to get as many minutes and games as I could,” said the defender. “I feel like I’ve improved as a player and it’s definitely benefited me. Now I’m looking to kick on. The next step for me is to come back for pre-season, get my head down, work hard and try to impress the manager and as many people as I can.”

This would be the start of a pattern in Carter-Vickers’ career. Over the next three years, he embarked on four more loans to a succession of clubs in the Championship, experiencing varying levels of success at each stop and always being praised by managers for his mentality. The defender earned a spot in the starting lineup which brought discussion of making the loan permanent before returning to Tottenham and repeating the cycle.

The spell at Swansea City was successful, with 33 league and cup appearances, but ended despite the player’s interest in staying. The next stop, at Stoke City, started well before being recalled prematurely after losing his place in the lineup. He was subsequently sent to Luton Town and quickly earned a starting role for the remainder of the season, helping steer an escape from relegation. In October of 2020, Carter-Vickers joined AFC Bournemouth and made 27 appearances, leading the Cherries to the promotion playoffs.

“[Going on loan] is definitely a challenge,” Carter-Vickers told American Soccer Now. “It is something I’ve gotten more used to as I’ve been doing it. In terms of getting used to a new group of players and new managers, that’s something that I’ve managed to do quite well and cope with. It’s definitely a challenge to go from team to team and try to adjust your style of play to the team and adjust the way you play to what your new manager demands.”

His stint at Bournemouth drew transfer interest from a variety of suitors, including Newcastle United, Anderlecht, Fulham, Cardiff City, Club Brugge, and “four Major League Soccer clubs,” but Tottenham placed a $14 million value on the player and extended his contract by a year. Last summer, there appeared to be a brief change in the winds at White Hart Lane under new (and since fired) manager Nuno Espírito Santo. Carter-Vickers played in the Europa Conference League qualifier against Paços Ferreira, his first appearance for Tottenham since 2017. Unfortunately, he suffered an injury and was out of the roster the next week.

At the tail end of the summer window, Carter-Vickers was sent on loan again, this time leaving the English pyramid for Celtic on a contract featuring an option to buy. “It all happened fairly quickly,” he told the club’s official website. “I was just sitting at home kind of relaxing and not knowing what was going to happen, and then I got the call and had to rush to Tottenham’s training ground to get it all signed off... As soon as I heard it was Celtic, it was something I wanted to do... I’ve come here and I know the expectation at Celtic is to win every game, that’s why I’m here, to try to help the team do that.”

Carter-Vickers was immediately inserted into the starting lineup, playing 90 minutes in his debut against Ross County and scoring a goal. He has thrived in Scotland, making 38 appearances across all competitions and even developing a scoring touch, finding the back of the net four times. Celtic is on pace to win a domestic treble (Premiership, Scottish Cup, Scottish League Cup), with the American defender playing a key role on the back line. The recent performance against Rangers drew renewed praise, with commentator and former Bhoy Chris Sutton referring to “the star man of the week” as “immense.”

His success in Scotland has increased transfer interest, as his on-field production may have finally met Tottenham’s valuation. According to Larry Henry Jr. of Soccer by Ives, Leicester City, Wolverhampton, Watford, Burnley, and Bournemouth are interested in a permanent transfer. Celtic’s purchase clause was a reported £6 million but rose to £10 million “with two separate add-ons.” The Daily Record reports that the Scottish giants are “edging closer” to keeping Carter-Vickers, with the “player’s camp believing that [the club] is the best place for [him] to take his game onto the next level.”

On the international scene, Carter-Vickers was the reported subject of a minor recruiting battle between the United States and England, while also being eligible for Ireland through his grandmother’s lineage. The former program won his services, starting with a call-up to the U-18 squad in 2014 after being scouted at a tournament in Florida. He was a starter at the 2015 and 2017 U-20 World Cups, runs that ended in the quarterfinals.

Despite his connection to the program, Carter-Vickers has been on the outskirts of the senior national team. He was on the bench for a World Cup qualifier in November of 2016 but has yet to receive another call-up to a competitive fixture. His eight caps have come in friendlies, the last in June of 2019, but perhaps his fortunes will change under Gregg Berhalter.

“We are definitely monitoring Cameron,” the manager told Record Sport in January. “We have a lot of competition at the center back position. But we think he is performing well and he is definitely on our radar.”

Carter-Vickers is a center back that is comfortable on a more static four-player back line, possessing the physicality, athleticism, and technical ability to handle bruising strikers. His passing is highly accurate from both short and long distances, distributing frequently during matches. He is rarely beaten off the dribble, intercepts passes, and wins aerial duels. His muscular width and low center of gravity allows him to maintain possession, with opponents bouncing off of him. Contrary to the archetype of a loud defensive leader, his style is described as “not vocal” and instead quietly leading by example to command respect.

“He’s not the tallest central defender, but he was always aggressive in the air,” former United States Under-20 Men’s National Team manager Tab Ramos shared with The Athletic in November. “In the US, we do have big athletes but we just didn’t have someone as aggressive, welcoming every challenge and winning everything in the air. Setting the standard for what a central defender should be like... His calm demeanor on the ball, and in general, in dangerous situations at the back... Cameron is a great person to have at camp, always smiling, always with the right attitude. He was one of my favorite players to coach because of his demeanor. He brought a lot to the table. He made the team better, on the field and off it.”

Carter-Vickers is churning through the Celtic finishing school, experiencing the career boost enjoyed by many European players whose travels lead to Scotland. After this season, he will likely leave Tottenham, perhaps staying in Glasgow or somewhere in the Premier League. Whether his performances have been good enough to impress Berhalter remains another question. The summer’s CONCACAF Nations League fixtures should reveal his standing in the program and if there is any chance of inclusion on the 2022 World Cup roster.