Luton Town could be about to sign the ‘jewel in Falkirk’s’ academy’ and a player who is the ‘first name on the teamsheet’ according to Falkirk Herald’s sports editor David Oliver.
News emerged over the weekend that the midfielder who the Hatters have taken to their training camp in Slovenia is the Bairns’ protege Craig Sibbald.
The 22-year-old has come through the ranks at Falkirk, with Oliver, from the Herald, a sister paper of the Luton News, witnessing him blossom from starlet into a first team regular north of the border.
He said: “Craig has long been seen as the jewel in Falkirk’s academy.
“The club has a good reputation for youth development and Sibbald was seen as the best.
“He came through alongside Conor McGrandles (Norwich/MK Dons) Jay Fulton and Stephen Kingsley (Swansea).
He made his first-team debut under Steven Pressley two months after turning 16 and has now played almost 250 games, and is pretty much the first name on the teamsheet at Falkirk.David Oliver
“He can play off the striker as a 10, or wide. Most managers prefer him in the centre of midfield, creating things as he has excellent footwork and a trick or two in him.
“He made his first-team debut under Steven Pressley two months after turning 16 and has now played almost 250 games, and is pretty much the first name on the teamsheet at Falkirk.”
If Sibbald does agree to join the Hatters, when asked what Town fans could expect from the player, who hit double figures with 10 goals in 45 games last term, Oliver continued: “His best position is probably centre midfield but he is used on the left a lot and also does well off the striker in an attacking midfield role.
“He’s a fleet-footed playmaker and is a clever player too. He has bulked up in the last year or so, so is not so easily pushed off the ball and wins it back too.
“He’ll make plenty of goals but if he continues where he left off last season he’ll get them too, as he scored ten goals - his most in a season.
“That was a return to form for him. He had a great 2014-15 season when he helped Falkirk to the Scottish Cup finals with goals in the quarter final and semi-final (both 1-0 wins) and it was widely expected he’d move on after a star show in the run-up to the final, but though there was interest nothing materialised.
“Last season he was again the main man for Falkirk and though he’s usually one of the smaller players on the pitch - scored a few headers too.”
The Bairns fans will be sorry to him their player leave too if he does head south to Kenilworth Road according to Oliver, as he said: “Very much. He grew up in the town, he’s a Falkirk fan and has come right through the ranks.
“Falkirk fans sing ‘He’s one of our own’ and he very much is. All he has wanted from a young age has been to play for the Bairns and he has realised his dream.
“No-one was more upset than he was after the Scottish Cup final defeat (2-1 to Inverness Caledonian Thistle).
“He’s a great player and has that connection to the club.”
Sibbald had been attracting interest from the likes of Scottish Premiership giants Celtic and Rangers in January, so a move to Luton could be seen a something of a surprise, as Oliver said: “It is a little bit, but he’s probably not quite ready to cement a place in either first team there just yet.
“He is the first name on Falkirk’s teamsheet so will want to play if he does leave the club.
“There has been other interest from Scottish teams but a step away to challenge himself, and prove himself, is maybe the right move after six years at Falkirk.
“He’s seen the likes of Fulton, McGrandles and Kingsley go south and his close friend Will Vaulks too and he probably fancies a bit of that himself. “If he shows what he has at Luton there will be plenty of other clubs interested too - and he has plenty of time to make a move and maybe reach Celtic, Rangers or more.
“He did just turn 22 at the end of May. Not many players can say they have such experience behind them at such a young age.”
About the chances of him adapting to the English game too, then Oliver said: “My knowledge of League Two isn’t particularly extensive - he’s the best player I’ve seen at Falkirk so that says something.
“The Scottish Championship is pretty fast-paced and can be hard-hitting and he’s survived and thrived to almost 250 games.
“So he will have plenty experience to fall back on and has plenty ability to show.”
Signing the midfielder will be an outlay for Town too, as Falkirk have made sure they will be recompensed, with Oliver adding: “Falkirk have protected their interests and claim to training development fee by offering Sibbald an extension to his contract.
“Whatever happens he will have a club next season. Figures mentioned for that compensation range between £180-220k but whether or not an agreement can be reached is another story.
“Falkirk won’t let him walk away for nothing - they have put many many years into coaching him and honing his talents.
“It could be a shrewd bit of business for whoever does take the plunge and pay the money, because there are others interested.
“Falkirk manager Peter Houston also reckons that’s why he is still at Falkirk and if he was available for a free he’d have been snapped up by a Premier League club by now.”