Here are the Young Men.

Last updated : 03 November 2010 By Earl of Leven

On FF, in the national media, in pubs and offices we’ve had so many arguments about youth football over the years, but despite localised successes for our kids in Scotland jerseys (the famous U16 World Cup final against Saudi Arabia at Hampden springs to mind) most find it hard to break into the top teams in SPL let alone the EPL, La Liga or Serie A. Why?


Is it more than likely related to size and fitness? At 16 we will have big, strong, raw lads who might be able to use their physique to outmuscle the Europeans.Fast-forward a few years and that advantage will be gone and our kids will lack the technique and tactical awareness of their counterparts elsewhere. A few years ago I watched the Euro U17 Finals - Scotland had qualified and had a lot of Rangers lads in the squad. I hoped for a glimpse of the future. We played Turkey, Serbia and Holland and won no points and didn’t score a goal; lads who were hotly tipped in the small world of Scottish youth football had made no impact at all in a more testing environment. It is not working: when something is not working it needs to be changed.


Our own club shows the scale of the problem: in the last decade and a half we have produced Ferguson, Hutton and Wilson in terms of genuine, exciting talent and only one will be regarded as having really played for the club in years to come and be known as a Ranger. Hutton’s great form saw him sold after not more than a full season as a regular and Wilson lasted 22 games. These decisions were financial but it shows the scale of the problem: so infrequent do we produce talent that we cannot therefore decide the time of their departure. And yet it is crucial to our survival to produce talent - not talent ‘good enough for SPL’ but good enough, full stop.


FFers had a lot to say about this and so over to them:


Ross The Ger


Immediately, let's scrap the "we've found our level" nonsense and really dig beneath the major problems on the surface of our national game. What embarrassed me the most was the ability for the Liechtenstein players to play a very simple pass and move game, whereas, we launch the ball up the park in desperation.


Henry McLeish told us in his report that he felt we needed to invest £500m in facilities. I'm not sure I agree wholeheartedly with that statement. I do believe Scotland has enough good facilities, especially with schools. 99% of primary and secondary schools have indoor and outdoor facilities and I would say the money would be better invested maintaining and developing these facilities - especially replacing the blaze surfaces with a proper flat surface. One of the startling things I regularly see is the goalposts being removed from school pitches and the gates being chained up during the summer holidays. Totally sums up this countries attitude towards youth football.


We don't use our school facilities enough in my opinion. Physical Education, from my recent experiences, is something that pupils can actually withdraw from if they do not want to participate. In all honesty, I do not see why this country persists with having Basketball, Badminton and Volleyball as key parts of the PE curriculum. Football is our national sport and, again from my recent experience, the only thing that boys are actually keen on doing. For me, the basic requirement should be that school kids participate in 4 hours of physical activity throughout the school week. Our education system is too concerned with pushing students into the door of university rather than actually bothering about their health and well-being.


School Football was previously seen as something that produced the stars of tomorrow, but sadly, with poor coaching knowledge and poor facilities we have seen the competitive edge of School Football removed. I have seen very good footballers removed from School Football teams due to poor behavior, something I do not agree with at all. For me, the Scottish FA should be offering free coaching courses for these volunteers who put their time and effort in to running school football teams. If they had any basic knowledge of drills and how to run a team then we might see this begin to thrive again.


Coach Education is clearly a major problem within Scottish Football. I have heard many coaches complain at the poor standard of the coaching courses that are run by the SFA. Again, instead of investing £500m in new facilities which end up charging £100 to rent a pitch, why not invest money in totally revamping our coaching ladder with courses that educate coaches on touch, technique and control. In my opinion, we should be employing full-time SFA coaches that are UEFA qualified to work with kids in primary and secondary schools across Scotland. These people should be out in schools all day and helping coaching teams maybe once or twice at night a week. Even during the holidays, these coaches should be offering 3 and 4 coaching sessions a day rather than just the 1 session that usually the Council offer as part of their summer programme. During the winter, Futsal is something which could be used in the indoor school facilities that we know most schools have.


Until we get rid of the "kick and rush" attitude amongst Scottish coaches we will never see the elite talent coming through. Sadly, players are judged on their physical ability rather than technical ability and that is probably quite evident in the current Scottish national team. We MUST emphasize small-sided games and we MUST emphasize that the ball is in fact your friend and you should treat it the best you can rather than kicking lumps out of it. Touch, technique and control are the three basic elements that should be used throughout our coaching system.


Interestingly this brought to mind watching a programme about Man U’s annual youth tournament; the winners were Sao Paulo and their coach shouted constantly: “Keep the ball, caress it, hold it…..that is your ball….our ball….” They dominated possession in every game and wore opponents down by making them chase the ball all game.


Here Stefanford1 decries the lack of regional centres of excellence, writing from Caithness:


One thing that I think that is missing from the game is football road shows and also exploiting all of the potential areas for players. I live right up the top of Scotland and very little is done to help improve players or even scout any of them at a decent age. I run a youth team now voluntarily, and trying to get games for players up here is very difficult and also there is no-one to even see these players play. If there were more football road shows coming up this neck of the woods and even if rangers etc. were to give training to coaches up here so they could run teams and scout for them, it would bring a lot of enthusiasm and help to the kids up here. The kids I coach travel miles just to play and they have a passion for football that I don't see in many kids these days. People think that we are the back of beyond up here but when you add up all the people in the scattered communities there are a lot.




Of course The Gub has his own thoughts:


So what do we do? I still firmly believe that Scotland produces players of inherent skill that can equal some of the European countries that seem to have overtaken us in terms of world football ratings and have left us trailing in their wake. Now we can say to kids lay off the Wiis or Nintendos, but that is just camouflaging, merely papering over the cracks. The fact is, if anyone truly believes that young Michael and Brian growing up in modern day Denmark don’t have access to computer games, then they are deluding only themselves.

No, it’s more than just about X boxes (any budding Wayne Rooneys out there look away now) and Nintendos I’m afraid. It is a huge change in peoples’ mindset that is required. We are often told that we need to make youth games less competitive, well for that to happen we will need to banish parents from games as well. A guy I work with takes a youth team (something like under 15s) and he says the scrapes he has gotten into at times, with parents (and the opposing team’s coach) is pretty hairy.

However, the biggest sea change in mentality has to come from within, and I’ll give you a few examples.

Up the stairs in our Main stand there is a portrait hanging of Alan Morton who was and always will be a Rangers legend. Alan Lauder Morton played on the left wing and indeed played a record eleven times against England on the left wing. One English scribe once described him as ‘un-get-at-able’.

But here’s the thing. Alan Morton was naturally right footed. He spent hour after hour relentlessly chipping a ball into a coal basket with his left paw to make that foot as strong as his right foot.

Do you think that this sort of devotion wouldn’t work in the modern day? Well, think again. Alex Ferguson has came out in print and said he has been lucky (vewy, vewy lucky) at times in that he had players like Cantona and Beckham , who even at the peak of their game, were prepared to stay behind after normal training to practice their art even more.

It surely cannot be coincidence that these players are considered icons in the modern era and feted for particular talents. (And I say that, even though I am not Beckham’s biggest fan)

Last season, I couldn’t have been the only one who was mesmerised by the skills of Lionel Messi in the CL. Those master classes were something to savour. It took you back to being a kid. Now I’m not saying we have anyone at Ibrox remotely in the same league as Lionel Messi. But surely if I am walking to work at six in the morning with a smile on my face that would make a Cheshire cat blush with shame, thinking of his display the night before? Then surely, every professional footballer watching the guy should have went into training that same morning(s) intent on at least attempting to brush up on their skills?

And Yorkshire Blue had this to say as part of his wide range of views on our national game:


The U21 rule is seriously flawed and isn’t designed so that it has to be two Scotsmen listed in the squad. It also hampers team coaches when naming squads and can punish promising 23 year old Scots.

I would suggest a required regulation for entry into the Premier League would be that each club has to have a suitable youth academy which is linked to a local college, school or even university. This would give clubs a chance to develop players in their community and also ensure that the Scottish game doesn’t miss out on any hidden gems. With such a small population we cannot afford to be missing anyone that has the potential to be a star.


Schoolboy players would get the chance to be drafted by local clubs and then given sponsorship for college while training with the club. There will be a lot of players that do not make it but at least they will have an education and not be left on the scrapheap. This would also help the community in the long run, creating more educated youngsters can only be a good thing.


Another angle on this would be to have a college & university league championship that would run along with the regular football season and a cup competition in the summer which acts as a shop window for players trying to make the grade. With the age groups our top university players would fill the Scotland U-21 squad and gain valuable experience playing abroad.


By graduation all players would have a valuable education, self discipline, knowledge of nutrition, the human body and how to look after themselves. Most players will have a club and will kick start their career. Looking at Scottish Football’s point of view, we would have a genuine conveyor belt of talent coming through each year. The timescale of this being in full flow could be as little as 5-10 years if implemented properly.


Scotland has developed some of the best coaches in the world, it’s about time we developed some of the best players.


Ross The Ger then added this as regards our much vaunted facility at Largs:


The famous Largs base for the SFA has nurtured some of the best coaches around like Jose Mourinho but why are the Scottish coaches who are educated there not having a big effect on the product of players in our national game?

We STILL have coaches who insist on the 'kick and rush' mentality at young ages.
We STILL have coaches who insist on 11-a-side games when kids aren't in their teens.
We STILL have coaches who don't want their youngsters to express themselves on the pitch, rather sticking to the coaching of strict tactics at silly age levels.

To his
credit, I do think Jim Fleeting, Director of Youth Development at the SFA, has got sensible and forward-thinking ideas but the nature of the SFA's hierarchy and the number of different governing bodies mean it is very difficult for them to implement a structure that we can all follow.

It was refreshing last year to hear new Dundee United Youth supremo Ian Cathro's plans for the Tannadice club when working closely with Craig Levein. Cathro insisted emphasis on development of a youngster's touch and technique in their early footballing years. Instead of 11-a-side games at 10 years-old, Cathro wants to implement small-sided games which develop ball control and first touch.

Perhaps, a wind of change is sweeping through Scottish Football like we're led to believe?

Perhaps, the 'old timers' still in charge of Youth Football clubs across Scotland are the problem and younger coaches like Ian Cathro need to be given the chance to implement fresh ideas into our national game? Perhaps, it's not about spending hundreds of pounds in getting coaching badges from the dinosaurs at the SFA, but 'football-minded' junkies who are ambitious and forward-thinking on youth football?

There are many questions which need answered. It's about time we begin to DEMAND answers. As fans of Scotland's Premier club, we're entitled to demand answers from the SFA and demand answers from Rangers Football Club.


Willboy2412 agrees re the Academy model:


I have the theory that we got here because we stopped producing the players and there are no signs of this changing soon, supposing it’s Rangers, Hearts, Hibs, Aberdee or Dundee Utd etc.  I believe there should be a structure in place whereby to gain entry to the SPL every club must have a youth academy based on the Barcelona and Ajax models where you must educate and train the players form the age of 11 onwards and this is based on a boarding school idea where clubs would take players on a Monday Morning 8am for school then taking for training and this continues through to when the players are even 18 and they can gain degree's and so and so on! I believe that this would provide the younger lads with an education and proper training 5 days a week with the option of keeping players overnight etc should they wish to do so!


I would also argue for a small fee to be paid (as is common in Europe) for all players to join SFA. This means that all registered players have to adhere to standards of coaching and anyone wishing to set up a team based solely on the collecting of trophies would be outside looking in. this might end the scene where lads play on full size pitches in the wind and rain; kicking a Mitre 5 as high as they can while parents shout and swear at them from the touchline. That would be ‘rogue football’ and its adherents would not be eligible for a place at an academy, or a cap for Scotland at any level.


So we’re getting somewhere at last. Aren’t we? The argument:


  • No full size pitches for our kids….or gravel…..or meaningless trophies at too young an age
  • Coaches being forced by the SFA / SPL to coach kids in a standardized way and not as they see fit….no ‘pockets of good practice’ but general good practice
  • SFA and clubs having academies which filter into regional centres and national centres – a talented lad in Wick can make his way to Inverness, to Perth and to Glasgow. This happens in France, Germany and elsewhere.
  • Learn from abroad…how do these strange foreign types manage to pass the ball, trap it and make space? The best guess it is learned and not inherited. So let’s learn from the people who taught them. Import talent OFF the field….get our youth coaches coached.
  • Link footballing excellent to education…try and forge links with schools, colleges and Universities. The benefits of healthier kids are legion….and kids with a better basic education will be better citizens.
  • An emphasis on pass and move; NO training without the ball. Players can start using the gym as they stop growing and settle into adulthood.
  • A Dutch university study showed that re-creating ‘street football’ would bring each kid three times as many touches of the ball per training session compared to youth training in England. This is now being adopted in Holland. The sessions are less structured and the kids ‘run about and enjoy the game’. This seems to lead to more participation, more touches, and more skill.


It is important that we don’t reinvent the wheel….the ideas are out there. It is crucial that we lose our introspective belief that we have little to learn. We should import ideas, talent and read these studies…..copy what works well. We cannot be afraid of change or of being seen as following where others lead.


In a Rangers sense I would add that we should expose our youth teams to far more games with foreign opponents (including hosting a youth tournament of our own), import foreign coaches for a term or two terms….bring in new ideas to the sessions. There is more to be learned from tough games against Arsenal, Boca Juniors and Ajax than a dominant season domestically. Add the dressing rooms, car parking spaces etc to Auchenhowie, get the UEFA licence, put up the temporary stands and let’s show we mean business by hosting the best teams in the world at each age group.


The problems:


  • Money. Who pays for academies? Who controls access to the players produced?
  • Can colleges and universities be encouraged to get involved when their existing funding is not secure?
  • Parents. Will they ‘let go’ and watch their son move from trophies and medals to a more cerebral approach with no parental coaching from the sidelines?
  • Ownership. Who leads? SPL? SFA? Clubs? They’ve spent decades hiding. Who is brave enough to step up and get the ball rolling? At all levels of our national game we have terrible leadership. Can this change?
  • Introspection. “We’ve always done it this way……that lad is too skinny….futsal is for poofs….we’ve nothing to learn from them….I’ve got a coaching badge, have you?” etc etc. Old habits die hard.


But we have to change. Or die. Our national game and our own club cannot buy success or leave to chance uncovering a player every few years who can actually trap the ball; we need to work towards a system where we produce these players regularly. Where someone like Danny Wilson is not considered a wunderkind but is of the level fans would expect to see emerging from our youth systems.