Scottish Football needs to improve its youth system

Rewind back to the 1980s and Scottish football is in full swing, with clubs recording success within Scotland and in European competitions. Clubs were full of homegrown players, who had been scouted and come through the ranks at their respective clubs.

Fast forward to the present day and only a handful of players receiving first-team minutes have come through the youth development systems put in place.

Looking back at how things used to be, Scottish football has taken a step backwards in terms of how they develop the youngsters coming through the ranks. Current Peterhead manager Jim McInally, who worked with the Celtic Youth Academy during the Martin O’Neill era, claims the pro-youth academies are “filled with young kids who will never make it”.

McInally believes the pro-youth system should be scrapped and the old “schools system” should be reinstated, where everyone should be playing for their school, something which isn’t currently happening. McInally is backing current Scotland manager Gordon Strachan, who wants to fix the problem from the bottom up. Strachan believes the coaching programmes in place need to be stripped down to the bare bone to a system that worked well for him and many other players coming through the ranks in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.

Those at the very top of Scottish football want to see a commitment from clubs to begin producing players again, but do they have what it takes to make it? The Scottish FA’s performance schools are there to ensure the players receive enough coaching to hone their skills and techniques but believe it is the clubs’ responsibility to make sure the players learn the importance of team play. Scottish football is producing players who have an element of natural ability and have practised their skills perfectly but lack the physical attributes to survive top-level football or the ability to overcome any obstacles.

At the beginning of 2017, the Daily Record looked at which Premiership club played the most Academy players. To qualify, players must have continuous service with their club — excluding any loan deals — and have at least one year of youth football under their belt, before moving onto the first team.

Rangers had the worst record with its homegrown players, with only two from the squad at the time recording first team minutes; Barry McKay and Liam Burt. Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes gave four players first team minutes in that season, Dons veterans Andrew Considine, Ryan Jack, Peter Pawlett, and youngster Scott Wright.

Since 2017, Jack and Pawlett have left for Rangers and England respectively, with a number of new Youth Academy recruits coming through. Old Firm rivals Celtic share third place with Hearts, both of which have produced seven players to feature in first team games. Topping the table for development of youth players is Hamilton Academical with 13 players recording first team minutes. Hamilton has always had a strong youth development system, producing James McArthur and James McCarthy who made big money moves to the English Premier League.

_ABC6027 (1)

Lewis Smith making his debut against Aberdeen. Picture provided by Hamilton Academical Football Club.

One Hamilton Youth Academy player who has recently made the step up to the first team is Lewis Smith. Smith made his first-team debut in a league defeat against Aberdeen in October, and said: “I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time so I was just determined to get on the pitch and show them what I can do”. Smith first got involved in football by “playing at his local boy’s club before being fortunate enough to be picked up by Hamilton”. When asked about Hamilton’s Youth Academy and the coaches, Smith had nothing but praise for the system and those who helped him through the way: “The coaches are very supportive here, most importantly George Cairns. George is a great motivator and it’s him I’ve got to thank for everything”.

The Scottish Youth system is an important feature for the development of players and an integral part of Scottish football as a whole.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: