Scottish football changes its policy on youth development: Better vs Better

On Saturday 8th September 2012 Scotland start their latest world cup qualifying campaign with a home match against Serbia at Hampden Park followed up with a second game against Macedonia.

In a qualifying group also consisting of Belgium, Croatia and Wales it is not going to be easy for manager Craig Levein’s team to achieve a ticket to the finals to be held in Brazil 2014.

It has after all been 14 years and 7 tournaments since Scotland last qualified for a major European or world cup finals so it is not as if we can say we are very good at qualifying from tough sections.

Sitting a disappointing 46 in the world rankings table also does not inspire confidence that success will be forthcoming for this football mad nation that is Scotland. The result of this and a litany of poor international performances meaning tournament on tournament we slip down the qualifying pots and face tougher sections to get out of.

Failure to deliver a positive outcome in this qualification will no doubt cost Levein his job. The fact the guy is not very well liked by the fans also doesnot help him. One person though in the Scottish Football Association (SFA) heirarchy who will be granted a wee bit more time irrespective of the outcome in this arduous qualifying journey will be Mark Wotte.

Appointed in June 2011 to the role of SFA PErformance Director this amiable 61 year old Dutchman will be given one would expect a little bit more time as he continues with the implementation of his employer’s strategic plan, “Scotland United – a 20 / 20 vision”.

For in this plan the SFA looks to deliver a revised framework for progressing the elite of Scotland’s youth footballers and at the end of the day achieving a higher quality of product coming out the national youth acadamy system than has been achieved previously.

Certainly if for example one compares Scotland just now to say Belgium it would be fair to say that when the teams meet in October 12 in Belgium and September 13 at Hampden during the qualification period the Scots are going to struggle. Frankly Scotland just do not have the calibre of players the current Belgian team possess.

The challenge for Mark Wotte is in the next few years to make such statements redundant backed up by evidence of the Scottish equivalent to a Vertonghen, Van Buyten, Vermaelen, Kompany, Dembele, De Bruyne, Hazard, Fellaini and Lukaku coming through his new system; all players we can expect our current national team to face and all players our younger generation of football fans aspire to be. No equivalent Scottish list to this array of talent exists no matter how nationally optimistic or biased the tartan army members choose to be.

To achieve this aim the Scots have spent some considerable time reviewing why they have failed to produce such lists of talent. Luminories of the game such as Alex Ferguson and Walter Smith have had their say. This all following the Henry McCleish review of Scottish Football.

The general principle in Scotland after all this was that we were through our acadamy system productive at making average players good players. We were not so productive though at making good players exceptional players. Hence no Belgian equivalent player list and no passports being looked out in the past for Germany, South Africa and recently Poland /Ukraine. We also concluded that it was not that we did not have the player potential but that our systems and processes were working against us in achieving this important aim.

To overcome this deficiency an elite acadamy system has subsequently been developed. A significantly reduced number of acadamy club teams will now play each other through age ranges from under 11s upwards.

A complete overhaul of the coaching arrangements within these academies will be implemented with focus on a challenging set of new standards to be met including mandatory facilities and number/ level of coaches in place across the acadamies.

Also a much more focused set of monitoring arrangements between SFA and acadamy clubs to be adhered to with clear and challenging performance milestones to be achieved. A push to play extended small side games for as long as possible in youth football also laudably pursued. Ticky tacky for Scotland? Johan Cruyff would be proud.

All of these changes overseen by Mark Wotte with the SFA pinning their hopes on his experience as technical director at Feyenoord and Dutch under 21 manager amongst the many other roles he has fulllfilled in his time as a well respected football coach across Holland, England, Egypt and Qatar coming to the fore.

Whether this best vs best culture shift in Scotland’s youth football system will prevail only time will tell. Whether Scotland can develop a European style of football and a conveyor belt of players akin to those listed earlier one can only hope for.

Brazil might indeed come to soon for Scotland’s world domination of football but who knows about Russia and Qatar? The nation waits with bated breath.


Written by James Redfern

Follow him on @jaycraig1

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