The SPL Debate Part II: The Fountain of an Oranje Youth

Posted on August 25, 2011 by

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After our look at what problems Scottish football faces off the pitch we’ll now delve into problems on it. Obviously the massive gulf in finances affects the type of player in the SPL and makes it harder to attract top quality players to the league, but what kind of a standard already exists?

Since 1990 big names like Laudrup, Gascoigne, Sutton and Larsson have graced SPL pitches and given the product a real lift. While the league’s record signing Tore Andre Flo wasn’t exactly a hit, his price tag of £12m is still to this day the highest fee paid by a Scottish club, joining Rangers from Chelsea.

That £12m fee won’t be beaten, at least not for a long time and certainly not for the foreseeable future. It’d even be hard for the £6m fee Celtic paid for Chris Sutton to be broken such is the state of finances in the Scottish game.

Even if this type of money did exist, why would any top name player want to come to Scotland? Scotlands a lovely country, full of wonderful people and all the other things a tourist board would want me to say, but the problem isn’t the country. It’s the league itself.

The vibe I get when I ask people what they think of Scottish football is never a good one, just look at the laughing stock the league has become recently when it’s a great triumph that one of our teams are still in Europe after August.

A lot has been said of Celtic and Rangers dominating the Scottish league, and while both sides certainly help with bumping up the finances of other clubs, the Celtic Rangers curse is slowly killing off Scottish football, it hasn’t been a level playing field for almost three decades now. Barring a mysterious sheik take over the SPL will continue to be a two-team league. The competition between Glasgow’s finest is fascinating, good rivalry brings out the best in it’s competitors but its made the league stagnant beyond belief.

The only way the SPL can improve the brand is to make the league competitive and get increased involvement in European competition not only from Celtic and Rangers but from the other sides who qualify. When they do play European matches, give them all the resources required to give it a good go, let them have extra rest days, start the season later or earlier (whichever proves more successful), we must do everything we can to improve our co-efficient and to increase the general image of Scottish football.

If we take into account the whole structure of the Scottish league apart from a few teams added here and there it’s a formula that has remained unchanged for years. I’m sure if you compared the methods to those that were used when Aberdeen were winning titles in the 80’s not a lot has changed. The increase in money flooding into the worldwide game as well as the rise in Eastern European football over the years has moved Scotland down the pecking order at both a national and domestic level.

The power brokers at the head of the Scottish game have just sat and watched for the past two decades almost expecting the next Kenny Dalglish or Jinky Johnstone to come through the youth set up and make our game attractive again.

But the truth is that we’re lacking in youth development, why is it that a country that produced so much talent before the turn of the century has its conveyor belt permanently switched to off?  We’ve had minor successes over the years, with ex-Hibbee Steven Fletcher and ex-Rangers man Charlie Adam currently gracing the Premier League but in truth not a lot else has come through the Scottish youth system and really flourished.

Why is it that a nation similar to our own such as Holland is able to constantly produce top class players year on year.  Of course the Dutch league always has the problem of losing these top prospects to Europe’s biggest teams but they leave commanding a good enough fee that part of it can be fed back into youth development to produce the next crop of young talent.  This is the market I feel the SPL really needs to tap into, not only could the Scotland team be fed a source of reliable talent but the clubs can continue to sell at a profit and find it easier to keep a float.  This is all easier said than done of course but you have to start somewhere.

Perhaps the place to start would be Holland where the system isn’t too difficult to copy, in fact it’s quite simple really.   One example is PSV’s youth academy, they start with seven to twelve-year-olds which are usually worked on individual skill before slowly moving onto one-on-one and eventually an eight-versus-eight situation.  But the emphasis during this early phase is solely on playing attacking football and taking risks, the winning is not important.  The Dutch model doesn’t just put emphasis on training to play the game right, but also on the development of turning from a child to an adult, a key skill which is often overlooked in coaching world-wide not just in Scotland.

That’s just a small example, but this sort of set-up is like an unwritten blueprint all over Holland in teams such as Heerenveen, Feyenoord, AZ, Ajax and of course PSV.  Scotland arguably has one of the best coaching systems in the world, not only do Scotland currently have eight EPL coaches but even Portuguese stars Jose Mourinho and Andre Villas Boas were schooled under the SFA umbrella.  So why do we have such a problem developing talent?

The only alarming suggestion would be a lack of foresight and organisation, the youth system really needs to be addressed and the SPL, SFA and SFL need to help our clubs by showing them methods that have worked in other countries.  Teams such as Ross County have already made a start on offering improved youth facilities to children who are still in Primary school right through to under 16 levels but we are still light years behind others on the continent.

Its not time to bury our head in the sand and pretend we can do it on our own, let’s ask for help and guidance if we need it from other associations, the Scotland that qualified for World Cups and our clubs that toured Europe every season looking for glory are gone.

Moving on from the development of youth and the poor state of finance in our game what can we do to increase the popularity of the SPL and the Scottish game in general in the short-term?  A change to summer football?  An Atlantic League?  Losing the Glasgow giants altogether?  In Part III I’ll have a look at some suggestions that have cropped up and whether there’s any evidence that they’ll be a success.

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Posted in: Europe