With Scotland’s chances on the international scene at least looking a little more positive now that Gordon Strachan has the reigns, one of the keys to a successful and continued progress, and hopefully a return to the glory days of actually playing in the finals of major tournaments, is the need to provide decent development environment for younger players coming through the ranks.
The same is true at East Fife and we’ve written about it before in the blog. East Fife’s future, and that of our peers, has a lot of onus in getting back to our roots and bringing our own players through our youth system.
Except this is not easy in this modern age. Not because of a lack of talent at our disposal, performances in the Reserve and U19 games clearly show what talent there is coming through at Bayview, but because modern football dictates that more than ever this is a results oriented business.
Managers and owners are under so much pressure to succeed that the quick fix is often sought through experienced players and younger players find it hard to make the breakthrough into the first team and end up drifting away to the Juniors or obscurity.
We, the fans, are partly to blame as we want success on the pitch and if we don’t get it, we want changes off it. The result is that manager feel they sometimes can’t risk youth.
This scenario is just a part of the problem. Some clubs are very good at bringing through their young talent and some are forced in to it through administration.
But although there are a number of exciting young prospects breaking into the international set up, you do have to fear for the future if the Scottish footballing powers that be don’t get their act together and get some more younger players playing for Scottish teams, especially in the top flight.
There’s no easy solutions. The ideal one would be to reintroduce the minimum number of Scottish players that clubs must field for games, or play about with the squad age rules. Some of these are likely to break some EU nonsense about freedom of movement though, so that may not even be on the table and you can be sure that the bigger clubs would fight against it.
Young players need to play though and get valuable competitive minutes to keep developing.
Although it would need a massive overhaul, huge buy in and a lot of investment of time and money, the Scottish game could maybe learn a thing or two from the American college system.
A lack of opportunities for young players in North America sees the college game thrive. There is a deep void when players graduate from their U18 academies, with the pro leagues not full of opportunities for younger guys.
Whilst some make the move to play in lower European leagues, many others go down the college route where they can play a competitive season and get year round training and development.
And on top of all that, there is the added benefit that the players get an actual education to fall back on. With the chances of making it a professional, this is something badly needed for young players in Scotland and everywhere really.
If we could overhaul the university system throughout the UK and provide that similar kind of environment then it can only bode well for our footballing future.
Not everything about the US college system would likely work here. The famous drafts for example could prove to be problematic, but something could be worked out to give the top graduating players the chance to make the move to professional, semi-professional or Junior clubs.
In a 2012 study, 99% of players who played college football didn’t turn pro. Much of that had to do with the lack of opportunities.
It may be slightly less here but at least if would give these kids an education to fall back on and in amongst the 1, 3 or 5% that do make it, who knows what gems could be uncovered and help the Scottish game.
It’s an out there proposition I know, but that’s what we need these days if we want to get Scotland back as a force on the international, and domestic, football scene.