Neil Doncaster's blog
With the first four rounds of Clydesdale Bank Premier League fixtures completed, it is an appropriate time to reflect on what has been a terrific first month.
For reasons well documented elsewhere, it was a pretty bleak summer for Scottish football but our clubs have served up plenty of action and excitement.
From the point of view of Sky and ESPN, the quality of goals and the number of talking points around our games must have exceeded even their most optimistic expectations. With club finances under huge pressure after Setanta’s collapse, it is great news that our competition can be talked about in positive terms.
One, perhaps sobering, talking point to reflect on is how many talented Scottish players have made the move south in 2009. It’s no surprise that players who get the chance to move to England should want to do so – a player’s career is a short one and with the money on offer south of the border, it is difficult to begrudge them their chance to secure their financial future. Given the huge losses and debts of many Championship clubs, it is not clear for how much longer clubs can continue to pay the stratospheric wages currently on offer even in England’s second and third tiers.
But with this ongoing exodus of native talent, it is clear that Scottish football must continue to remain focused on youth development. The future, of necessity, must be home grown. With this in mind, we currently have a rule that ensures at least three outfield players of the 18-man match day squad must be under 21.
At the last meeting of the SPL managers, this rule was discussed at length. There are no doubt huge differences of views between the clubs. Some clubs sometimes use the three U21s as the last of the seven subs – almost as shirt fillers. Some managers felt strongly that the undeserved kudos and cash that came with unmerited first team involvement created a comfort zone for young players. Some players subsequently struggled to deal with the hard knocks of the real world when they were loaned out or transferred to clubs in the lower leagues.
As an alternative, some have suggested that a home-grown rule might be the better way to go. While others want no restrictions on who can, and who cannot, make up the match day squad. This is something that we will be reviewing in the weeks ahead.
When I appeared on the BBC’s Sportsound recently, Billy Dodds questioned another SPL decision - to scrap the SPL’s Reserve League. Certainly it is a move that has not been universally welcomed.
The background is that during the summer, two of our clubs brought forward a motion to make participation in the Reserve League optional which gained the eight votes necessary to implement it. Clubs will have had their own reasons for voting for the motion, and in some cases the costs of running a reserve team will have figured large in their thinking.
When the SPL managers last met, their view was that some of the best U19 players were being over-played – appearing in both the U19 and Reserve Leagues. There were also concerns over the restrictions applicable to foreign trialists – restrictions which do not apply to bounce games. Some managers were also of the view that their reserve team sat uncomfortably between the first team and the U19s. That was certainly the case at Carrow Road and at some other teams south of the border – the view was that players who had not broken into the first team by the time they were 17 or 18 were unlikely to make it at the very top level. Hence the opinion held by many that players should be graduating from the U19s directly into the first team.
The contrary view, of course, is that players graduating from the U19s are simply not physically and mentally ready for the pressure-cooker atmosphere of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League. Andy Walker certainly took that view at the recent Clydesdale Bank Voting Lunch. Andy felt strongly that, for a few years in his late teens and early twenties, playing against some senior pros in the reserves toughened him up and made him ready for the brutal reality of first team life.
One thing’s for sure – there’s certainly no consensus about the best way to ensure that players successfully make the transition from youth team to first team. Ross Forbes’ winning of the August Young Player of the Month award after a period on loan last season at Dumbarton would seem to vindicate the loan system as a way of developing blossoming talent. But Hibernian’s David Wotherspoon on the other hand, came straight through the U19s, his goals from midfield helping Hibs to the U19 title last season.
Creating talented players is one thing. Turning those talented players into world class players is something else again. Scotland is a small country in terms of population numbers – but huge in its influence on the world game. What we need to do is to ensure that whatever talents we do produce are given the right platform to exploit their potential.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of the debate, the fact that so many young Scottish players have stood out for all the right reasons in the opening weeks of the season should surely give us reason for optimism. Murray Davidson, Stephen McGinn alongside Ross Forbes and David Wotherspoon have all shone. For those who believe that Scotland’s days as a producer of talented young players are firmly in the past, maybe, just maybe, they will be proved wrong.
For the sake of Scottish football, it is vital that they are.
Neil Doncaster, Chief Executive
What do you think is the best way forward for youth development in Scotland. E-mail us your thoughts at email@example.com
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