Children of the revolution already here for Malky EXCLUSIVE
The future of Scottish football is now for Mackay as kids come good in Premiership
W EDWARDS Deming may be best known, in the boardrooms of multinational corporations across the world at least, for revolutionising the Japanese car industry following the Second World War.
Could the wisdom of the late American engineer, though, soon be ensuring a steady stream of exceptional young Scottish footballers roll off a production line of talent here?
Malky Mackay, for one, is hoping so.
It is coming up for two years since Mackay was appointed SFA performance director. He hasn’t been idle in that time. The youth set-up in this country bears little resemblance to the one he inherited due to the extensive appointments, changes and recommendations he has made.
One of his innovations has been to apply what is called the Deming Cycle or Wheel – a four-step management method devised by the industrial innovator and used in business to this day.
Plan. Do. Check. Act. It is hardly rocket science. Nevertheless, Mackay is confident it will help every area he oversees – including analysis, talent identification, the academies, coach education, the national teams, sports science and medicine and the performance schools – flourish.
“It’s a standardisation model,” he said as he sat in one of the Skyboxes at Hampden and talked about his tenure to date and aspirations going forward earlier this week. “Effectively, anything that you haven’t done so well you change for the next time so there is constant improvement.”
Mackay is more optimistic than ever before that the fortunes of our national team and health of the game in this country can be revived in future as a result of that as well as myriad other developments that he has been involved in and initiatives he is working on.
And he can already see tangible signs of progress as things are.
“This isn’t away in the distance any more, it is here,” he said. “For the first time ever, eight 16-year-olds made their debuts in the Scottish league last season. That has never happened before.
“The players coming out of the performance schools are technically better because they are getting twice as much football as they did.
“They went in at 12 and are the first group to graduate. There are massive differences.
“In the last 18 months, between 16s and 21s, we have beaten England, the Netherlands three times,
Players in performance schools are getting twice as much football
Spain, France, Germany and Brazil.”
Mackay feels the success of English youth teams – their under-17 and under-20 sides both won their respective World Cup while their under19 side won the European Championship – have highlighted the long-term benefits of what is now being advocated in Scotland.
“In the Elite Player Performance Programme in England, players get 17 hours’ contact time with the ball a week,” he said. “For us to get to that it has to be us working with the boys at the performance schools during the day and the clubs at night.
“It has to be for us to get to that. If we do that on a regular basis over a period of time kids are going to be better footballers. Otherwise, we have just got what we had for the last 20 years.
“Again, we are already starting to see a difference. For example, the 17-yearolds, who have been through four years at the performance school and have now had a year and a half at professional level, went over to Spain and had more possession of the ball than Spain [in a friendly in Marbella in February they won 2-1].”
And what of, whisper it, Club Academy Scotland? They are three words which send many involved in youth football in Scotland into a fit. Even when the flawed system was changed two years ago people were still unhappy.
The decision by Falkirk and Livingston to close their academies for financial reasons has generated adverse publicity and been widely viewed as being detrimental for the future of the game in this country.
After all, the likes of Graham Dorrans, Leigh Griffiths and Robert Snodrass came through at Livingston while Scott Arfield, Jay Fulton and Stephen Kingsley emerged at Falkirk.
Mackay, though, defends the level of backing clubs they receive from the SFA.
“Everyone has their choice to make as to what they do with their money, everyone,” he said. “If that’s the model that suits them, fine.
“I am concerned with clubs that are breeding Scottish footballers, that’s my job. If a club doesn’t want to go down that route that’s fine. What they are doing is the right thing for their club. We have to do what’s right for players I think can become Scotland players.
“If people look closely at it they will know it has nothing to do with a reduction in funding from us. Clubs were offered the same money for the next three years, even clubs that were going to step away from it. The rug wasn’t pulled away. There was a parachute for clubs who wanted to adapt.
“If you don’t want to make one step different from where you were you have still got the same money. If you want to do something else it is up to yourself.”
The state of the sport in
this country will, for a large number of fans, always be determined by how Scotland perform. Win, and the outlook is rosy. Lose, and we are in a state of disarray.
Mackay is determined to ensure the kids who are tipped for great things as full-time professionals at top clubs fulfil their potential instead, as was very much the case in the past, of struggling being lost. Ultimately, the national team will benefit.
The performance director is striving to ensure there is greater uniformity in how each side, from the under16s to the full side, operates to help make the transition between teams smoother.
“The conveyer belt we are hoping to produce will be helped by a standardised way of working,” said Mackay. “Every team will work within a framework – how we do meetings, how analysis is done, had game plans look, how set pieces look.
“The manager puts his own spin on things within the framework. He decides on the tactics for the team they are going to play against. But they sit within a framework. So when a kid moves to next age-group he is seeing the same thing. They are used to the way things are done.
“In January or February next year we are going to be producing a national plan that maps out how the youth teams will play. It has started already. It is bleeding into everything we are doing. We have a belief in how we want the youth teams to play.
“At under-21 level, where we have had some great results recently, the main aim is to get players to the first team. In the last campaign John McGinn and Kieran Tierney stepped up.
“This campaign we have had Oli McBurnie, Scott McKenna and Lewis Morgan, halfway through the campaign, who went to be involved with the full team. That is our job. Our job is to give Alex as many players as we can.”
The state of the sport in this country will, for a large number of fans, always be determined by how Scotland perform. Win, and the outlook is rosy. Lose, and we are in a state of disarray.
Malky Mackay says U21 level is solely focused on producing first-team stars
Malky Mackay is performance director for the SFA and is dedicated to developing youth