Scottish Daily Mail
Regan rejects any ideas of a revolution
STEWART REGAN has insisted that ripping up the current template for developing Scottish players is a non-starter.
Speaking at the end of a week in which Scotland manager Gordon Strachan promised to deliver a blueprint for change, the SFA chief executive said that refining the system rather than abolishing it was the way forward.
Strachan, together with the SFA’s performance director Brian McClair, is putting the finishing touches to a plan they hope can re-establish Scotland as a hotbed of youth talent.
Since the national-team boss signalled his intent, the academy system which has existed in various guises for 20 years has come under heavy scrutiny.
Peterhead manager Jim McInally was especially critical and it is believed Strachan will canvass his views after the former Celtic youth coach claimed the process was leaving some kids feeling ‘suicidal’.
But Regan, whose organisation launched ‘Scotland United: a 20-20 Vision’ four years ago, says the central planks of the current system — including Performance Schools — are here to stay.
He said: ‘People are asking questions about where it has all gone wrong, but I would ask them: “Has it actually gone wrong?”.
‘Do we really expect that in 2016 we’re going to be winning everything and qualifying?
‘Go below the surface and look at the youth teams. The Under-17s have achieved back-to-back Euro qualifications, they’ve just qualified for the Elite Round this year and the Under-19s are in the middle of the Elite Round.
‘I don’t think we should tear it up and start over again. We’re on a journey. We have seven Performance Schools which are designed to develop technically better players, which doesn’t happen overnight.
‘We’re not going to suddenly scrap all the Performance Schools. We’re going to review how to make them better.’
Although it is hoped that the Schools will start to produce players capable of cutting it at the highest level, statistically, it’s never been harder for youth players to make the transition into top teams in Scotland’s top two leagues.
And Regan believes the onus is on the clubs to give such players an opportunity, rather than buying ready-made professionals.
‘We can’t do this on our own,’ he added. ‘We take the players up to Club Academy Scotland, but it’s then the clubs’ responsibility to develop them further.
‘We know that the big black hole is the gap between Under-17s and the first-team.
‘There are now fewer and fewer players breaking through. Year after year it’s down by 16 per cent in terms of the number of Under-21 players in Scotland.
‘That’s a piece of work our performance department have done — to analyse the figures across the top two divisions — and there’s a clear decline.
‘It’s about finding common ground in the club-versus-country agenda.
‘Ultimately, part of our role is to develop a strong national team.
‘That requires Scotland players to be playing every week and to be as good as they can be — whether it’s in Scotland or elsewhere.
‘But we understand managers are under huge pressure.
‘The minute a club falls towards the bottom of the league, there’s pressure to opt for players they feel have experience of dogfights.
‘Sometimes, it’s easy to bring in a player from League One or League Two, rather than give a young player a chance.’
Scotland’s failure to qualify for France 2016 brought the national team’s period in exile from major finals to 18 years.
And Regan feels that only by ensuring the clubs and the SFA are working towards a common goal will matters finally move on.
‘Look at how they do things in Germany,’ he added. ‘The work and relationship between the DFB and the Bundesliga is a really fantastic example of a league and national association coming together to create a positive overall change for the country.
‘You only have to look now at the sustained success of Germany and the Bundesliga as a whole and how many young German players are in it to see the effect it’s having on their national team, who are the current world champions.
‘Germany actually has quite a disproportionate number of homegrown players. It’s almost 60 per cent, compared to 30 per cent here in Scotland.’