Mackay has no problem getting tough on teens
MALKY MACKAY has revealed a dramatic new get-tough approach for Scotland’s teenage starlets, with the focus on dedication and sacrifice – a trait he insists is already catching on with the younger age groups.
Scotland have suffered from a baffling drop in quality in the older teen years of the youth squads. While the Under-16s and Under-17s have achieved positive recent results, progress ends there.
Scotland’s Under-19s have now exited the Elite Group stage four years in a row – after three defeats this week in Czech Republic – and have not qualified for the finals in 11 years since they reached the final against Spain in Poland.
And the Under-21s had a miserable last qualifying campaign where they finished second to bottom of their group.
That’s in stark contrast to the Under17s, who won six out of six qualifying games, including beating Portugal, and the Under-16s, who recently won a UEFA Development Tournament.
Mackay believes this group of youngsters will be the first set of Scottish talent who won’t start to stagnate at older levels, as he blasted the “neediness and social media-obsessed” older age group kids in Scotland.
He said: “Our Under-16s won that tournament at Oriam a few weeks ago. After the game we spoke to the boys and asked them: ‘How are you going to become a professional footballer?’ I said: ‘Tell me your thoughts, how are you going to do it?’ Because I want every one of them in a Scotland jersey.
“Their diet has to be right. Their body fat must be right. Their athleticism – they have to be able to run and have shoulders like those Icelandic boys. Their waists have to be as slim as the Icelanders. They have to work on their bad foot.
“They have to work in the afternoons on their own. They have to cut their own clips and watch them back. They can’t leave their clubs at 2pm and go home. What we’re looking for is sacrifice from these boys. That’s what it takes to become a footballer because it’s so hard for that one per cent who make it.
“If you think it’s going to come easy, it really isn’t. If you look at the Andy Murrays and Laura Muirs, what do they do? They just work harder than every one else. I’m not sure we’ve got that yet.
“We have to get young players realising that they must work harder than everyone they’re competing against. These 16-year-olds are a different group to the 21-year-olds we have. That culture of neediness and a sensitive nature isn’t there. There’s no more not being able to take constructive criticism and expecting your dad to always say terrific things. I’ve told these boys to ask their dads what they could have done better, not what they did well. Because working on what you could have done better is going to make you better.
“That’s the shift we have to get back to. We need to get back to the fundamentals with these 15/16-year-olds. That’s when we’ll have a chance again. The boys have to work on making themselves physically better. I tell them: ‘Go and do a press-up contest with yourself in the room every night’. That doesn’t take a fitness coach, a sports scientist or a specialist. That takes you. You looking at your body in the mirror and deciding you need to look better – which means eating properly and being disciplined.
“That’s the way I’m going to be with our young groups, really vociferous with those demands. It’s their career, no-one else’s. So it’s up to them to decide how they want to do it.
“The 16-year-olds were very receptive that day. They gave me the right answers. Because the generations are different. They’re different to our 21 and 22-year-olds now.
“We’ll see where they go. But it’s up to them, we have to put the onus on them. It’s not about: ‘I didn’t make it because the coach didn’t like me’. We have to get away from that. It’s about them.”
And Mackay has impressed upon them the need to follow the example of the most professional senior pro at their club instead of drifting into the social media generation beloved of plenty of Scottish young players.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK: SFA performance director Malky Mackay with development officer James Grady.