‘Malky’s right, Generation Next are soft’
Brown agrees with SFA performance director that kids need less distractions from game
NYONE questioning the attitudes and commitment of younger players in the modern era was always likely to find an ally in Craig Brown. The former Scotland manager absorbed the comments made by Malky Mackay, the Scottish Football Association’s performance director, about a “culture of neediness” and fixation with materialistic trappings among the elder players in youth academies up and down the land, and could only agree. It was certainly not like that in his day.
They have iPads and laptops in Argentina and Germany too, of course, but Brown believes that the myriad other distractions available to teenagers nowadays is only part of the problem. Scotland, he believes, is also hamstrung by inadequate facilities and a climate not conducive to outdoor play. Combine the three and it should probably not come as a huge surprise that Scotland teams from under-19 level and older are struggling to make any kind of progress.
“I would say there are more distractions now for the younger players than there used to be,” he said. “We used to go out and play football, we didn’t have laptops or computers.
“We mollycoddle the kids a wee bit. Successful countries like Iceland have terrific indoor facilities. I think they have seven full-side pitches and we only have four in the whole of Scotland. At night I used to go home and play football until it was time for my tea. Now they are definitely not doing that.
“I’m not saying they are doing that in other countries, but other countries have a more favourable environment. The most successful country in the world in each age group just now is Croatia, who have qualified for World Cups at under-16, under-20 and the main one. They have got a great infrastructure and good weather.
“I thought when the lottery started this would be the start of money going into half-size pitches in every town as they have in Norway. Kids in Norway go home, get their gear and play in a nice, comfortable indoor facility. Other countries prioritise sport because they see it helps the health of the nation.”
Brown recalls a time when a young player’s apprenticeship taught him life lessons as well as football ones. The days of making youth prospects work for the right to turn professional, however, have long gone.
“It used to be the youth players or under-21 players had to sweep out the stand as a punishment if they lost a game,” he added. “Or maybe they had to clean the manager’s car. But you couldn’t get away with that now. Jim McLean [the former Dundee United manager] had the cleanest car in Britain as he was the hardest manager in the world.
“There’s the story from Fergie’s [Sir Alex Ferguson’s] time at Aberdeen when the young boys in the reserves – guys like John Hewitt and Eric Black – lost a game at Cowdenbeath. And he told them they were making their own way back as the team bus was going without them. They had no money and of course there were no mobile phones.
“Now if you asked kids to sweep a stand or clean a car, the union would be right on to you. They wouldn’t tolerate that. They would say you were bullying young boys. But Malky has a point that young players are sitting on their iPads and laptops too much.
“When we had the under-16 squad together before the World Cup here [in 1989] we took them to the coaching course at Largs as runners. And that was compulsory. When the guys were doing their coaching session the kids would do the drills for them.
“Clubs back then were told to send their under-16 boys, guys like Paul Dickov and Neil Murray, to Largs. I would go into their room at night and tell them to get on the floor and give me 50 sit-ups. They just got into the habit of doing the hard work. Malky has this idea that fitness or dedication should be better and he’s got a point.”
Brown was at Hampden on Sunday and was heartened by Scotland’s victory over Slovenia. He hopes his namesake Scott will now commit himself to the national team for the long haul. “I’d rather he made himself available,” he added. “He is fit, you can see that, he is upbeat and healthy looking, but you wouldn’t want a player to pick and choose when he plays internationals.”
GO HARD OR GO HOME: Craig Brown reckons Scottish prospects have it too easy and coaches should toughen up.