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Scottish football needs 'czar'

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Jim Spence | 20:23 UK time, Friday, 23 October 2009

Two dire results for Scottish football this week should send an icy shiver down our spines.

As the dark nights draw in and the wild winter winds whistle round our ankles, two defeats in two big games should chill Scottish football fans to their very souls.

Forget Rangers' undoing by Unirea and Celtic's humbling at the hands of Hamburg, the two defeats which leave me with that icy feeling are our under-17 side's defeats by Cyprus and Georgia in the Uefa Under-17 Championship qualifiers.

Never mind false humility, as a nation with more than a century of professional footballing history, tradition and infrastructure, we should be able to beat both countries.

So, why are we losing to these teams and how do we stop being frozen in time as the football equivalent of the Day After Tomorrow looms for us?

Let's be clear on one thing: Scottish kids are not any less potentially gifted than their foreign counterparts so something is wrong and we need to fix it now.Scotland's Under-17s lose 2-1 to Georgia at Stark's Park

Three things need to be addressed.

Firstly, winter is approaching. It's the wrong time play when you are trying to learn the basics. Ball control and passing will not be mastered in gales and torrential rain.

Kids need to play in the summer when surfaces are better and more conducive to getting good quality work done with the ball.

How can we expect our youngsters to develop dribbling and passing skills in such conditions?

Secondly, the quality and size of pitches needs to be addressed.

Younger kids, and particularly those stepping up from the seven-a-side game, are suddenly pitched into playing on full-size fields; the same ones which men's and women's amateur sides play on and churn up.

The poor quality pitches mean that kids, who have been used to a short game in sevens, where control and short passing in tight situations is required, are flung into an environment where the key skill is learning to boot the ball upfield as far as possible.

"Clear your lines" and "get us out of there" are phrases I regularly hear coaches yell.

We need intermediate-size pitches to allow the kids to step up gradually, at each level from seven to nine to 11-a-side games.

Thirdly, just what are we trying to coach?

After watching Ian Cathro's youth revolution taking shape at Tannadice, where the emphasis is on technique, two equally good feet and general all round skill, there was a shock admission by a more experienced coach.

The coach told me that he and others with 20 years experience behind them should be embarrassed by the difference in the quality of what Cathro is delivering and what has passed for coaching in much of the Scottish game.

The emphasis on physical strength and willingness to run all day has been to the detriment of developing the kind of skills which Messi and Iniesta at Barcelona have mastered to make football an art form.

Mind you, I can think of about a dozen coaches who would've turned those two down because they were too small in the first place.

So who is to blame?

No-one, appears to be the answer. There has been a lack of joined-up thinking which has led us to the stage where Cyprus and Georgia now beat us and we hardly raise an eyebrow.

But no-one appears to have direct control or responsibility for the game at grass-roots level.

We need someone with clout to grab the game at youth level by the scruff of the neck.

We need a football czar to tell those who are responsible for this mess to shape up or ship out.

If we don't act soon Scottish football will wither and die in the long-term.

So, we need the right man or woman to make the big decisions, unfazed by the opinions of committees and blazers. They've got us into this state, after all.

The government needs to make it clear there won't be a single penny of funding for football unless it gets its house in order.

Czars appointed in other fields haven't sufficient power to radically change things.

This time a football Czar must have the right qualifications for the job and must be given the power to lay down the law to force through the changes to restore the health of our game.

Never mind democracy and debate, the future of Scottish football is too important to leave to stuffy committees with their vested interests.

Let's make that appointment to start the revolution and save Scottish football.


  • Comment number 1.

    Scottish football is sinking fast and I agree completely with this post. I live in Sweden and read every week that scouts from around Europe keep a close eye on young players here and snap them up when they can. This does mean that the domestic league loses its best players but the pay-back comes at national level since most players play in the main European leagues (as do many Danes, Norwegians, Finns and Icelanders. OK Sweden didn't qualify for South Africa but they nearly always qualify for the finals otherwise. Few Scottish teams have beaten Swedish sides in the past 20 years. How many Scots play outside the UK? Virtually none. Are continental scouts present at Scottish matches? I doubt it. We're isolated from the rest of Europe and it shows.

  • Comment number 2.

    At long last someone in Scottish football has realised the problem, I have been making exactly the same points for years now , I agree with everything you say about the coaching that is required , and playing in smaller pitches is exactly the way to go.

    But who will sort it out certainly not the SFA they dont have a clue they are utterly inept and completely useless. I will bet my house that all these points were brought up by "ernies" think tank over 20 years ago and nothing has been done so you can forget the SFA.

    Next are the clubs , who will tell you there are financial restrictions and they cant afford to do what is needed. Typical short term thinking from all of Scottish football clubs

    The government will tell you there is a recession and there are other priorities and wont lift a finger.

    Lastly there are the youth clubs with there, what can only be described as an army of bully boys and thugs that run them continually telling kids to punt the ball long to the big guy up front , or worse telling them to take man and ball dont let them pass, and worse ordering the parents to harass referees. Watching kids games is the most sole destroying 2 hours you can ever witness, dreadful football skills and loud-mouthed parents and coaches.

    It needs the EFA to take a firm grip of things but judging by there responses in the last 40 years that isnt going to happen.

    God help our game its dying on its knees.

  • Comment number 3.

    Well said Jim. The results in midweek were not a shock, they have been coming for some time. However unless we can get rid of the cronic self preservation approach from the blazers and the clubs not one thing will change.

    What do the powers at be and the clubs actually want from Scottish football ? Do we want the national to qualify for tournaments or not ? Do we want a competitive domestic league or not ? Do we want those lucky in enough to play in Europe to play with a like they can achieve something or shall we just make up the numbers ? If the answers are no then lets just keep doing what we're doing.

    If not then we must set about forcing an agenda through that'll get us there with everyone working towards it. This means league reconstruction, focusing on youth development, teaching kids control and off the ball running, improving facilities and not having kids running around in the freezing rain getting pnemonia. The football world has moved has moved on since the 60's and 70's... its a pity we haven't.

    It does need a czar, or something like it. It needs someone with the power to take the game by the scruff of the neck and fix it, not be driven out by the self preservation society.

  • Comment number 4.

    What Scottish football, in my eyes, needs is for this decline to happen for a couple more years (sorry if this offends).

    2 years time - Scotland will have 1 CL Spot available, so less money to spent on forgein players. This in turn means that either:

    1) Teams will have to rely on the youth system, giving debuts to 17, 18 yr olds who can then in 2 or 3 years time be sold on for bigger bucks. This money can then be re-invested in training up the next batch. Otherwise

    2) Scout the lower leagues for the gems. Plenty of players could make it in the SPL.

    Of course, the SPL could do with being a more competitive league as well - Rangers vs St. Johnstone aint gonna help when Rangers play away at Barcelona for example.

    Scottish football needs a complete overhaul from top to bottom - from the SPL to the bottom of the non league structure.

    How much longer will Rangers keep hold of John Fleck?

  • Comment number 5.

    This is one hell of a problem to resolve. The SPL is boring, so Celtic or Rangers will win the league, other than their fans does anyone else care? And the lack of opportunity to get into the SPL must frustrate the League One clubs to the point of feeling suicidal. It should be two up / two down to loosen things up for starters, maybe with League One play-offs. Things evolve and the evolution of the English Leagues is going against Scottish Football. Unless we can come up with a solution I think maybe the only solution is for all of the top teams to merge into the English Leagues and work out some feeder system for the rest. Maybe Scottish League Football as we know it has had it's day - if things continue we could end up like the Welsh and Irish Leagues. How is it going to get better doing nothing?

  • Comment number 6.

    Spot on as usual Jim! Let me be the first to nominate YOU as the football czar! Amidst all the doom and gloom surrounding Scottish football you've put your finger on the problem - our kids have no less potential than anyone else's, therefore the coaching and/or conditions MUST be the problem.

    The solutions are blindingly obvious: play the game in good conditions, emphasise skillful passing football allied to good organisation. If that means using the latest artificial turf with rubber crumb then make the investment in that rather than in puffed up wages for some third-rate has-been (or more accurately never-quite-was) who played twice for Gibberovia 6 years ago. Play in good weather, i.e. late spring, summer, early autumn. Get kids playing futsal. Experiment! (we have nothing to lose!) Get some Dutch coaches in to teach the kids (and our youth coaches) at 5 clubs, French coaches at another 5, German at another 5 and Spanish at another 5. See which one makes the most impact after 5 years and do things that way in future.

    PS Vive la revolucion at Tannadice! Let's see more of this fresh thinking at every other club.

  • Comment number 7.

    4. At 8:59pm on 24 Oct 2009, btccmatt wrote:

    What about the scenario where Scottish football slips further, the money dries up, and it slips into obscurity - not enough talent to get big again, not enough money to invest in infrastructure to generate talent, and not enough talent to bring any money in.

  • Comment number 8.

    Well said Jim. The problems in Scottish football are many and in this blog you touch on some of the main ones. The saddest thing is that what you are saying here is what fans all over the country have been saying for years, and nobody does a thing about it.

    A few years back it was clear that Scottish clubs had to change the way that they operated. Dundee, Motherwell and many other clubs were spending money that they didn't have on foreign players that in reality improved the team fractionally, if at all.

    When that bubble burst, I for one was optimistic that many players would have to be produced rather than bought, and that gradually the quality would improve. I even thought that, due to the financial crisis in the game here, we would actually have a head start on the prosperous leagues in Europe, thinking that the same crisis would hit others at a later date.

    That was a few years ago now. It could be that the financial problems hit Scotland worse than elsewhere. I doubt it though. I imagine that other countries managed to adapt to the ever changing financial and sporting climate of football. Scotland meanwhile twiddled its thumbs, hoping that grit, determination and history would somehow propel us back amongst the elite.

    It is unfortunate that Scotland achieved 'success' under McLeish and Smith during the European Championship qualifiers. This did nothing but paper over the cracks.

  • Comment number 9.

    What happened to the McLeish report you mentioned a while back?

  • Comment number 10.

    I lived in the North West Highlands during my school years - only 220 people in the high school, mind - and up till about 3rd year there was quite a rich sporting pedigree with successful football, rugby, hockey and athletics teams. For the last half of high school, the numbers of matches and competitions we were entered into decreased dramatically and now, having left some 6 years ago, I am assured by a younger former pupil that the sporting side of things purely isn't there any more. All kids wanting to play football must do so with the local amateur side and have to play with fully grown men who have long ago substituted skill with physicality and rough play. This cannot be an environment conducive to producing talented footballers. Ross County used to travel to schools and supply a good level of coaching but now it's down to whomever has the time and the inclination. While Scotland has the concentration of its population in the central belt where this not be a big problem, there are many talented sports-people that are not given the chance because of the situations in which they live. Scottish sporting bodies need to get closer to the schools and deliver good coaching there in order to not condemn these kids to never being given the chance.

  • Comment number 11.

    maybe we need someone like sir alex to take the reins after he ends his time at united. as much as i hate him now (partly cos im a liverpool fan, partly cos hes a number of words that will get this post banned) he is exactly the kind of guy we need in charge of scottish football. he wouldnt take any notice of what the 'suits and blazers' would say and he would do it his own way, and surely he knows better than anyone how to change things. i doubt it will happen however as he will stay with united until the retirement home beckons.

    either way this post is spot on, scottish football is dire and something needs to be done

  • Comment number 12.

    Hmmm... Not sure this logic quite follows. I agree, we have a problem with the manner in which we develop young players - too much emphasis is placed on results, far too much pressure is applied where it is not necessary, completely stifling development. However, how is it that Scotland produces some of the best coaches in the world? How is it that Largs is an envied centre of football coaching excellence? How is it that David Taylor and Andy Roxburgh hold two of the most prestigious positions in world football? Something we do in Scotland is not all that bad... Perhaps our attitudes need changing instead?

  • Comment number 13.

    What's wrong with Scottish football?
    I don't have the answer to this oft posed question, but whenever I hear it being posed my first thought is not about football at the top end of our game (I use that term loosely), it's about some of the nutcases coaching kids football that I have the displeasure of witnessing every weekend.
    I'm a well qualified and experienced football coach (it's my day job too) who until recently was helping coach my 9 year old sons football team. The level of abuse and bullying of the kids by two 'well-meaning' (but inexperienced) coaches was challenged by me recently. I explained that shouting at them, followed by 40 yard shuttles, followed by 50 press ups, followed by more shouting, followed by the same mundane passing exercise for periods of up to 45 minutes was not going to help develop the kids or keep them interested and engaged. This was met by howls of derision as well as a concerted attempt over a number of weeks to undermine my training plans (all ball work) and me personally.
    When I indicated to the management of the team that I was stepping back unless these two were removed from the 'coaching team' I found little support because nobody wanted to challenge them. This seems to have strengthened the position of these two within the team and now ball work is limited as sprints and stamina work take priority. The Result? Kids are petrified to make mistakes, confidence is non existent and losing is a weekly occurance. This leads to more shouting, longer shuttles, more press ups, more shouting and more mundane exercises minus the ball! I'm actively looking for a new team for my son - a skillful and talented ball player.
    Sadly almost every team I have come across at various age groups has coaches like this.
    Until those in charge of our game find a way to rid the game of neanderthals like the two described above we are going to drive more and more kids away from the game to their PC's and games consoles as well as to other sports where the coaching is more supportive and relevant to the development of the skills required for participation.
    I'm not suggesting that the SFA start by dealing with the issue that I've raised, however I do believe that they need to tackle this issue along the way. Too many potentially talented and skillful kids are lost to our game at an early age because of cretins like those described above.

  • Comment number 14.

    Scottish sporting bodies need to get closer to the schools and deliver good coaching there in order to not condemn these kids to never being given the chance.

  • Comment number 15.

    ok - bad results all round for scottish football in the last few months

    ok - it is a joke that we cannot seem to produce great players (of any note save for darren fletcher)

    and ok - we need some change to drive through improvements


    Jim - get a grip, normally you have something inciteful to say but on this occassion you are nothing more than a stick waving, finger jabbing reationary commentator and I feel that the majority of the above posts confirm the danger of the sort of short sitedness that you pruport to be above, and beyond.

    What right do we have to have a better football team by virtue of the fact that we have a greater history in the game than these nations?

    Does a wider infrastructure in football give our young lads the right to beat cypriots, macedonians or, indeed, brazillians (who by the way learned the game from a scot!)?

    To all of the above questions I have to give an emphatic - nae chance!

    I also reject the following assertions;

    -we play in winter (last time I checked Scotland happens to enjoy some of the mildest winters in all of europe - the germans dont seem too put off by it even although they suffer harsher winters)

    -not enough money (an absolute joke - I think we were beat by both macedonia and cyprus who do not invest anything in your lauded "infrastructure")

    -no "czar" (I think Jim Farry is looking for a job as we speak - try him!)

    How to cure our game? I don't know the full answer but I can hazzard a guess!;

    -be a poor country (statistics confirm that a lack of prosperity will generally encourage the population to excel in physical excercise - see previous example of macedonia and cyprus)

    -stop greetin (in my opinion we have no right to whine that other countries are better than us - there exists compelling evidence that qos invented the passing game for pete's sak-e)

    -get kids off their well catered for b-heinz - (I left school in 1999 and I cannot begin to convey the lack of enthusiasm within a culture that is effectively pretty well off - the lasses care about make up and ronan keating, the lads? well they like playing fifa!!)

    In macedonia, very few kids have the privalege of playing fifa, in the main they need to make do with the real thing - perhaps that is it.

    When our kids take a tonking in an international one on one they can console themselves that mummy has a nice hot-pot and a comfy duvet waiting for them - they can indulge and then enjoy a game of fifa.

    for an average macedonian kid? well he plays football so that he can one day enjoy even that slightest of privaleges.

    Jim - do you really think it was technique that won out in these games? It was desire, in its purest form...

  • Comment number 16.

    The blog is spot on. Sadly in Scottish football we focus on the wrong things. We have stadium rules such as 6,000 and 10,000 seats, and a host of bodies SFA, SJFA, SFL, SPL all running the show and fighting for their corner instead of being cohesive.

    We have been left behind- one of the few countries in Europe (believe 2 leagues) not to have a pyramid system as the powers that be cannot agree on it.

    The SPL makes clubs spend and get into debt to get seats when standing- provided well managed is fine. I look at the German leagues- the Bundesliga requires in its 'Lizenzierungsordnung' for clubs to be financially sound, have a safety licence and critically a youth set-up. 70 million euro was pumped into German youth football a couple of years back.

    As others have said- pitches, coaches etc aren't availiable in Africa and eastern Europe to the same extent- but co-incidentally neither are Xbox and PS3 consoles. Part of the problem- exacerbated by our poor health record is that is easier to sit in on a PC rather than out doing it for real. Parents too are scared to let kids out on their own too.

    I have to say I think it is a mix of things going wrong, clubs, orgnaisation, coaching and people ourselves.

    I've watched clubs gradually getting back on the right track. St Mirren brought through youngsters like Paul Lambert and Steve Clark in the 1980's, but slumped after that. Now with the debt cleared, a training and youth acadamy is built in Paisley's East End. Not the most faboulous of arrangements, but a 3G pitch with 2 grass pitches and associated fitness, changing rooms and other buildings.

    The idea is to bring through young boys and get them into the 1st team. West Ham have done well for years- the hope is the Scottish football can all follow on like this (Falkirk too have facilities) and bring youngsters into the game and first team. Facilities are only part of the issue.

    However the OF are the worst for it. They attract the best youngsters desperate to play on the big stage- yet waste them and do not introduce them into the league. How sole destroying is it for the young centre-back of 18-20 at Murray Park knowing that if a defender is out and you have a crisis they play comedy duo Weir and McCulloch out of position than give you a chance. Equally you must wonder why most of the team doesn't come through their youth set-up- Boyd and Naismith were Killie, Broadfoot St Mirren, Whittiker Hibs etc.

  • Comment number 17.

    yeah and what do they do when they get ther. alienate these fellas. look at big duncan, a fine horse of a man and who should have won at least 73 caps for his country, and would have drageed the lads through big tournaments, because of his big game attitude.

    sure he might have got sent off for chinning someone when he was there, but you gotta take the rough with the smoooth. and look what the SFA did, they don't know when they gotta good thing going.

    does anyone remember euro 92, big duncan, alan mclaren were great young promisers. collins was approaching his pique. 3 great young lads, all like horses, necks like bulls. good gentleman too

  • Comment number 18.

    Jim, I completely agree with your points. Summer football and emphasis on technique are two things I've seen mentioned a lot ever since the decline of our game became so apparent, so there's clearly an appetite for such changes amongst those in the know. The problem is no one is listening.

    Until the powers that be tell us they're going to have a wide-ranging audit of the game in Scotland (which I believe Levein has called for before), then no amount of moaning on message boards and news sites is going to change anything.

    We need summer football - I remember seeing empty football pitches in the summer months when I was younger, and being completely bewildered as to why they were not being used. We need a complete restructure of our leagues - playing teams four times a year is boring and just plain ridiculous, and why do we have four divisions in a country of 5 million people? Let's merge some teams to try and boost crowd numbers. And of course, all of that would be pointless if we're not training kids better. My memories of PE at primary school are of an overweight, unfit teacher who smoked making us do Scottish country dancing, or of being forced to do the Ten Step awards programme, which was basically a way of making me look rubbish in front of the rest of the class thanks to my lack of running speed. Where was the football? Where were the enjoyable sports?

    Let's face it, our entire attitude to fitness stinks, which is why you're never going to see a Scottish footballer in the centrefold of a woman's magazine any time soon - they're all busy getting drunk and eating Monster Munch when they should be in the gym.

  • Comment number 19.

    Everyone is making very similar points so at least somewhere there is a groundswell of to harness it and get someone to listen? The shame of the short-sightedness of the clubs themselves is that they fail to see how to self fund development, make a profit and have talent at the same time. The junior Italian leagues operate thus: when a player is brought through with good skills he is sold and makes money for the club. This money then goes back into the local football school to pay for the coaches and so the process continues. It is these people we need the money for, not facitlities. In Italy the kids play on hard, sometimes concrete surfaces, in a half walled/fenced enclosure. The ball moves much faster off these surfaces and therefore the kids learn good ball control and first touch to a much greater level than on grass. 'Bit like the development endured by our own back street boys like JJ and JB in the 50's and 60's. Each Italian town (of population of around 5,000) has a football school with both paid and volunteer coaches and regular visits from players from the local professional clubs who are obliged to contribute their time instead of lazing about wondering how to spend their fat pay cheques. All for a Zsar... but who chooses him?

  • Comment number 20.

    Whats wrong with Scottish Football? Where do you start.
    The SFA, SPL and SFL would be a good starting point. The SFA would appear to be run by monkeys who have no vision, no plan, no common sense and just slip up on the banana skin every couple of weeks.
    The SPL needs to change drastically. I am a Dundee fan so watch the First Division but the one up one down rule is killing the game. Some one has got to bite the bullet and sort that out. We need something to inspire and excite, we have got to bring in a play off system. Even if that means increasing the size of the league and clubs like Kilmarnock who show little or no ambition other than to play Celtic and Rangers four times for the dosh at least have a fight on thier hands. The SFL have also got to look at ways of bringing ambitious highland and junior teams into the fold with relegation from the Division Three.
    For me that would be a little start on the road to recovery.

  • Comment number 21.

    the plight of scottish football is mainly down to - this to some extent also applies to england - the arrogance and expectation that you should be near the top. whilst historically scotland has had some success, this was in times when the competition, particularly from eastern europe, was just not there. gone are the days with several easy ties, now teams such as croatia and bosnia easily hold their own against the big boys. scotland is not one of the big boys, and so needs to improve its coaching hugely instead of just expecting the youngsters to pour through. if the old firm were to join the premiership, or even had an extra team in the lower leagues, this would improve funds as well as exposing young scottish lads to decent opposition.


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