“I’ve went for a physical side, with runners” is the sentence that sent Scottish football back into the dark ages. Surely such a statement should have the SFA questioning the merits of making Ricky Sbragia the manager of Scotland’s Under 19 team. The backlash that followed Sbragia’s irrational reasoning for omitting Real Madrid youngster Jack Harper from his squad was as justified as it was predictable.
The fans want him to be sacked. Simple as that. The brutal simplicity of his statement would make a political adman proud, but no amount of PR or media propaganda will be able to dispel the image of Ricky Sbragia as a dinosaur, more suited to hunter gathering than honing the talents of the countries young players.
Of course Sbragia will point to the fact that his ‘physical team, full of runners’ managed to beat Austria 2-1 in Vienna as vindication for his selection policy. But the Scottish fans aren’t buying what he is selling. We are crying out for creative and crafty young footballers to lift our country out of the malaise our football flounders in, and there is no way a manager with such prehistoric methods can produce the players we need to once again reach major international tournaments.
This isn’t a personal attack on Ricky Sbragia, but a man tasked with developing the technical ability of our brightest young talents cannot be allowed to endorse such a backward philosophy, either publicly or privately. A positive and proactive approach to young development must be the modus operandi if our young players are to prosper as professional footballers. There is no other way.
Although to lay the blame solely on Ricky Sbragia would be a dereliction of the facts. The worrying problem is that the SFA’s policy is obviously to prioritise the results of the collective over the performance of the individual. Sbraiga is forced to adopt such a rigid approach for his own self-preservation. If he is being judged on results, then he has deliver or he will be dismissed. However, for progression and genuine development, little to no value should be placed on results, all emphasis must be on performance. Ricky Sbraiga’s remit should be focussed on rearing players fit for the 1st team- nothing more or nothing less. Obviously some tangible tournament success would be excellent, but it is an added bonus- his bread and butter is to bolster the 1st team with young talent.
Although his comments caused a lot of controversy, for many it simply confirmed what they already thought: ability is still sadly subordinate to physicality in Scottish football. The Kyle Hutton’s of the country are in heaven! Sure, we were shocked by the statements, but were any of you really that surprised? Our antiquated approach to youth development is as outdated as Ricky Sbragia’s attitude on how football should be played. Yet the standard of coaching has massively improved in recent years which has coincided with a huge increase in young players playing week in week out for senior clubs up and down the country. Look at the influx of teenage boys playing against men every week as evidence of the improvement in youth policy.
That is what makes Ricky Sbragia’s beliefs all the more bizarre. We currently have the best batch of young players we have had in years, yet a manager who should be one of the chief protagonists in improving the ability of our young players is actually a proponent for physical, route one football. It is madness.
When I was playing football the only really Scottish outstanding players I played with or against were James McCarthy and Barry Bannan. However, when I used to go and watch my younger brother Jack’s pro youth games at Celtic, a few years later, there were lots of unique talents. Players such as young Charlie Telfer, now a regular in Dundee United’s first team, demonstrated tremendous technical ability as opposed to mere physical prowess.
Perhaps the pick of the bunch though, was a boy named John Scullion, who is on currently on loan at Greenock Morton from St Mirren. Despite being absolutely tiny, he stood taller than everyone in the touch and technique departments. He could kill a ball stone dead from a 1000 feet, he had to because his Da didn’t give him any dinner until he did a 1000 keepy ups every night! These are the very players we should be promoting, yet they will be compromised by the philosophy Ricky Sbragia and other like-minded coaches want to employ.
The fans cannot be complicit in the cull of our creative young players. We must act and demand that Ricky Sbragia changes his depressing dictat for youth development. The luddites over at the SFA may not like it, but they will be forced to accept it if enough fans apply enough pressure to the powers that be over at Hampden HQ.
The Scottish fans must tell the SFA: we don’t want a physical team, full of runners!
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