When the collective gaze of the football world was firmly fixed on the World Cup, all other football related matters seem trivial in comparison.
It was hardly surprising then that the signing of young Scottish protégé Ryan Gauld, by Portuguese giants Sporting Lisbon from Dundee United, failed to send shockwaves through the football world. The transfer seemed to move as subtly as Gauld when he glides between enemy lines to decipher the code of opposition defences. Yet in my native Scotland it was seen as a hugely significant transfer. His surprise move to Sporting Lisbon is sure to have positive implications for youth development in a country that has floundered in a sea of soccer mediocrity for years.
Many of the policy makers and coaches of professional youth teams in Scotland have long been accused of applying an antiquated approach to developing the technical ability of our young players. For far too long too great an emphasis was placed on physicality at the expense of ability. The by-product of this seemed to be an endless procession of one dimensional footballer’s devoid of craft and imagination.
The overwhelming focus on the physical make-up of players was compounded by the fact that youth team coaches, worried about losing their jobs, were forced to subordinate the development of ability and creativity of the individual in favour of focusing on the results of the collective. As a consequence, many talented prospects with great potential have become victims of a set of circumstances that seem to conspire against technically gifted young players in Scotland. Ryan Gauld, however, is a champion of circumstance. His transfer to Sporting Lisbon could result in a paradigm shift for Scottish football at youth level, the significance of which cannot be overstated.
In his international best-selling book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell argues that out of the greatest adversity arises the greatest opportunities for success. Gladwell’s theory seems to mirror the reality in Scotland. The dire financial state of Scottish football has made our domestic game a breeding ground for young talents such Gauld, who out of necessity, have been given the platform to express themselves at a professional level from a very young age.
For example Gauld made his senior debut at the tender age of 16. He has now featured in around 50 professional games at only 18 years old. Yet he is not the exception to the rule. In fact he wasn’t even the only young protégé at Dundee United. His ex-team mate Andrew Robertson is a full Scotland international at 19 years old, and will hone his craft in the cauldron of the English Premiership this season after sealing a move to Hull City this summer.
On a personal level, the proudest moment of my life came when I watched my younger brother Jack- released from Celtic for being ‘too small’ at only 14- make his professional debut at 17 for Airdrie in the final game of the season before last. Sadly he was injured all last season in what was supposed to be his breakthrough year. But he is now back and better than ever. I expect big things from my brother in the not too distant future. From Jacks age group the number of players plying their trade at all levels of the senior game in Scotland are too numerous to mention.
In some ways it seems to be more by accident than design that our country is at last beginning to develop a batch of gifted young players. There is no doubt that youth development has been injected with fresh impetus in recent years. Equally, it cannot be disputed that the influx of teenagers in teams up and down the country is due to the financial constraints of clubs in Scotland. Yet although senior teams are financially malnourished, they are not starved of talent, and now have healthy numbers of young boys who are making their mark against men on a weekly basis.
The rise of Ryan Gauld proves that the new progressive style of coaching is a prescription for the future prosperity of Scottish football.
Famous Greek philosopher Aristotle said that ‘We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.’ Therefore we must continue to place our faith in the feet of our youngsters and allow them to express their talents. While also persevering with this new progressive style of youth development so that Scotland can begin to habitually breed young players of a similar ilk to Ryan Gauld.
In a situation parallel to our independence vote in September, in a football sense, Scottish clubs must take control of their own destiny and usher in a new of era of success and prosperity instead of the ‘glorious failure’ our nation has become synonymous with.
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