The Sweeper: Are Academies the Cure for Scottish Football?

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Former Scottish Labour politician and ex-East Fife player Henry McLeish’s 74-page Scottish Football Review was finally released to the public yesterday, recommending, among other things, the establishment of 20 football academies to save Scottish football from what McLeish calls “chronic underachievement” at both the club and national level.  The Telegraph bullet points it down for us:

Investment of almost £500million in facilities for youth and talent development.

Expand the use of existing facilities, especially in schools.

The creation of at least 20 football academies within comprehensive schools.

Youngsters to spend 10,000 hours (three hours a day over 10 years) on the development of ball skills.

The appointment of a performance director to oversee talent development.

Summer football to be adopted at youth level.

More coherence, focus, co-ordination and direction from the SFA.

The SFA, Scottish Premier League and Scottish Football League to work together more closely for the good of the game.

Clubs at all levels to develop their own young players.

Establish a “golden pathway” for players from grassroots to elite level.

While this insta-summary of the 74 page report is fairly vague (the SFA, SFL and SPL will “work together more closely” how exactly?), concrete details will emerge over the coming days as those with the power to enact change take time to digest McLeish’s recommendations.

However, interim Celtic manager Neil Lennon didn’t need any time before criticizing McLeish’s proposal for 20 academies in Scotland, based on his belief academies don’t develop good footballers which he discovered from “studies” he’s read from “courses” he’s sat in on. Various UK news outlets were happy to oblige Lennon by printing his opinion verbatim less than a day had passed after McLeish’s report was released.  Says Lennon:

“I trained with Henrik Larsson at Barrowfield for 10 years and all we had was a couple of pitches. Kids in Africa play in ploughed fields. Kids in Brazil play on sand. Having facilities is great and it’s probably important to the future, but they are not the be all and end all.  Kids’ talent is the be all and end all and it should be nurtured.”

It seems Lennon believes it’s 1978, and Archie Gemmill could be Scotland’s next great hope.  Someone should tell him the kids “playing on sand” in Brazil are finding themselves absorbed at younger and younger ages into upper class private academies and clubs, and talented kids in the Uniformly Monolithic Continent Sometimes Referred to as Africa playing on shredded mounds of horrible dirt are now picked out by an army agents on behalf of various European clubs and academies, the younger, “the better.”  It’s a growing (and increasingly unscrupulous) industry.

Which leads the Sweeper to conclude that Lennon’s remarks indirectly make a good point: is the often-high pressure nature of soccer academies the best thing for kids who simply love playing the game?  McLeish p0unced on the point just as soon as Lennon raised it:

“The key to this is that often far too many young people are taken on board by clubs. This solution means you keep them in education for four years in a comprehensive school. What we’ve found at Graeme High School (which works in tandem with Falkirk FC’s football academy) is that kids who loved football but didn’t take much of an interest in the academic side have actually now shone academically.  So we’re producing kids who are, in mind and brain, well developed. This is a great idea and I’m delighted that the SFA have embraced that completely.”

Maybe, but of course the Sweeper will need a bit more time to weigh in definitively one way or another.

Quick Hits

  • Old Firm “friendly” coming to Boston’s Fenway Park?  Is nothing sacred yada yada yada.
  • The Human Rights tribunal of Ontario allows girls to play on boys high school soccer teams.
  • Spare a thought or two for Grays Athletic.

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