As I sat in work today trawling the internet and neglecting my duties, as I impatiently waited for the clock to strike five, I stumbled upon an article in the Scottish Herald, published on the December 2 2010, marvelling at how Celtic were ‘leading the way in the youth development revolution.’
The writer was alluding to the fact that for the second successive season the Scotland under 16s squad, who contested the Victory Shield, was furnished with no fewer than seven players from the Parkhead club's youth academy- a great achievement by any standards and a ringing endorsement of the clubs youth policy.
A mere six months prior to the publication of the article, Celtic broke rank from the rest of Scottish football's notoriously archaic approach to youth development, and announced their partnership with St Ninian’s high school, which was implemented to ensure their young starlet's educational commitments could be more evenly balanced with their all important footballing needs.
The players train in the morning before lessons and once again at the end of the school day.
Chris McCart, the Glasgow giant's youth supremo, hailed the pioneering scheme as a ‘new chapter’ for the club. And roughly three years on, his prophecy seems to have been fulfilled as the innovative initiative continues to bear significant fruits for Celtics youth academy, whose dominance of the national scene was further exemplified as their under 20s squad secured their fourth successive league and cup double this season.
Incidentally, five of the Celtic players (Stuart Findlay, Jordan Hart, Denny Johnstone, Lewis Kidd, Jamie Lindsay) who represented Scotlands U16’s, formed part of Celtics current all
Crucially though, none of aforementioned talented crop of young Scottish U20’s have played any competitive football for Celtic’s first team, or any other any senior club for that matter.
In fact, the only two young Scottish players who have properly emerged in the last two seasons for Celtic are Tony Watt and Dylan McGeough, both of whom who were bought from Airdrie and Rangers respectively.
Admittedly, McGeough did start at Celtic, but they inexplicably let him slip through the net and into the grateful arms of their greatest rivals.
18-year-old defender, Marcus Fraser, has made two appearances and 21-year-old Lewis Toshney has had one solitary outing as a substitute in his maiden season with the big boys.
The only truly homegrown Scottish player to have properly emerged in the professional ranks at Celtic is 22-year-old James Forrest, who is now a fully established first team player with the Parkhead club, and the Scotland national team.
This distinct lack of all important professional experience for the Parkhead youth products is in spite of Rangers being banished to the bottom tier of Scottish football, which effectively gifts Celtic the title (for at least another two seasons) long before a ball is kicked.
More significantly, however, it comes at time when, due to the dire financial state of the Scottish game, a myriad of Scottish young players are featuring heavily in all four Scottish divisions, grabbing the golden opportunity of experience, which is absolutely fundamental to their continued growth and development as a footballer.
The quicker youngsters play first team football the better they will become, whereas the longer Celtics youth players are resigned to academy football the chances that their development will slow down increases massively.
So instead of stagnating in the luxurious surroundings of Lennoxtown, cocooned in their comfort zone of dominating inferior youth teams, go out to the harsh and unforgiving environs of the lower leagues- where there their mental and physical toughness will be properly tested- to gain the essential experience they need to make a career in the game.
Because no amount of over-inflated wages, glossy new Nike kit bags and boots will make them better football players. It will just serve to give them a false sense of their self worth and ability, and will them make act and feel more ‘big time’ than some of them already do, despite having achieved nothing at all as a senior professional.
There is no point of having all those treasured memories of their past successes if they impinge directly upon their future prospects as a senior professional, like they have done for the litany of broken heated hopefuls before them, who fell into the football's abyss as soon as their date of birth dictated that they could no longer play youth football.
Unlike myself, Celtics youth academy coaches must not neglect the duties of their job
description, which is to turn these young prospects into successful senior professionals.
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