Scottish football has always had a good track record when it comes to producing young players: the likes of James McFadden, Kenny Miller and Steven Fletcher have all made their way to the top after starting in Scottish football.
James McFadden came through Motherwell’s youth system to become a Scotland hero, scoring many goals including a historical goal against France.
Kenny Miller started at Hibernian and worked his way up to playing for the likes of Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers and captaining his own country.
Steven Fletcher, again starting at Hibernian, has found himself being one of the most sought after Scottish players for years, after being bought for £12 million by Barclays Premier League side Sunderland. These players have all gained recognition by moving to the top English Leagues. Only there did the world begin to respect their ability.
However, the afore mentioned players represent only a few of those who have started in Scotland before going on to play for some of the best teams in the world. Happily for Scottish football, the current bunch of youngsters look to have equal or better potential than those who went before them.
The 2012/13 SPL season was a huge one for many youngsters, young players like Alex Harris of Hibernian, John McGinn of St Mirren and Jamie Walker of Hearts have all broken through into their respective sides’ first team and have all represented Scotland at youth level; the coming season, though, will be even more important.
The current financial climate means clubs are ever more reliant on their academy systems, with managers asking more and more young players to step up into the first team.
You only have to look at Scotland’s capital city to see how effective youngsters can be: administration hit Heart of Midlothian has had to rely on their youngsters due to the ongoing transfer embargo and they have given the Hearts fans hope in times of need.
The likes of Jason Holt, Jamie Walker and Kevin McHattie are giving their all for the cash strapped club and have left the Tynecastle faithful purring.
At Hibernian, James McDonough’s under-20 team has produced the likes of Alex Harris, Ross Caldwell and Jordon Forster, all players who have broken into the first team.
Alex Harris was named in the FIFA 100 players to watch list and he and Ross Caldwell have both earned their first caps for their Scotland age groups.
However, the divide between Scottish Youngsters and English Youngsters is very broad. Not in talent, but in recognition.
Youngsters down south get a lot more television coverage and they have bigger attendances, which bring in higher revenue for the purchase of state of the art youth training centres.
This divide is illustrated by last season’s mid-season transfer window: young Ryan Fraser of Aberdeen was dazzling teams and crowds all across the country with his tenacity, pace and ability before he was sold to Bournemouth (League One) for £400k, where he has only made 5 appearances – all from the bench.
Then, if you compare it to the story of Wilfred Zaha, the gulf is shown. He, like Ryan Fraser, had exploded onto the scene with tenacity, pace, skill and an eye for goal, but only for half a season and Manchester United had splashed out £15 million for a player. A player who was unproven in the top flight.
Wilfred Zaha is a fabulous player, but it is difficult to understand how players can be judged on what league they play in. In the end, it all comes down to what makes the modern football world spin: money.
Image: Hibs U19s vs. Craigroyston U19s © Ian Robertson (leith, flickr)
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