Hearts academy director Frankie McAvoy explains club strategy on youth pathway to the first-team

Hearts academy director Frankie McAvoy is “hopeful” it won’t be too long before there is a conveyor belt of youth players pushing for a place in the club’s first-team, but concedes there is a “long way to go”.
Frankie McAvoy marked a year as Academy Director last month. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC.Frankie McAvoy marked a year as Academy Director last month. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC.
Frankie McAvoy marked a year as Academy Director last month. Pic: Heart of Midlothian FC.

The creation of a B team at Tynecastle this season has provided youngsters with the opportunity to compete against experienced semi-pros in Scottish football’s fifth tier. Seven of the club’s under 18s starred in a dominant 4-1 victory over two-times Lowland League champions East Kilbride on Tuesday night, with a double apiece for Callum Sandilands and Murray Thomas securing their tenth win of the league campaign. McAvoy took charge, with B team boss Steven Naismith involved with Scotland’s preparations for their Euro 2024 qualifying double-header.

“The easy thing to do is prepare them as best as we can – credit to Declan Tobin, the video analysis guy, who cuts up the opposition for us – the hard part is for them to go and execute it on the pitch,” said McAvoy. “I thought bar a few wee moments we were excellent, so they thoroughly deserved it.

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“Credit to the boys because sometimes it's not easy to sustain a bit of pressure, it's about being disciplined and probably more so than they are when they are playing in an under 18s game. The backroom team that work every day with Naisy deserve immense credit.

“I think in a few of the games they have been a bit unfortunate, but last night was pleasing for them. The way I look at it as academy director, it gives opportunities and chances for a lot of other younger boys to come up and see how they can go and perform. Sometimes it might be too much for them, but it's amazing, some of them can perform way above what you expect, and I thought some of them did that.”

McAvoy, who marked a year in his post last month, continued: “It's credit to Hearts because I have come up from England and they have backed us to try and make our academy as good as it can be. Hopefully we can start to see some of the players progress and try as push as much as they can towards Robbie's first team set up, but that's not easy, that's a hard task because the first team squad is excellent.

“The biggest thing you've got to do is trust individuals. The one thing I will say is credit to Robbie [Neilson], he's taken quite a lot of them up to train with the first team and get used to that environment. Some of the 18s then get take up to the B team and then we bring in some of the school kids from the performance school. We seem to be in a decent enough place at the moment, but there is a long way to go.

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“Joe [Savage] as the sporting director and [chief executive] Andrew McKinlay, they knew how important it was to bring in a B team or another layer underneath the first team and you can see the opportunity it gives the players to try and kick on because that's a big part of their development. Hopefully, if it's not at Hearts, they can get a career somewhere else because that's what we owe to the kids.”