Robbie Neilson has leapt to the defence of Scotland’s pro-youth set-up.
In the wake of Scotland’s failure to qualify for Euro 2016, questions have been raised about a system that allows professional clubs to stockpile talent from a young age in their academies and subsequently deny them the chance to play for school and boys’ clubs. There have also been calls for the Under-20 development league to be replaced by a return of the reserve league.
“My take on it is that we have a good set-up in Scotland,” said Hearts’ head coach. “Everyone talks about getting reserve football back in, but we don’t have enough players. We don’t run with big squads anymore. We need to keep the 20s or make it 21s or 23s, that’s up to the SFA. But development wise we have a lot of good young players coming through.
“Everyone seems to think because we go out out of the Euros or didn’t make the last World Cup that we need to change everything again. It’s not going to happen in 18 months. It takes from when a kid is 12 until he’s 20, so that’s eight years you have to wait before it kicks in. You need patience.”
Neilson acknowledges that academies will only produce the goods if they are properly run.
“At the end of the day it all comes down to money, that’s it, no matter what anybody says,” he said. “If we invest more money in our academy we’ll get better coaches. And if we get better coaches we’ll get better players. But if we don’t do that we won’t produce better players, that’s it.
“The money has to go into the 12-18 year-olds, and once the 18-year-olds come out of it they’ll be better players. They’ll go into the first team at 18 rather than wait three or four years. We’re trying to invest in our academy, we have already invested a huge amount.”
On the same issue, Billy King believes that players will only flourish if clubs take a risk on them at an early age. The Hearts winger feels that the likes of himself, Sam Nicholson, Jamie Walker and Callum Paterson could have slipped down the ladder if it wasn’t for the club’s financial difficulties that forced them to turn to youth.
“It’s everyone’s dream to get thrown into the first team but in the season we got relegated there were times I came on and I was terrible every week,” said the 21-year-old, who has already clocked up more than 80 appearances. “That was tough mentally but it forces you to mature and grow up earlier. The key is to get in early.
“I think it’s benefited us getting thrown in early because we’re all much better players now and involved in the first team regularly.
“If we hadn’t got first-team football when we did, there’s a good chance we’d have ended up moving to a lower club. We need to remind ourselves sometimes that we’re incredibly fortunate to have had that chance here.”