BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
Eddie May insists Scottish football needs to concentrate on quality over quantity in rearing the next generation – but fears parents and agents hold too much power.
The Hibernian head of youths has welcomed the debate opened after Scotland boss Gordon Strachan revealed he is working on a roadmap to overhaul football from the bottom up.
After two decades of the national side failing to qualify for a major tournament, there are growing fears for the future of the country’s favourite game.
May believes plenty of wrong turns have been made along the way as the powers-that-be have tinkered with how best to develop youngsters capable of making it at the top level.
He firmly believes in the benefits of reserve-team football over the current under-20s set-up that requires clubs to sign players who are never going to make it.
But he is still determined that Hibs will concentrate their resources on the kids who have the best chance of becoming first-team players.
The former Dundee United S-form said: “I’m pleased Gordon is taking an interest, because we’re not producing the number of players we did in the past. And why is that?
“I think there’s a problem because the old system of Saturday reserve-team football, playing on a pitch against professionals, has gone.
“Now, you’ve got 20-year-olds who are sometimes the oldest guys in the team, helping through 16 and 17-year-olds. That’s wrong.
“When I was in the reserves at United, it could be anybody playing with you under Jim McLean. Billy Kirkwood, Derek Johnstone when he went up to United played in the reserves for a bit, Richard Gough actually played in games, Ralph Milne – there was a number of people who got games. That’s important.
“And the best players got an opportunity to be a sub on the Saturday. It’s important that these young kids learn from good pros and have that incentive.
“But that has all gone. We’ve got seven subs in the under-20s but you can only put on three – that’s pointless.
“We take on a number of players at football clubs all over, and we end up with too many players in our academies.
“And if we’re talking about elite, you can’t call it elite when we’ve got so many numbers.
“So I think we should go back to reserve team football, where we go and really only take the best players on at a football club.”
May was a Hibs player at the same time as fellow-youngsters John Collins, Paul Kane, Gordon Hunter and Mickey Weir, and a youth coach at Falkirk during the John Hughes era that brought through the likes of Darren Barr and Scott Arfield.
His aim now is to develop a crop for Hibs to rival the one a decade ago that saw Scott Brown, Steven Whittaker, Kevin Thomson, Steven Fletcher, Derek Riordan and Garry O’Connor all strutting their stuff at Easter Road.
He still feels that is possible but the fear is that powerful outside influences prevent clubs from doing things the way they want to.
May, who was speaking as he promoted the launch of a new Easter Road tour, added: “If you’ve got managers who want to play good players, they have to be good enough.
“Our challenge is to produce good enough players, to say to the manager: ‘Look, next transfer window, there are players in the system good enough, rather than going out and buying someone in’.
“The biggest problem for kids coming through the system is that they think they are coming to play under-20s. If they are coming through the door they should be coming for one thing and that is to play in the first team.
“It is a mentality thing and it is trying to change that attitude.
“The big thing in this day and age is parents. Parents are a real challenge.
“They will come in on assessment nights and they will ask questions and put demands on coaches.
“I would love to know if they do the same thing with the English or Maths teachers – I already know that they don’t.
“All of a sudden, parents come in and want this, that or the other for a player.
“Another big problem is agents at academy and youth football levels. A lot of agents are filling the parents of younger kids’ heads with a lot of nonsense.
“The amount of kids who are getting agents at 13, 14, 15 years of age is frightening.
“But there is only one person who is going to get a kid into a first-team or a move to another football club and that is themselves.”