Scottish FA Performance Development manager Neil Mackintosh shares the nation’s frustrations over Scotland’s absence from major tournaments, but insists the future is bright.
Mackintosh is charged with overseeing the SFA Performance School programme and is delighted to see 15 of the first of the 16-year-old graduates being head-hunted by professional clubs.
As the latest intake of kids were given a tour of the new £33 million national performance centre at Heriot-Watt University yesterday, former Ross County head of youth Mackintosh is adamant the foundations are in place to help end the national team’s 20-year absence from a major finals.
He said: “It is rare to hear anyone say that things are improving in Scottish football. And that can be frustrating. What is going right? The amount of work being put in that isn’t seen.
“If the first team, the national team, aren’t doing well, everything is rubbish – and if they are doing well, everything is great.
“That’s not reality. I look at what clubs are doing at youth level, what Scott Gemmill and the guys are doing with the national youth teams.
“I look at that and see that, up to 17s and 18s, we do very well in Europe. All the evidence is there.
“But, because the national team didn’t qualify, everything is bad.
“I’ve been involved since the pilot stage nine years ago and there were lots of doubts.
“But in the pilot group, just for example, Jason Cummings (Hibs) came through, Craig Sibbald (Falkirk) came through, Adam King (Swansea) was in that group, so was Paul McMullan at Celtic.
“And the kids we’re getting coming through now are, with no disrespect to those players, better – and there are more of them.
“So the first graduates, the proof is in the pudding. But we always want to be better.”
Mackintosh admits seeing the likes of Hibs striker Cummings, who was the subject of a failed £1.7 million bid from Peterborough last week, and Falkirk playmaker Craig Sibbald shine gives him hope that the programme does work.
He added: “I picked up the paper last week and saw that Craig Sibbald had played 200 games for Falkirk.
“Then he scores an absolute cracker at the weekend, before Jason Cummings then scores two in the same game.
“You do look at that and think: ‘aye, that’s what it’s all about’. Pride is the right word for that.
“In years to come, in my dotage, I want to be sitting watching the telly with a wee whisky in my hand, watching Scotland play and saying: ‘yeah, they were in our programme, he was in the programme, or she was in the programme’.
“The pride in seeing your work coming to fruition is what keeps you going. So last week was quite good for me.”