BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
GO where the ball takes you.
It is a throwaway piece of tactical advice that Gordon Young has taken to heart.
Ordinarily, a Scottish coach landing a role as assistant manager of the Latvian national team would raise a few eyebrows.
But Young has never been one to walk the conventional path.
After cutting his teeth in coaching with Motherwell – helping to develop the likes of Jamie Murphy, Shaun Hutchinson and Ross Forbes as youth chief, as well as enjoying two stints as caretaker boss – Young dusted off his passport.
A tempting role as Sheffield United international academy manager saw the hungry coach work in India, China, Australia helping to set-up training centres on behalf of the Blades and craft local talent.
His return to Scotland with Dundee United as assistant to Mixu Paatelainen in October 2015 turned sour after just seven months and an American adventure as director of coaching at Northern California Premier League side Impact Soccer Club followed.
While his current club post as Paul Hartley’s number two at Falkirk has seen Young arrive back on home soil, it has not quietened his wanderlust or thirst for knowledge – evidenced when he was reunited with Paatelainen last week, acting as the big Finn’s right-hand man with the Latvia national team.
“Someone once told me this game was about where the ball takes you,” said Young.
“I’ve taken that philosophy to apply to the pitch and in terms of embracing any chances I get to progress as a coach, wherever that may be.
“If there is something that will be creative and productive for me, then I’ll do it. I feel really lucky to have worked in India and China with Sheffield United and, as huge developing countries in football terms, they had their own challenges.
“I think that travel opens you up to different challenges, different cultures and you see the way people approach sport in those countries.
“Even when I was in my role with Motherwell, I would visit England regularly and, although you knew it would be impossible to replicate exactly what many of those clubs were doing, you would take things from every trip.
“Going to America could have been a place for me to retire and it was a move I made for my family after – in my view – we were wrongly sacked by Dundee United, but I wanted to come back to Scotland because I felt I had stopped developing.”
Young could be forgiven for thinking this international management lark is simple.
After a fortnight in the job, he got his hands on some silverware.
Latvia retained the Baltic Cup ahead of Estonia and a Lithuania side including Hibs ace Vykintas Slivka and former Hearts favourite Arvydas Novikovas.
Indeed, the first many knew back home of his new role was when the Latvian FA tweeted a picture that included Young celebrating with the trophy.
It was a dream dugout bow for Paatelainen and Young as they seek to start from scratch. The golden era of Vitalijs Astafjevs, Maris Verpakovskis and Igors Stepanovs which secured qualification for Euro 2004 is long gone and Young is hungry to help shape a new generation.
“Mixu [Paatelainen] recently got the job and asked whether I would be open to helping out during the international dates,” reflected Young. “It was actually quite low-key.
“My priority is still Falkirk, but the opportunity to work at the highest level – international football – is just a wonderful chance to develop.
“It’s such an exciting prospect. It’s effectively a new team coming through. A lot of the really experienced players who had great success for Latvia have retired and it’s about building. A clean slate.
“Winning the Baltic Cup was the perfect start. It meant a lot to the players and the country.”
And Young reckons that Falkirk may even reap the rewards as he expands his contacts and expertise to the Baltic states.
“You are always looking and I’m certainly keeping an eye out for players that could be an option for Falkirk,” continued Young.
“The guys in the national team are the best of the best in Latvia, but we have also seen talent showcases and are looking for emerging players that could improve the national side ahead of the Nations League – and perhaps excel in Scotland.”