MARK Wotte, the SFA performance director, confirmed last night that England have strengthened their youth scouting operation specifically to prevent Scotland "stealing" their best young talent, writes Stewart Fisher.
Ever since Craig Levein appointed Mick Oliver as chief scout, Scotland have made it a strategic priority to target the finest eligible players in academies south of the border, but their counterparts at the FA have recently expanded their own staff and have built in new protocols in an attempt to crack down on such practices.
Devon-born Southampton striker Sam Gallagher, a reported Chelsea target who opted to switch to England's youth set-up after being part of Ricky Sbragia's Under-19 squads, is a case in point, but while the FA can clearly exert powerful leverage on young players, Wotte feels England will only ever be able to select so many.
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"The FA know our squads and if they see a player from Birmingham or Newcastle there they will think, 'hey, what is his position'?" the Dutchman said. "But they can only play 11 players and they can only select 18. They have 10 times the amount of players Scotland have so that pool is like the ocean and we have a loch.
"If they are not being selected then these boys who love to play international football will jump but you need commitment as well. It might be that Sam Gallagher is not selected for the Under 21s or that he will never play for England. So maybe he is going to become a Jordan Rhodes, everything is still open."
This week sees Wotte and his assistant Scot Gemmill take charge of a Scotland Under-17 side which hosts a European Championship elite round group including favourites Belgium, Romania and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Kilmarnock's Greg Kiltie and Dundee's Craig Wighton have already experienced first-team football, but Wotte would still love to see more tasting it, particularly at Celtic and Rangers.
"You could argue that Callum McGregor is better than [Nir] Biton but that's a club decision and I can't influence it or do anything about it," he said.