• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Kenny Shiels helping Scots youngsters in their quest for 'Holy Grail'

THIS, in his own words, is a quest for the Holy Grail.

Rather than the legend of King Arthur, though, it is the unfolding story of a kid called Arfield that Kenny Shiels is using as the treasure map for his own band of young followers.

The former Kilmarnock and Morton manager has only just started a new job as the head of coaching at the Forth Valley Football Academy, a project backed by the Scottish Football Association that integrates the youth systems of Falkirk, Stenhousemuir and East Stirlingshire, but one session on the grounds of Stirling University earlier this week has already given him the perfect motivational tool as he endeavours to guide his charges all the way to elite level.

Shiels was out on the training pitch on Monday night when word came through that Scott Arfield had marked his debut in the Barclays Premier League for Burnley with a sensational goal against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. The midfielder learned his trade on that same park as a member of Falkirk's youth set-up. His gradual rise through the ranks since leaving for Huddersfield Town four years ago is a matter of serious interest for the children now following in his footsteps.

The Holy Grail of which Shiels speaks is the dream of all football-mad youngsters to play in the top flight south of the border. Arfield's explosive arrival on that particular scene is, for someone seeking visible ways to prove such fantasies are eminently achievable, manna from heaven. "Scott scoring that goal is brilliant," said Shiels.

"We were out on the pitch with the kids, the under-13s. Someone went off for a coffee and a parent told them he had scored in the Premiership against Chelsea. We got the kids together and told them they'd never believe who had scored. We gave them a clue that it was a former under-13 player from the Falkirk Academy, who practiced their skills on these same grass pitches.

"The young boys were jubilant. They were cheering him and so pleased for him. Something like that has a big impact because young people have pictures in their head of where they want to go and who their idols are. If they see someone like Scott, who has come from their backyard and come through the same way as them, it gives them a realistic hope of getting through.

"The same goes for players such as Jay Fulton and Stephen Kingsley, who are now at Swansea. It gives them realism, a realistic hope of making it through."

For Shiels, coaching youngsters is no kind of demotion. It is his passion. He took Northern Ireland's under-17 side to the Elite Stage of the European Championship and served as head of youth with Tranmere Rovers for three years before moving to Rugby Park as assistant manager to Mixu Paatelainen in June 2010.

Although he won a League Cup at Hampden Park with Kilmarnock after succeeding Paatelainen as manager, he derives just as much pleasure from seeing his players go on to make successful careers for themselves. "You get the same satisfaction because it is an accomplishment, an achievement," said Shiels.

"What keeps you going in football is seeing happy faces in young people. It is great to be around young people. It is the most satisfying thing that you can have in life.

"It gives you great satisfaction to bring players through to play for their country or go to the Premier League in England, which is the Holy Grail.

"It keeps you going. Different industries have elements more emotionally imbalanced than others, but a manager's role in football is to provide results while a coach has to produce young players and make a contribution to a person's career."

Shiels, of course, was sacked by Kilmarnock in controversial circumstances in the summer of 2013. He was already beginning to look a little battle-weary, believing his commitment to speaking candidly and expressing his opinions came with a cost no longer worth paying.

When he reappeared at Morton that December, he made a vow to avoid match-day interviews on the advice of his doctor. By the time he stepped down following a 10-2 drubbing from Hamilton Academical on the final day of the season, his team relegated from the Championship, he gave the impression he had been bruised by what is a notoriously harsh environment.

"I don't look behind me," he said. "I want to move on with my next adventure and moving from one type of job in football to another is not foreign to me.

"Improving young people is very important to me as a person and not just as a coach, so I am very happy where I am right now."

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

255867