A young player breaks into the first team, performs impressively enough to generate acclaim, then suitors begin to emerge. The only differences tend to be in timescale, since some teenagers have been spirited away to England before they are established in the starting line-up. The game has become accustomed to the regret of seeing the best talents depart, particularly since it is not always to the benefit of their long-term prospects.
The latest batch of young players to walk this path are John Souttar, Ryan Gauld and Andrew Robertson of Dundee United, Stevie May of St Johnstone and Ryan Jack of Aberdeen. All have played with vivid quality and maturity this season, despite lacking in experience. Their exploits have been promising enough to draw scouts to their games, and soon enough they could face a familiar dilemma: to remain in Scotland in the early stages of their development or grab the opportunity to move to England, where the game is more lucrative, but also more crowded.
There are plenty of examples for them to ponder. James McCarthy, Robert Snodgrass and Graham Dorrans all left Scotland at an early age and have forged careers south of the border. Others, such as Danny Wilson and David Goodwillie, have returned after failing to make enough of an impact to sustain their careers. It is an awkward choice, comprising ambition, self-belief, wisdom, composure and, often enough, a life-changing opportunity. In England, after all, the wealth in the game tends to be of a different order.
"It's very difficult for them, because they're often getting offered more money and they have to balance that against is best for the long-term prospects of their career," said Donald Park, the Scottish Football Association head of coach development and former head of youth at Hibernian. "There's no doubt in my mind that kids are much better playing than going. If they're already playing in the first team in the SPFL Premiership, they might then go down south and it will take time to break into the first-team. There are benefits to staying here, but it's a very difficult decision for them, because it is a good opportunity and more money."
"[But] there's no substitute for the games on a Saturday. I know where people are coming from [when they talk about training with top-class players], that can be challenging, but playing games is better. The ideal situation is for a team to buy a player then leave him at his club to develop; that way everybody gets the benefit from the transfer. Those days are gone, when clubs received substantial money from fees."
Scott Allan left Tannadice for West Bromwich Albion in December 2011, but has struggled to establish himself at the club. He is now on his fourth loan deal, spending the entire season at Birmingham City, and he admitted to some frustration at the beginning of the campaign. The talented midfielder has all but ruled out a long-term career at The Hawthorns, although he does not regret his move. "When you get the chance to go to a Premier League club you can't say no because you never know what could happen," Allan said. The periods out on loan were unsettling, and the effect has been that the player has never felt wholly comfortable with the move. Players have to weigh up the benefits of the opportunity - which are about status and development as well as finances - against the danger of becoming marginalised.
Souttar, Gauld and Robertson could find advice closer to hand, since Goodwillie has returned to Tannadice on loan after failing to make an impact at Blackburn Rovers. There are several reasons why a move can become a setback, including circumstance, attitude and maturity as much as talent, and no advice can apply to every individual. Even so, speculation has to be handled adroitly. In recent weeks Jackie McNamara, the Dundee United manager, has found himself being asked about interest in Souttar (Sunderland), Gauld (Real Madrid) and Robertson (Liverpool) and, while the Tannadice club needs transfer fees to stabilise its own finances, there is also a duty of care to the players' careers.
"It's a good thing," McNamara said yesterday of the speculation. "If they're doing that consistently every week then they are going to be linked with other clubs. The pleasing thing [is that] they're doing it for the first-team at the highest level. It's really refreshing for them to be doing it at a really young age."
There are benefits to moving, since many English clubs have greater resources. Ryan Fraser has remarked upon the training facilities at Bournemouth compared to Aberdeen, and he has become an influential player at a club that can legitimately challenge in the top half of the Sky Bet Championship. Fraser Fyive has found it more difficult to break into the Wigan first-team, and Jack Grimmer remains an impressive performer only in the youth sides at Fulham, but all of these players remain convinced that they made the right decision to leave Scottish football at a young age.
"When you're a young lad coming through at an SPL club they definitely big you up," Fyvie said recently. "So you sometimes feel a bit pressurised and don't play at the level you can because you're trying to impress everyone. I'm not in the limelight so much now I'm at Wigan so I'm getting the chance to improve my skills."