THE majority of Scotland's clubs might have given short shrift to ambitious but controversial plans to form a new fifth tier league comprising four Premiership B teams.

So much so, in fact, that a vote on the Conference League which was set to take place at the SFA AGM at Hampden yesterday was pulled on Monday due to the high level of unhappiness about and opposition to it.

Yet, Ian Maxwell, the SFA chief executive, is undeterred by the negativity surrounding the move in some quarters and remains hopeful the doubters can be persuaded to accept a revised proposal in the future.

The man responsible for overseeing the game in this country from grassroots up to the senior national teams can see the myriad benefits of allowing our best young prospects to compete for their clubs in the senior set-up rather than going out on loan.

The former Queen’s Park, Ross County, St Johnstone, St Mirren and Partick Thistle defender has witnessed how allowing youth sides into the league set-up has enabled many European nations to produce more home-grown stars and flourish at both club and international level.

Maxwell stressed the Conference League has been shelved for the time being – but not abandoned.

“Player development is a hot topic for clubs and for us from a national team perspective,” he said. “Spectators want to see homegrown players develop. They love nothing better than seeing one of their own – as they call it – playing for their team. 

“The SPFL had the Deloitte review which was commissioned by Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs, Dundee and Dundee United. B teams and player development was a key strategic priority within that.  

“There’s been a lot of engagement. We did that through the pyramid working group. We thought the resolution was the right thing to take forward. 

“The feedback we got was that wasn’t the case. Rather than go for a vote that could have been divisive and lead to further problems, the board took the view that the most appropriate thing at this point was to take it off the table.

“But we will go back and engage again with clubs and stakeholders and see what that player development pathway looks like going forward.”  

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Maxwell added: “There is evidence across Europe that it works. There are countries where it has not worked so well.

“We have identified that our under-17s do well and they are just back from the Euro finals in Hungary. That is six years out of the last ten we have qualified as one of the top 16 in UEFA out of 55.

“We are arguably punching above our weight there. But the under-19s don't do as well and the under-21s do a bit worse again. There is a problem in that area and we think it is because players are not getting that chance to develop.

“Our top talent at 17 is not our top talent at 21. They are not progressing in comparison to our European counterparts. “

Premiership outfits Livingston and St Mirren have denounced the push to set-up the Conference League – which would be positioned below League Two but above the Lowland League and Highland League – in time for the start of the 2024/25 season in recent days.

Their views have been shared by Partick Thistle, Morton, Cove Rangers, Queen of the South, Falkirk, Stranraer, Kelty Hearts, FC Edinburgh, Stenhousemuir, Stirling Albion, Clyde Berwick Rangers and Cowdenbeath.

Maxwell, who was the Thistle general manager before taking over as SFA chief executive back in 2018, can understand why clubs are protecting their own interests, but he stressed they will ultimately reap rich rewards if more youngsters make the successful transition into the professional game at the highest level.

“Clubs do see the benefits,” he said. “Us qualifying for the Euros has a massive impact across the country. Sometimes there is a club-centric view on proposals and I can understand that. Clubs are going to make their own mind up. We can't change that.

“Change isn’t happening because the clubs don’t like it. Every football club you ask to look at anything does so through their own lens.

“They do it through their ‘what does this mean for me?’ glasses which I get because I was at a club and it is difficult to take a more holistic approach.

“When you are at the association then it is more straightforward and easier as you don't have the club focus.

“Clubs are entitled to their opinion. It is a democracy and the democracy we have has shown the resolution wouldn’t pass so we have to look at it again in the future.”

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Maxwell added: "It's not a one size fits all. There are things clubs can do and things that clubs can't do. But just because some clubs can't do it, it doesn't mean the ones that can should be stopped. I'm not talking specifically about B teams here.

“Rangers and Celtic as the two biggest clubs in the country will be far more resourced to set up a scouting network across the world. That doesn't mean they should be stopped from doing that because nobody else can. We need to work out what it looks like across the game.”

Meanwhile, Maxwell has welcomed the agreement with Scottish Gas which will see the company become the title sponsor of both the men’s and women’s Scottish Cup competitions and bank the SFA £1.2m a year for the next five years.

"We're delighted,” he said. “It's a long-term sponsorship deal with a blue chip company from a good sector.

They've committed a significant six-figure sum a year across youth football and para-football. They're not just seeing it as the title sponsorship for the Scottish Cup.

"They want to get involved and help us grow the game, they want to make the stadium more sustainable and they want to engage clubs on that perspective as well. A five-year deal is absolutely brilliant for us.”

Mike Mulraney, the chairman of Alloa Athletic, succeeded Rod Petrie as SFA president yesterday and Les Gray, the Hamilton vice-chairman, was appointed vice-president.