WHEN you have devoted most of your working life to the professional development of young players, then it must cause a mild flutter of the heart to pick up a newspaper or turn on the radio to see and hear it being held up as the main source of Scottish football’s problems. It came as something of a relief, then, to David Longwell – head of St Mirren’s five star-rated youth academy – to learn that Gordon Strachan is not among those calling for the abolition of Club Academy Scotland, the system referred to as Pro Youth.

Strachan’s revelations at the start of the week that he is undertaking a far-reaching investigation into the state of football in this country has opened the debate on why Scotland struggles to produce players good enough to qualify for major tournaments. That has led to the spotlight been trained on the way young players are coached, with some within the game believing a return to the days of schools and boys club football - and players signing S forms with professional clubs – could help restore a more organic way of fostering youth development.

Wondering whether this was a view likely to prove contagious, Longwell took the decision to invite Strachan down to the St Mirren training ground on Friday to see for himself the work being done there. With the national team manager already ensconced with the under-21 squad, and in the area anyway ahead of the team’s match with Ukraine later that night at nearby St Mirren Park, he was more than willing to take up the invitation. During their chat on the training pitch, Longwell was pleased to discover that Strachan was a supportive figure.

“When I saw all in the stuff in the press [about Pro Youth] I just took a wee chance and asked Gordon if he wanted to come in,” he told the Sunday Herald. “Some of our thinking is actually very similar. He spoke earlier in the week about kids having to have a winning mentality and being competitive. And I totally agree with that. That’s something that has gone out of Scottish football. You have to want to be the best at what you do, and be willing to work harder to get there. We want to have that mentality here.

“Gordon also wants players to be better on the ball and more technical and we share that view, too. He was like that as a player and it’s something we try to instil in all our young players. I saw a thing that John McGinn said recently about he really benefited from coming through the ranks here because our academy is all about improving technique, working with both feet, and developing skill. And those are attributes that Gordon rates as well.

“Brian McClair, the SFA’s Performance Director, will drive any change but it’s good that Gordon is getting involved and weighing in with his opinions, too. When I saw people were being critical of Club Academy Scotland I thought it would be useful to get him in because a lot of good work is being done here that maybe isn’t always recognised.”

Longwell, who over the years has helped nurture the likes of McGinn, Kenny McLean, Stevie Mallan among others, is dismissive of the idea that Scottish football needs to revert to the past to improve its future. Much of the criticism of the Pro Youth set-up centres on the fact that it is based in a cosseted environment that restricts how often a young player comes into contact with a ball. In an era where football is no longer the primary obsession in many children’s lives, however, Longwell feels taking the game out of the academies and into the streets and parks would be a non-starter.

“I find it quite astonishing that people are saying it’s because of the academies that we are not producing better players,” he added. “Yes, there are pros and cons of such a system but in my opinion if it weren’t for academies then the game would be in an awful lot worst state. People who haven’t worked at youth level are making claims about kids being over-coached and so on. They need to come in and see what actually happens.

“Everyone always talks about how we need to get back to the days when we were producing players of the calibre of Kenny Dalglish. The problem you’ve got now, though, is that there are so many other things that kids are interested in, and there’s also a pampered culture where kids are spoiled and don’t have the same willingness to go out and work hard. So you have to try to change these things in the hope it can lead to an improvement in football standards. Like any programme the youth set-up can always be improved but it’s certainly not as bad as some people have been making out. It’s still the best way forward for Scottish football.”