JIM McINALLY helped make history when he guided Peterhead to their first ever senior cup final at Hampden on Saturday. Yet it was a few days earlier, as he prepared for the semi-final against Queen's Park, that the manager did Scottish football a much wider service.

For perhaps the first time, a respected figure within the game said publicly what anybody taking a close interest in Club Academy Scotland has known for a very long time. Namely, that it has bloated and unrealistic pretensions; that it is a job creation scheme for aspiring coaches; and that it is destroying grassroots football in Scotland.

All bad enough. But most damning of all is that in the 20 years since its first incarnation as the Scottish Football Youth Initiative, the academy system has failed in its remit of providing our clubs, and the national team, with young players of a better quality than those available in 1995.

Back in June, the Herald ran a series of articles pointing all these matters out. We also revealed that a little-known Scottish FA performance target for 2015 wasn't being met – that by now 75 per cent of Premiership players would be Scottish.

It isn't being met for the simple reason that the young players being produced in the academies are considered not good enough or strong enough to cope with even the modest demands of top-tier football in Scotland. 

Reaffirmation that this is the case has since been provided by Mark Warburton's arrival at Rangers. Seeking to the get the club out of the even less demanding confines of the Championship, he turned not to Rangers' six-star academy with its state-of-the-art facilities, but instead the English market.
As both Warburton and his assistant, David Weir, are acknowledged to be shrewd operators, the conclusions are obvious.

One might think, after 20 years of systemic failure, that Scotland's senior clubs would be the first to start asking questions. That they would recognise that there cannot possibly be over 3000 elite young footballers between the ages of 10 and 17 in Scotland when a country as populous as Germany accepts it has only 500 more. 

But no. The lesser clubs, especially, continue to behave like the gambler who loses bet after bet but can't accept defeat – clinging on in vain hope that the children at their academies will one day make their clubs money in transfer fees and training compensation payments.

There are, as the Herald stated in June, good people and coaches working in Club Academy Scotland. But there are, almost by definition, many more less gifted ones. It is a combination of the clubs' and coaches' vested interests which McInally so correctly identified in the build-up to Saturday's game at Hampden.
With the benefit of over 40 years' experience in football as man and boy, and having castigated the pro-youth system, he got down to the nub of the matter. 

"Changing this deep-rooted problem would mean people would lose their jobs," McInally pointed out. "That is never going to happen. Nobody is going to admit they are wrong."

So there we have it. One of the main reasons Scottish professional football is failing, both as a sport and as a business model, is because the senior clubs and the coaching hierarchy refuse to even countenance that something which hasn't produced the expected results for the last 20 years isn't likely to produce them for the next 20 either.

They are resistant to change, both culturally and to preserve coaching jobs. Perish the thought that they might also look to other, more advanced, sports for high-performance guidance.

It took Craig Levein, who has always been prepared to think and act outwith football's self-regarding circle, to appreciate that something was wrong. Appointed director of football at Dundee United, he was intrigued as to why some of the club's 13-year-olds, such as Ryan Gauld and John Souttar, were so much more technically proficient than the others. That led him to Ian Cathro. 

Unknown outside Dundee, Cathro had developed Gauld, Souttar and others at his private clinic when he was little more than a teenager himself. Levein took a chance and appointed him as head of United's youth academy. Since then Cathro, who is still only 29, has gone on to be Steve McClaren's assistant at Newcastle, having last season helped steer Valencia into the Champions League. 



Ian Cathro is one of Scotland's brightest coaching talents . . . and not a former pro 

To Levein's great credit, he immediately recognised that Cathro had the wherewithal to develop outstanding young footballers. Yet up until that point, and in some cases well after it, Cathro was derided by other coaches in Scotland. They simply couldn't comprehend how somebody outwith their tiny charmed circle of former footballers could be so much more effective than they were.

Later, when appointed Scotland manager, Levein opened the SFA's eyes to the need for a performance strategy. This could have been a game changer, but again Scotland's senior clubs conspired to ensure that the recommendations of the high-performance consultant paid to deliver the strategy were watered down.

Yes, there are now performance schools along the lines of Celtic's which may, in time, improve matters. But instead of the dead wood in Club Academy Scotland being slashed back to allow more resources to be concentrated on fewer boys, the clubs refused to play ball. Where there should be a more sensible 600 boys, CAS continues to have a capacity for over 3000.

That's great for the employment prospects of pro-youth coaches, but disastrous for grassroots football, whose players are often lured away for no better reason than to be jersey fillers in this youth-development empire. In some instances, entire boys-club teams have folded.

It is against this background that Mark Wotte's successor, Brian McClair, will seek, again, to persuade Scotland's senior clubs that a radical overhaul is required. Perhaps not entirely by coincidence, he now has the backing of Gordon Strachan and a number of other high-profile former Scotland internationalists.
Because of this, and the absence of domestic football during the international window, the failings of Club Academy Scotland have been put under scrutiny as never before. Some of the coverage has been silly, such as the hopelessly naive notion that Strachan, who is based in the south of England and has no expertise in youth development, can magically dream up a solution.

Strachan's role, as Scotland manager and one of our great players, is to add his imprint to McClair's recommendations and add some thoughts of his own.



Ryan Gauld, centre, and John Souttar, right, are successful products of Dundee United's youth academy

At the top end of Scottish football there are clubs with decent academies, but even within these there is a blatant lack of game time for young players, both within the academy system itself, and later for the fortunate few who are offered professional contracts. At most of these clubs the first-team managers, mindful of the need for instant results, weigh up what they see in front of them and opt instead for older journeymen players.

At the younger age groups, clubs should be questioning how boys as young as 11 can possibly become better footballers sitting in cars as they travel to far-away training complexes and, even more absurdly, the length of Scotland for matches. This has also helped create a further scenario whereby kids from deprived backgrounds now have almost no chance of becoming academy players; instead, top-of-the-range vehicles increasingly drop children off at Premiership clubs.

The obvious remedy is to concentrate all the academy resources on the very best young players while releasing the vast majority back into a reinvigorated grassroots game. A boy who is good enough and determined enough will still have every chance of becoming a professional footballer – and perhaps enjoy a better and more rounded journey into the bargain.


June's Investigation, Part I: Why pro-youth scheme is failing Scottish football 

Part II: Call for action over 'children's transfer market' 

Part III: The damning evidence