FORMER Scotland manager Alex McLeish has called on Scotland's senior clubs to have more respect for grassroots football and stop harvesting their players on industrial levels.

McLeish, who has first-hand experience of club academies in Scotland, England and Belgium, was, like every player of his generation, a product of boys club and schools football. While he accepts that society has changed since the football-focused days of his Glasgow upbringing, he says that the enormous damage being done to the sport's grassroots base by Club Academy Scotland has to stop.

"We shouldn't be fighting with the boys clubs," McLeish said. "That's terrible. We need to be all together and united for the national team to prosper."

It is now over five years since Willie Smith, of Hillwood Boys Club, and Scott Robertson, of Musselburgh Windsor FC, started their Realgrassroots campaign to have the excesses of Club Academy Scotland curbed. McLeish, who played for Hillwood among other boys clubs, believes that it is time the SPFL and Scotland's senior clubs started acting on these concerns.

"I've kept quiet about it, but I've backed Willie Smith in everything he is doing," McLeish said. "Guys like him gave me a real chance in football. They cared about the boys who were at their clubs.

"We have to change what is going on and people should be listening to people like Willie, who has been involved in boys club football for nearly 50 years.

"When we were growing up the more you played the game, the more you learned about it. To give you one example, playing against older boys taught me that you had to move the ball a bit quicker, or else. These were all life lessons, and I'm not sure you get them now in these academies.

"I don't think that boys aged 10-12 need too much tactics. Basic organisation, yes, but not big coaching sessions on the pitch when they sit for 25 minutes listening to a coach rabbitting on about possession, or whatever. A young player should be playing as much football as possible."

Acccording to McLeish, the lavishly funded academies in England are not providing the clubs with a steady supply of young first-team players either – but he was much more impressed with what he experienced in his time at Genk.

"At Aston Villa I had real bad problems with injuries but I couldn't turn to the academy," he said. "The boys weren't ready – and whether they would ever be good enough at Aston Villa long-term was another question.

"In the three years since I've been at the club, the only one I have seen come through is Jack Grealish. Yet, Villa's was viewed as one of the top academies in England.

"In Belgium, the coaches were exceptional. They were teaching the centre-halves how to do step overs – not so they would do them in their own box, but to get them familiar with a football. I was watching one 6ft 3in defender doing them and you just knew he was going to be comfortable with the ball at his feet in a difficult situation.

"I had boys from the Genk academy who were ready to play first-team football and I would have played them in England as well. One or two were quite light but they had really good ball manipulation. They came into the team and never let themselves down.

"I'm told that there were less than 50 per cent of Scottish players in the teams which played in Europe this season. If that is the case, these figures are damning. You look at Rangers as well now – they have a lot of English boys in their team."

While accepting that Scotland were in a tough group – confirmed by the Republic of Ireland becoming the third team to qualify with their win over Bosnia Herzegovina in the play-offs – McLeish says that 17 years and counting of failing to qualify for a major championship tells its own story. Now, along with Gordon Strachan and other ex-players he intends to do something about it.

"I know football inside out and Strachan, does as well," he pointed out. "I would expect the clubs to listen to what we have to say."