This article was first published yesterday in our bespoke Sports newsletter The Fixture. You can sign up in seconds to receive it straight to your inbox every weekday here.

Scouring Instagram for the latest news on Molly-Mae Hague and Tommy Fury's baby The Fixture found a story of actual worth over the weekend. It came in the form of a series of points raised by Marijn Beuker, the Queen's Park director of football operations, who arrived from AZ Alkmaar in November 2021.

Here was the Dutchman making some crucial points that relate to grassroots and pro-youth football in Scotland in its current guise. Some context first, though. Anecdotally speaking, as a coach of a 2010 boys team playing in the west of Scotland, there are some common themes to note: the teams that are more successful tend to have tall, strong and quick boys who bulldoze over their opponents simply by virtue of a handful of players who exhibit these physical qualities; winning at all costs remains an obstacle to developing talent; pitches and goals remain too big and the smaller more technical players tend to be less visible and exert less influence on games as a result.

Inevitably those boys who have hit puberty quicker and who are, in effect, men with baby faces are playing a different game to the others. One by one they start to disappear from the grassroots teams as they are snaffled up by Club Academy Scotland scouts. The Fixture knows of one player – tall, broad and quick – who has recently been released by one academy only to be picked up by another within the space of days. It is not the only example of the kind of merry-go-round scouting that goes on with clubs often paralysed by the fear of missing out. But is this really the right way of doing things? Not if you are to read the aforementioned post by Beuker, which stresses the importance of keeping a keen eye on the late developers.


He writes: “Players are mostly classified in their chronological age. However, you can also look at a player in his biological or technical age. Biological age is the state your body is really in, or how old you really are. This is especially relevant to know and important to work with between players between eight and 18.

“Boys start their biggest growth spurt when they are biological aged 13. Some players are early matured and start that phase when they are 11. But some players are later matured and start that phase when they are 15.”

“Scouts mostly pick out players who are early matured, because they tend to look quicker, stronger and more skilled and therefore perform better in the here and now,” adds Beuker.

“However, studies show that in European Academies, most spots are taken by early maturers. Only 20 per cent of all places are taken by late maturers. But if you look at which players make it into professional football, we see that the majority are late matured. Little remains of the large group of early matured players, only 13 per cent of all professional players can be characterised as early matured.”

Yet take a look at the composition of pro-youth teams and you will see them falling into the same trap of populating their teams with brawny, biologically more developed boys who will help them to get results. Where is the bravery? Where are the lessons learned from other countries who have developed any number of teams possessed of atypical physical specimens such as Barcelona and Spain who can number Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Gavi and Pedri as alumni?

Beuker's observations point to a wider issue. At the 2010 level across the country, The Fixture hears similar stories about the level of quality that exists in the age group. It seems that there is now a generation of young footballers who are so technically advanced as a result of the multitude of coaching opportunities presented to them be it via Coerver Coaching, Box Soccer, futsal or one-to-one sessions that there is a surfeit of talent and, yet, there is nowhere specifically for them to go once they hit the glass ceiling in grassroots football. That talent pool will only increase (indeed, this 2010 example is clearly only a snapshot). Eighteen clubs comprise Club Academy Scotland, another 24 in the senior set-up could give over more attention to youth development at a time when finances are pinched – all 42 appear to be missing out.