THE Kevin Gallacher G8 Soccer School which the former Scotland internationalist now runs in Lancashire has enabled a number of aspiring professional footballers to further their career ambitions.

The goalkeepers, centre-halfs, wing-backs, midfielders, playmakers, wingers and strikers who Gallacher has mentored over the years have all benefitted greatly from his tutelage – and some have been spotted and picked up by senior clubs in the local area.

The UEFA-qualified coach is hopeful he will see one or more of his ex-pupils starring for the first team at Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Burnley or Preston North End one day in the not-too-distant future.

But does he expect any of his protégés to turn out at centre-forward for those venerable English institutions in the seasons ahead? He is not so sure about that.

Gallacher - who netted six times, more than Gheorghe Hagi, Alan Shearer and Davor Suker, during the France ’98 qualifying campaign and helped his country to secure a place at those World Cup finals – has been shocked and saddened by the lack of top-class goalscorers to have emerged both in his homeland and down south in recent years.  

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The 53-times capped 56-year-old is, having worked extensively in youth development since bringing his distinguished playing days to an end back in 2002, in no doubt what the reasons for the alarming trend is.

“There’s certainly been a decline in the number of strikers who are coming through in modern times because in modern times the game has changed,” he said. “Back in my day, every team played with two strikers, a No 9 and a No 10. You used to have three or four strikers coming through at every club. Now you only get one or two.

“In my day, you always had a No 9 and a No 10 on the park and a No 9 and a No 10 on the bench whenever the first team played. The same was true of the reserve team. You always had that back-up. It was a conveyer belt.”

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It certainly was. After Gallacher first broke into the Scotland set-up back in the late 1980s he faced some stiff competition for a dark blue jersey. The then Dundee United winger cum striker vied with the likes of Mo Johnston, Ally McCoist, Andy Walker, Brian McClair, David Speedie, Keith Wright, John Robertson and Duncan Ferguson for a place in the starting line-up.

In the years which followed, he played and trained alongside all of those aforementioned centre-forwards as well as with Gordon Durie, John Spencer, John McGinlay, Darren Jackson, Paul Dickov, Scott Booth, Billy Dodds, Simon Donnelly, Mark Burchill, Gary McSwegan and Don Hutchison.

Current national team manager Steve Clarke named no fewer than five forwards in his squad for the double header against Cyprus and England this month – Che Adams, Ryan Christie, Lyndon Dykes, Kevin Nisbet and Lawrence Shankland – and has no shortage of firepower at his disposal.

Still, it is undeniable that far fewer predators are emerging from these shores. Gallacher suspects the way that children are taught to play from an early age is partially responsible for the dwindling talent pool as well.

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“A lot of it is down to the changes which have been made at grassroots level too,” he said. “They are emulating what they are see senior sides and national teams doing. I know that academy sides will play with one striker up front if that is what the senior team does.

“Right away, youth teams are only going to play with one striker. So they are only going to develop one striker. It is difficult having just one striker as you come through the youth ranks. Players don’t want to sit on the bench because that is the only position they can play.

“Grassroots football also changed. When I was a boy, we always played 11-a-side. But it went to five-a-side, then seven-a-side, then nine-a-side and then 11-a-side. The idea behind the change was so we could develop more technicians. But I actually think we have lost players out of the game because of it. 

“I see it down here in the Blackburn area. Kids start out playing five-a-side and then move up to seven-a-side, nine-a-side and so on as they go up the age groups. The upshot of that is that clubs have to poach players from rival clubs to make up the numbers they need. Clubs have started going defunct.”

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Gallacher travelled the globe during an international career that spanned three decades. The former Coventry City, Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United striker has seen how many foreign countries have flourished by taking exactly the same approach as we increasingly are now. He believes, though, that adopting their methods is having an detrimental effect. 

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“A few years ago, I went over to Spain with a local school down here,” he said. “Spanish school teams play exactly the same way as the Spanish national team do. They develop players by using the same system as the senior side.

“But they have still produced a striker or two. It is strange how some countries who have had a structure in place for many, many years have managed to do it while we have not.

“The size of the country we are has probably got a lot to do with it. We always seemed to produce two decent strikers. But now we are scraping the barrel. Ideally, you want your strikers to be playing in the Premier League or the Champions League.” 

Gallacher added: “Teams used to fear the British system because it was physical, it was fast, it was up and at them. We always had two strikers, one who was in your face and one who was down at your feet. Now we have lost that.

“Every team is playing with one man up front, very much in the way a lot of European teams did back in the 1990s. We are changing and trying to develop an identification for ourselves. But we are going through a transition period. Other countries have been doing it for a long time.

“I watched a lot of Italian football when I played. Serie A strikers had to be very patient. They became part of the link-up play when the ball got further up the park and it got faster. That is what has happened elsewhere in the modern game.

“Clubs are looking for the striker to be the link-up man in the final third. Unfortunately, by doing that you lose the No 10. You are bringing another midfielder into it and asking them to score you 10 goals a season.

“It is a weird situation for me. You are asking wingers to play like strikers from a wide area and score 15 goals a season. But it is the way the modern game is going. Coaches are trying to outdo other coaches with specific tactics. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”

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The strike rate that John McGinn, the Aston Villa captain and midfielder, has enjoyed with Scotland would suggest that it is working.

Only Denis Law, Sir Kenny Dalglish, Hughie Gallacher, Lawrie Reilly, Ally McCoist and Kenny Miller have scored on more occasions for their country than the man who has become the darling of the Tartan Army footsoldiers due to his heroics in the final third of the park.

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The goals which McGinn, Scott McTominay, Kenny McLean and Callum McGregor have netted in the past six months have put the national team in a strong position to claim a place at the Euro 2024 finals in Germany next summer.

Gallacher, who played at Euro ’92, Euro ’96 and France ’98, understands that whichever individual is chosen to play up front is now expected to be much more than just a penalty box poacher.

“It is always difficult being the striker,” he said. “He is the one supporters are looking at to score the goals. Sometimes fans will say, ‘Well, he’s not scored in 10 games!’ They don’t look at the other side of it. But the players and the coaching staff do. Professionals and ex-professionals like myself do.

“If you have got a striker who works hard for the team and draws defenders out then that creates openings for the midfielders we have. Guys like John McGinn and Scott McTominay are chipping in with goals left, right and centre.”

Gallacher is, like every Scotland supporter, an admirer of Adams and Dykes. He has no issues whatsoever with the Englishman and the Australian pledging their allegiances to their adopted homeland. In fact, he feels the SFA should, like so many national associations today, cast their net far and wide to find players who can add that vital cutting edge in attack. 

“I have seen a fair bit of Dykes down here in England,” he said. “I think he plays far better for Scotland than he does for Queens Park Rangers. It is kind of strange. It is down to the Scottish scouting system to go out and find these hidden gems.

“We have always looked for players. Even when I played. We always looked for players who had something to do with Scotland who could possibly strengthen the national team. We were always looking for guys who could fit in whether they come from Glasgow or Timbuktu. We wanted them wherever they came from.

“I played with Don Hutchison and he did very well for Scotland. Don was the start of a new era, he got in through his father. He came in to strengthen the forward line because we didn’t have a lot at that time. Matt Elliot came in to bolster the defence. More and more players have done that over the years.

“You need competition wherever you play, whether it be in club football or the international game. People go stale, people lose form. When that happens, the manager has to change it. Fresh faces coming in can go two ways. They can be overcome by the whole thing or stand out like a star.”

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Gallacher has been heartened to see the likes of Josh Doig, Lewis Ferguson, Jack Hendry, Aaron Hickey and Kieran Tierney go abroad to Belgium, Italy and Spain to ply their trade. He would like to see a few strikers follow their lead.

“Years ago, you would never have heard of that,” he said. “Now they are going to foreign countries and learning different aspects of the game. I think that is fantastic.”

Something else that Gallacher approves of is Clarke giving the likes of Robbie McCrorie of Rangers and Ross Stewart of Southampton call-ups so they can make the step up into the Scotland side in the years ahead if their progress proceeds apace. It was something which worked well for him as a youngster.

“Andy Roxburgh and Craig Brown set up the Scotland squad so it had a club feel,” he said. “A lot of players didn’t like it, but it suited me. I was quite happy going along as a squad player and being involved in it. I learned from the established players, saw what they were like in training, watched how they prepared for matches.

“Clarkey is a very clever man. He knows that he has to bring people in and get them involved in it. He understands the way the system works. You are showing them what they can achieve if they work hard.”

Much hard work remains to be done if Scotland are to bring through strikers like Kevin Gallacher once again in the years to come.

In Striking Out on Monday: The "world's No 1 striker coach" on the changes Scotland needs to make to start producing top-class centre-forwards again

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