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Key to Great Players is moving forward!

Moving Forward

There are bad, average, good and great players and if anyone had forgotten that Lionel Messi was firmly within the brickwork of footballing greatness then his 5 goals against Bayer Leverkusen must have come as a stark reminder.

Without doubt Messi is one of the, if not the, best players of all time and is rightly ranked amongst Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane.

His ability is obvious and it would be difficult to pick a weakness in his game, however what sets him apart from the rest?

More significantly, what makes a player great?

Well, having the ability to produce significant moments which have an effect on the outcome of a match is a key trait to great players.

They must also possess more strengths than weaknesses and to be considered a real great player they have to show their class on a consistent basis.

There is however, a basic aspect of their play which is often overlooked.

Many believe that a combination of all the traditional physical and technical attributes are essential in a top player but what helps them become fundamentally great is their natural instinct to play forward at all times.

Players may run or pass into trouble and eventually lose the ball, but one who is able to consistently advance up the park will more often than not have a greater effect on a match than a player who plays side to side or backwards.

The legendary Zinedine Zidane highlighted Messi’s insistence to look forward at every opportunity as a key part of what makes him so good.

Whether Messi takes the ball from deep or is running on to a through ball his first touch always goes forward and that allows him to accelerate, dip and weave his way past defenders with much more ease.

Momentum has much to do with the Argentine’s play and the pace in which he is able to terrorise defences make him such a huge threat.

Zidane, Maradona, Cruyff and now Xavi all demonstrate the ability to play forward, immediately pressurising opposition defences.

It is understandable that players like Xavi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Andrea Pirlo are needed to link defence to attack so understandably, much of their passing is done from side to side or backwards.

Their approach has a different purpose and they are immense in their own way but a sign of the true great players is their positive attacking attitude.

If you look at every single goal Messi scored against Leverkusen, he moves forward with his first touch and continues forward before reaching the goal.

This is what makes him and so many other players great.

An individual can be blessed with fierce shooting, pacey dribbling and assured passing but if they don’t demonstrate a hunger and drive to attack the goal, these attributes become redundant.

Patience is a key part of football but there is no substitute for heading straight to goal.

Messi has shown that to be great you have to move forward. Only then can a player show the true extent of his greatness.

Give me a follow on twitter to get involved in some more football chat – @beanroll. Thanks for reading!

International Rationale

Wrong?

Following Fabio Capello’s resignation on Wednesday as England manager, the predictable questions sprang to mind: Who would succeed the Italian and what effect would this have on England’s Euro 2012 campaign?

In answering the first question, it seems that the majority would prefer Harry Redknapp as his successor. The fact there has been a longing for an Englishman to be at the helm for the last 3 years coupled with the Tottenham manager’s magnificent record at White Hart Lane, make him the people’s choice.

England’s success in Euro 2012 depends on the players who are available as well as the English FA appointing the man best suited to the job, regardless of his nationality.

However, will the FA be forced to consider an Englishman as a pre-requisite in their search for a new manager or will they opt for the best possible option as previously mentioned?

Realistically they will opt for the former, mainly to appease the supporters before an important international tournament like Euro 2012.

This though, begs a question which applies to the footballing world in general – Is a home-grown manager better suited to leading his nation than a foreign manager?

There are cases for both.

For England, Fabio Capello is statistically their best manager going by his win ratio – which is at 66% over 42 games.

However, the manager only led the England team at one international tournament where they failed to make it to the quarter finals.

Undoubtedly Capello failed to deal with off-field problems as well as an experienced manager should have, letting captaincy issues force him into an early exit.

The manager did however; qualify for two major tournaments while ushering in a new generation of English youth players creating a realistic sense of optimism before the Euro Championships in the summer.

There have been examples of foreign managers succeeding with national sides out with their native country.

South Korea in 2002 managed to reach the World Cup semi-finals under Guus Hiddink, with the Dutchman also leading Australia to their first World Cup in 32 years and Russia to the semi-finals in Euro 2008.

The similarly successful German national Otto Rehhagel led Greece to their greatest footballing success in 2004 when they lifted the European Championship in a surprise victory.

Greece defeated Portugal in the final of that tournament, a side led by Brazilian Luiz Felipe Scolari. This was Portugal’s only appearance in a major international final – the best performance in their history.

All were relative successes in their own right and led by a foreign manager, the countries achieved unparalleled results in their recent history.

Despite this success though, there is more reason to believe that foreign managers aren’t the way forward for international sides.

As mentioned, Capello failed to achieve any tangible success with England similar to the performance of Sven-Goran Eriksson years before him.

England’s greatest ever achievement was under the leadership of Alf Ramsay, when they won the 1966 World Cup in front of their own home support.

Furthermore, no teams have reached the final of any World Cup with a foreign manager since.

Vicente Del Bosque most recently led Spain to the World Cup in 2010, with Luis Aragones managing his countrymen to the 2008 Euro Championships.

Otto Rehhagel’s Euro 2004 win for Greece was the only exception – of a national team winning a major international tournament without a countryman leading the team – in the last 30 years.

These examples of triumph under native managers, lead to the conclusion that a foreign coach is not necessarily the best option when considering who the Football Association want to lead their team.

Looking to the future – in England’s case – Wayne Rooney highlighted Harry Redknapp as his choice to lead the national side. The striker stating ‘Got to be English to replace him (Capello), Harry Redknapp for me’.

There is no conclusive formula to implement when the search begins for a new international manager.

Ultimately, it should come down to who is the best available option but there is plenty of evidence to show that employing a man born in the same country as the players will reap the greatest rewards.

Culturally, the manager will understand the players as well as being able to immediately express his philosophy and ideas to the side in their own language.

Although a definitive rule would be unrealistic to expect, Football Associations should begin to move forward with the rational objective of producing home-grown managers who have the ability to lead their national team at major international tournaments.

A stadium full of English fans supporting a team of English players led by an English manager is surely the recipe for success, and the English FA – as well as any other FA looking to appoint a new manager – should make use of said recipe if they are to achieve anything as a football nation.

What’s your opinion? Get in touch through twitter – @beanroll or in the comment box below. Thanks for reading!

Right?

Bairns heading for the top!

Scottish Guardiola?

On the back of a 13 game win streak which has seen them claim top spot in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, Celtic are a side in devastatingly astute form.

Contrastingly, the First Division campaign has been an inconsistent one for Falkirk with too many defeats in their chase to pip nearest rivals Ross County to promotion.

Both sides however, have had similarly clinical performances in the League Cup resulting in the surprisingly thrilling semi-final at Hampden on the 29th of January.

It was Falkirk’s first appearance in a major semi-final since their historic Scottish Cup run in 2009, where they were eventually beaten by an overpowering Rangers side.

They produced a revenge act this season with a 3-2 win against Rangers at the Falkirk Stadium in the 3rd round and since that point have attracted resounding praise for their breath-taking brand of football.

Led by former Hearts and Dundee United player Steven Pressley, the Bairns play a stylish attacking type of football which is built upon a strong, organised foundation – much like the style their manager was renowned for as a player.

Pressley – who led Falkirk to relegation in his maiden season – has recovered an ailing Falkirk side to a prominent force in Scottish football.

Although having never won the Scottish League, Falkirk are one of the oldest sides in Scotland after being founded in 1876.

Their recent relative success is testament to their youth structure – first led by former manager Eddie May before being taken to a new level under Craig McPherson – with their first team squad boasting 10 academy graduates.

Of those graduates, at least 6 have made over 10 appearances – more than contributing to their season so far.

Approaching the Celtic game, there was focus put, quite rightly, on the in-form Celtic side.

The media cast up the surprise 2-0 Scottish Cup defeat to Ross County as the last time Celtic met a First Division side in a domestic cup semi-final.

Neil Lennon had to make sure that his Bhoys weren’t dealt another surprise blow by the Bairns.

Of the Pressley’s Bairns, Farid El-Alagui, Mark Millar and Jay Fulton were the particular focus of attention before the game.

El-Alagui has scored 21 goals in all competitions this year, offering Falkirk a talismanic figure in which they build their play around.

Former Celtic youth player Mark Millar struggled to make the breakthrough at Parkhead under Gordon Strachan, but his first match against his old club since leaving represented him with a chance to get one over on his former side.

As mentioned, Falkirk have invested a lot of faith in their youth players and no better example of that faith paying dividends is 17 year old midfielder Jay Fulton.

Brother to Dale – also in the Falkirk squad – and son of former Hearts legend Stevie, Jay began his youth career at Celtic before making the move to Falkirk.

The gangly midfielder shows a calm state of mind when faced with pressure for someone so young. At 17, his performance in this semi-final was one which belied his years.

Although not dominating the play, Fulton made enough of a contribution through his equalising goal in the first half for Celtic to consider him a threat.

He isn’t the only player under 20 who is developing a name for himself, with Murray Wallace, Kieran Duffie, Stephen Kingsley and Craig Sibbald all attracting interest with their fantastic displays.

Sibbald especially, may be the most difficult player for Falkirk to hold on to after reported suitors from the Old Firm, Arsenal, Spurs, Man City and Liverpool all showing interest.

The 16 year old only made his debut in July, yet has appeared 19 times for Falkirk, including that famous defeat of the Ibrox side..

All the aforementioned players featured at Hampden against Celtic, and to a certain extent did not disappoint.

Fulton got the goal which had Celtic worried for a time, until going on to win 3-1. Wallace played well in defence as did Duffie but were given a harsh lesson in top class striking by Gary Hooper and Anthony Stokes, surely a reminder for the youngsters that their short term development rests solely in the hands of their current club.

El-Alagui and Miller played well at times, with Miller showing sporadically that he is immensely talented in the middle of the park. From the first whistle it was apparent that the midfielder knew how to retain possession among some of the best central midfielders in the country.

Sibbald made a fleeting appearance at the end of the match – he had only recently returned from a potentially terrible knee injury – but it was a significant substitution, with Pressley showing that he is more than confident the young winger can cut it amongst illustrious opposition.

The real star on the day for Falkirk though, was an unknown Mancunian wearing the number 10 shirt so famous among Falkirk fans.

In a similar role to that occupied by the legendary Russell Latapy, Kallum Higginbotham terrorised Celtic’s defence with a performance full of flamboyancy.

At 22 years of age, Higginbotham has enjoyed a mediocre career with Oldham, Accrington and Rochdale until settling at Falkirk.

Now under the stewardship of Pressley he has excelled in a role just behind El-Alagui, providing the creative thrust to a side which has plenty of power and passing in abundance as well as being very capable defensively.

For Fulton’s goal, Higginbotham demonstrated a magnificent body swerve to lose Celtic’s Victor Wanyama before playing a perfectly weighted pass in to the winger’s path to score the goal.

Although Celtic ran out deserved winners, for long spells the First Division side performed a role reversal, dominating their loftier opponents.

Now after the disappointment of missing out on a cup final, the Falkirk Bairns must continue performing with a courageous attacking approach which has served them so well thus far.

Falkirk are slowly but surely developing an identity based on successful top-class youth players well on their way to taking themselves and their club to the top!

Follow me on twitter – @beanroll

Coming next: Who’s better – Part 2.

El-No Classico

All too familiar sight

A fixture which name translates as ‘The Classic’, yet now sadly lacks so much of the class it is renowned for.

It is possibly – if not already – the most anticipated match in the footballing calendar with the underlying tension, hatred and jealousy felt between both sides unlike any other.

Add to that the marvellous individual and team talent on show and Spain boasts one of the greatest rivalries on the planet. A spectacle to rival the Superbowl, the World Cup Final, Champions League final and any other ‘big’ game worth mentioning.

The one thing which has struck me most through these two rounds of ‘El Classico’ is the disgusting behaviour of both sides.

It has been petty, nasty, bordering on childlike and has more than taken away from the mesmerising – sometimes fantastical – football which has been played.

Spectators regardless of preference, sat back anticipating some of the finest football the world is ever likely to see. After all, with Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Iniesta and Ozil all involved, a salivating pallet is unavoidable.

However, despite moments of individual brilliance – Messi’s solo run and assist for Pedro’s goal plus Alves fine strike – the ugly side of the derby reared its head too many times, not just in the 2nd leg – where the match finished 2-2 – but in the 1st as well.

Barcelona and Real Madrid have always had an intensely contested rivalry between one another.

There have been times when the football has dominated – like Ronaldinho’s famous performance at the Bernabeu in 2005 when his efforts received a standing ovation from the home fans.

In other cases, the rivalry has turned disgusting – the infamous moment when a pigs head was thrown at Madrid’s Luis Figo when he returned to the Camp Nou immediately springs to mind.

Now, it has come full circle.

Combine the emergence of arguably the best football team ever in Guardiola’s Barcelona side, with the appointment of the notoriously controversial Jose Mourinho as Real boss and we were always going to see fireworks.

Barcelona have dominated domestically and on the European stage for the past 6 years winning the Champions League 3 times.

Xavi Hernandez, Andres Iniesta and Lionel Messi have cemented themselves as the most lethal triumvirate in world football, with the latter possibly the greatest player to have played the game.

Real on the other hand have won a mere 2 trophies in the past 6 years, and in comparison to their great rivals, have struggled to create a brand of football anywhere near the level of Barcelona.

Due to this, Jose Mourinho was hired last summer and in his maiden season he closed the gap, winning a Copa Del Rey title at the hands of Barca but still being pipped to the La Liga and Champions League crowns.

Mourinho is without doubt a world class coach and man manager who was brought in to lead Real Madrid’s grand plans to return to the top of Spanish and European football.

He has success wherever he has gone, unfortunately though that has not quite extended to Real Madrid as of yet.

Finishing second in the League, as well as being knocked out of the Champions League by Barca, Madrid’s rivals have been a source of frustration for Mourinho.

The ridiculous antics shown by Madrid’s players were not unlike the Portuguese managers previous teams, but it is the intent on stifling Barca which is the biggest frustration.

After all they have some of the most lethal attacking weapons in world football: Ronaldo, Ozil, Higuain, Kaka and Alonso can all provide goals and assists with their fast paced, thrusting counter attacks which are put to such great effect out with the El Classico.

Madrid though, are not alone in their trivial displays!

Barcelona may not over exert any physical presence they have, but the way in which they maliciously badger the referee to produce cards for fouls is saddening to watch.

Regardless of whether the fouls deserve punishment or not, they make the referee’s job harder in an already demanding situation.

A prime example of this was a tackle on Lionel Messi from Lassana Diarra late in the first half. After the referee rightly blowing for a foul, the Barca players swiftly proceeded to surround the referee waving imaginary cards, gesturing for a yellow card which would send Diarra off.

It is understandable that players should claim for fouls when they are deserved, but deliberately pressurising the referee in to altering his instant reaction to a foul is not needed.

This incident sparked a quasi-riot involving nearly all the players – a ridiculous outcome to an honest tackle which Diarra, more significantly, did not deny was a foul.

Sergio Ramos displayed a similar gesture when kicking the ball of Messi a yard away from where he was taking a free kick so both sides are just as culpable for the bad behaviour.

This all follows on from the malicious stamp Pepe had on Messi last week, which resulted in the centre back publicly apologising for something which could have easily been avoided in the first place.

What strikes most about the El Classico fixture now though, is that Barcelona and Real Madrid have an intense hatred which is worsening by the game.

Barcelona are quite rightly emerging victorious with their unstoppable play, leading to terrible frustration for Mourinho and his team.

Madrid’s direct ploy to get in the face of Barcelona is wrong, and for most fans and pundits there is a craving for Mourinho to simply attack in the El Classico. As mentioned, they are the side most suitably equipped to play Barcelona at their own game, and win.

The match is now becoming renowned for the scandal rather than the spectacular spectacle it should be.

Tall-ish Order.

Scotland hoping for more goals against Spain.

Qualifying for Euro 2012 is an outcome which many Scottish fans may have seen as a tall order when the country was placed with superpowers Spain and notoriously difficult teams Czech Republic and Lithuania in their qualifying group, but on the eve of our penultimate qualifier against Lichtenstein, the nation could still achieve this tall order.

Sitting third in the group, with two away fixtures against Lichtenstein and then Spain, Scotland must take full points to have any hope of making the play-offs for the tournament. Couple two wins with a defeat for Czech Republic against Spain tonight and the play-offs is where the country will be, representing a real chance to reach a major international tournament for the first time since 1998. It is a difficult challenge but one which is achievable, so how will Scotland overcome such a challenge?

Firstly, Lichtenstein is a team which Scotland has beaten already in the qualifiers. Albeit unconvincingly, the 2-1 victory went some way to helping the Tartan Army get to this point in qualifying, so the players should approach Saturday’s game with a sense of confidence.

Secondly, arguably Scotland’s best performance of the campaign came in the narrow 3-2 defeat to Spain at Hampden, with only a late Fernando Llorente goal being the difference between the sides. Spain in Alicante is a totally different scenario however and it will take a superhuman performance from the team and the manager to get anything from the game.

Levein has been experimental in this campaign, as well as the friendly matches between qualifiers, and that sense of experiment will not be lost in the next two games. Saturday represents a chance for the manager to test his attacking arsenal without the inclusion of Darren Fletcher and Kenny Miller.

Arguably two of Scotlands best players, both are suffering from slight injuries meaning they won’t be risked in Lichtenstein, but there absence could be seen as a blessing in disguise for players such as David Goodwillie, Craig Mackail-Smith and Barry Bannan.

In Levein’s 4-5-1 formation, there is only space for one lone striker and Mackail-Smith, Goodwillie and possibly Steven Naismith are the only realistic options to lead the line. Scotland have been heavily reliant on Miller’s work rate and mobility in their counter attacking play in this qualifying campaign, and these three players have the capability to try and replicate Miller, albeit they may not have the nack of scoring in big games like the Cardiff striker does.

I wouldn’t be surprised however, if Levein opts for Mackail-Smith in a surprising move, with the Brighton striker in red hot form with 6 goals in 12 games. The 27 year old is the only striker demonstrating this season that he can score regularly, contributing to the reason I would pick him ahead of Goodwillie, despite the Blackburn striker being arguably a better player. That goal threat added to his high work rate and ability to run the channels means he could be an able deputy for Miller against Lichtenstein.

In all Scotland’s tussles’ with the big nations in the past 5 years, we have always had a creative talisman who has bare the brunt of producing the inspiration that Scotland fans crave. In games against France, Holland and Italy, James McFadden produced moments of magic which have been few and far between in this qualifying campaign, however in Aston Villa’s Barry Bannan Scotland now have a man capable of taking this mantle.

Bannan was the star man in Scotland’s win over Lithuania in September, taking on the majority of the creative responsibility before eventually setting up Naismith’s winner late in the game. From then on he has also managed to become a regular in Alex McLeish’s Aston Villa side, contributing to their terrific start.

He is undoubtedly talented, a pocket dynamo capable of the faintest of touches or the fiercest of shots, the closest we have to a player you will see in the Spain squad. Allowing him to express himself and influence games in the final third could prove the key in winning both games.

For the scepticists, Spain may be seen as a game where Scotland should sit in with 11 men behind the ball, soaking up pressure before hitting long balls in to the channels for Kenny Miller to chase down, but I see the game as more than that. Levein must approach the game unlike everyone else and look to attack Spain in their weakest area, which I feel is in defence.

Spain dominate games through keeping the ball and through that possession, world class attacking players such as Xavi, Iniesta, Villa, Torres and Pedro put teams to the sword, but in defence there are areas Scotland can exploit, if they are brave enough to go and attack them.

At left back, Spain have no recognised encumbent of this position after the demise of the reliable Joan Capdevila, so the right sided Alvaro Arbeloa may find himself there. At centre half, the partnership of Pique and Puyol is formidable, but one which has seen its best days. Finally, Sergio Ramos is a top quality right back, but again when defending can sometimes be rash and error prone.

I understand Scotland may not have all the players to exploit the weaknesses I see in the Spain squad, but with the dangerous players they have, it is up to Levein to allow them to attack Spain to try and achieve something, rather than sit in scared and wait for them to hurt us. A draw is simply not enough.

Scotland must first hope that Spain do them a favour on Friday night, then either have an off day or rest there stars for the final qualifier on Tuesday. It is time for the country to believe, hopefully providing the impetus and inspiration for the national team to pull off the unlikeliest of results.

Number 10.

Messi: Greatest Number 10 ever!

In football, 10 in squad number terms, is the number given to the player who embodies creativity, flamboyance, imagination and inspiration through their play.

 
The number has become synonymous with the position between midfield and attack, whether it be as a forward dropping deep, or a midfielder pushing on.
The number has been worn by great players in the past such as Diego Maradona, Pele, Zico, Michel Platini and Roberto Baggio as well as current greats such as Wayne Rooney, Lionel Messi, Mesut Ozil, Wesley Sneijder, Clarence Seedorf and Francesco Totti.
All these players would be considered to be responsible for a large percentage of their team’s attacking play, providing the creative spark and imagination in the final third to unlock difficult defences. Their game is concentrated on dictating the play, as well as providing killer passes and smooth inter play around the opposition penalty box and goal. Primarily they are there to either score goals, or assist goals and players such as Maradona, Pele and Platini provided outstanding examples to current players such as Messi, Rooney and Sneijder who also play in the ‘Number 10’ position.
I believe that in order to create a great team, you first must employ a formation which accommodates a ‘number 10’ but also have a great player who plays in this position.
The ‘number 10’ is traditionally a player with very little defensive responsibility, conserving his fitness in order to make short sharp bursts of play when on the ball maximising his potential to cause damage when near the goal. This therefore, means that teams can sometimes play with what seems like a man down and sides who are playing on the counter attack or just to defend against constant attacking, can do without a ‘number 10’.
Formation is key for a ‘number 10’ so a system like 4-3-3, 4-4-2 and 3-5-2 could be seen as the best to use when employing this creative player with the role of contributing to the majority of the teams attacking play.
Also the style of the teams play must be one which focuses on playing fast, attacking football with the ball remaining on the ground when in possession. Barcelona at the moment, are the prime example of a football team who play with a high tempo with slick and precise passing as well as quick movement, and through Lionel Messi they have a great player in the ‘number 10’ position who acts as the focal point of their attack.
Once the formation and style of play is correct, the team must have a player able to play in this position and have the required attributes to do it to a high standard.
As mentioned, Lionel Messi is a prime example in a magnificent team who play with a ‘number 10’ and equally as important is Wayne Rooney who contributes a great number of goals as well as assists in his Manchester United side.
Wesley Sneijder, who plays for Inter Milan, is the best example of a midfielder who operates between midfield and attack, a space often referred to as ‘in the hole’, his precise passing and ability to shoot with accuracy from outside of the box is a cornerstone of his play and contributes to his and Inter Milan’s success especially under Jose Mounrinho’s tenure as Inter manager.
It is evident that the ‘number 10’ still exists in the modern era, making a return from a sabbatical after the introduction of more defensive formations and the use of counter attacking at the top level in world football.
However, has it been lost in the high tempo, fast paced, sometimes kick and rush style used in the UK and specifically Scotland and can it be attributed to our decline in standard both domestically, continentally and internationally for our sides?

 
With Celtic and Rangers, both teams do not have a designated ‘number 10’ who operates ‘in the hole’ with Anthony Stokes an out and out striker, and John Fleck a midfielder who as of yet, doesn’t have the required level of ability to be the focal point of the Rangers team. For Scotland, our formation is a 4-3-3 which gives the side the chance to play a ‘number 10’ but our style of play is very much based on counter attacking and only the introduction of Barry Bannan could be seen as a positive step towards designating a ‘number 10’.
England, have definitely felt the effect of playing without a ‘number 10’ despite having Wayne Rooney in their squad. Capello has used Rooney as more of an out and out striker due to the absence of a goal scoring striker for the national side. However, with the emergence of Andy Carroll and Darren Bent, as well as Capello’s introduction of a 4-3-3 formation, England could yet find themselves with a player worthy of wearing the ‘number 10’ and taking the teams play to a level on a par with Germany(Ozil), Spain(Xavi or Iniesta) and Holland(Sneijder).

Therefore, the UK game must adapt to introduce more creative players capable of playing this role, as only Wayne Rooney represents the embodiment of this position and number that goes with it.
It cannot be doubted however, that the ‘number 10’ is embedded in our footballing history, due to the success and level of performance achieved by those who have worn it.
Long live the number 10, long live football!

Kids will win everything!

Young, Smalling, Jones and Cleverley after Community Shield win.

Writing from a Scottish perspective, it is easy to attribute our domestic games devastating decline to lack of money. Looking at the money spinning sponsorship that the English game has had, as well as the Spanish League and German League, it could be said that Scotland has become such a poor footballing nation on all levels due to the lack of real funding in our game.

However, is it all about finances, or has the recent revelation in the quality of youth players at top European clubs, put our own country’s youth system into damning perspective?

Celtic and Rangers, who are equipped with state of the art training facilities and youth academies, have only 7 and 10 home-grown players in their squads respectively.

Of these players, only James Forrest for Celtic and Jamie Ness, John Fleck, Gregg Wylde, Andy Little and Allan McGregor have made over 10 appearances for their club and could be considered regulars. A damning statistic considering the evident lack of money in Scottish football, and also where there is a growing trend that the Old Firm have consistently bought Scottish players from sides such as Hearts, Hibs and Dundee United. This trend disproves the point that Scottish youth players just aren’t good enough, but more that, at the big clubs especially, youth players just aren’t getting a chance despite the real lack of quality in the first teams already.

Focusing on Celtic and Rangers may be seen as an easy option, but being the most dominant teams in Scottish football, both clubs represent the best chance for our youth players to be tested against high class opposition domestically and more significantly in Europe too.

So, are our players just not good enough? Or are the managers at top level in Scotland too scared to take risks when promoting youth players to their squad?

 

There could be a case for the latter, and the examples of Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund, Arsenal and most significantly Manchester Utd could provide examples of how it doesn’t always take money, to achieve the best results.

There was much made of the ‘you’ll never win anything with kids’ statement by Alan Hansen when describing the chances of Manchester United’s golden generation lifting the Premiership title in 1995, but contrary to much of what Alan Hansen says, he was proved wrong and the side went on to lift that title, along with many more in the next 10 years.
Not many people predicted a second coming of a United ‘golden generation’ but from the start of this season, it appears to have happened.

Sir Alex Ferguson, following winning the championship last year as well as reaching the Champions League, has managed to strengthen his side with youthful acquisitions and the emergence of top class players from the youth system. The sign of a good manager is not resting on his laurels and Ferguson has done this time and time again, reaching a consistently high standard every time.

Firstly, the capture of Ashley Young was possibly the best of the summer, with the England midfielder beginning the season with 2 goals and 3 assists in 5 games. Secondly, Ferguson was able to sign highly rated England Under 21 international Phil Jones from Blackburn and David De Gea from Atletico Madrid, two players who will most definitely spend the best years of their career in Manchester.

Most significantly for United this season, the emergence of Tom Cleverley, Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling, although not directly from the youth system, has took the team’s game to a whole new level. Cleverley had managed to start all four of United’s Premier League games after his outstanding performance in the second half of the Community Shield, keeping Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher out the team and providing another creative spark in the last third for United. Sadly though, the midfielder was injured in the 5-0 United win at Bolton, an injury which he could have definitely done without.

Welbeck has also emerged from the shadows at Old Trafford, after a successful loan spell at Sunderland last year. Starting the first three games of United’s season before being injured, his electric pace, smart link up play and Cantona-esque composure in front of goal has led to two goals in three games, keeping Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov out the squad.

Both players have turned themselves in to Manchester United regulars, and the sooner they return from injury the stronger the team will get. However, one player who remains in the starting XI and a pivotal part of the squad is Chris Smalling.

Smalling, changing from centre back to right back, has took his game to a whole new level after a brilliant debut season with the champions and doesn’t look like stopping his outstanding form. Although signed from Fulham for £10million two summers ago, Ferguson has managed to trust Smalling on the biggest stage, and after an assured display, as well as a goal against Chelsea in the Community Shield, he has made the right back slot his own. This led to special praise from Ferguson and international manager Fabio Capello, who started the defender in his side’s latest qualifiers against Bulgaria and Wales.

De Gea, Smalling and Jones will provide stability for United for many years to come and have already shown they can be relied upon in the absence of Ferdinand, Vidic and the retirement of Van Der Sar. Young, Cleverley, Welbeck as well as Hernandez and Rooney will be relied upon to create the attacking verve and flamboyancy that has always been attributed with Ferguson sides.

The most devastating thing for the rest of the Premier League though, is that this side is filled with relatively experienced young players such as Rooney, Anderson, Fletcher, Nani and Young, but with Cleverley, Welbeck, Jones, De Gea and Smalling added to the squad, the kids have every chance of dominating domestically as well as in Europe for years to come.

The emerging youthful side Ferguson has built has also managed to achieve United’s best start to a season under his tenure, a statistic which begs the question can they still move up a level? If so, Ferguson could find himself winning even more with his kids.

Success is most definitely now going to depend on producing high quality youth players, and teams such as Rangers and Celtic, with little money to spend, will have to follow the trend or see the terrible effect it will have on the quality of their play and success domestically and in Europe.