Wotte To Do About Scottish Football
Updated Monday, 7th November 2011
Mark Wotte knows he does not have a magic wand to improve Scottish football on his own. However, he could be the man with the magic touch to get people and agencies working to a single plan.
The SFA's Performance Director, Mark Wotte has been in post for four months and felt it was time to meet the media ahead of the four road-shows around the country which will allow the fans to hear what he sees as the way ahead. It will not be much of surprise to hear the that the Dutchman is looking to the government, local and national, and the clubs to work together to improve the opportunities for young players to develop their skills and also their general outlook on health and life. The word academy appeared several times in the discussion and Wotte was reminded a number of times that much of what he had to say had been said before without much changing on the national side of things. He was, of course, preaching to the converted as we all want the game in Scotland, and the national team, to improve. Those of rather more years than we care to admit have heard similar plans and pleas for more investment in the game following previous football reviews and what is needed to get Scotland on the right path. Ex-SFA secretary Ernie Walker's think-tank looked at the problems before but I can't recall seeing what, if anything, changed following his examination. However, this time around you get the impression that the SFA are willing to do things rather than just say 'poor us - gie's a hand-out'.
Wotte has a budget to put in place personnel in key areas to start the revolution at the right level, players as young as 12 getting involved with football being part and parcel of their school life on a daily basis and not just during the PE lesson and the game at the weekend. Wotte said: "I have seen all levels of football in Scotland, I have seen the national team; the SPL; SFL; youth leagues; and national youth teams. So I have been around and in general I think we have been under achieving. I think, to be honest we are not good enough and we can do a much better job in general in every level. It is a big task for us Scottish football people to improve the level (of performance) to make sure in a couple of years we can do better. The national team was not able to qualify for EURO2012, the big teams were knocked out of Europe in August, very happy for Celtic to be involved again, but at youth level the national teams do not qualify for championships. I think the infrastructure can be better, programmes can be more intense and there should be better co-operation between clubs, academies and schools. The government has to do more for general health purposes. Physical education should be much more important in primary school. All these things will all help."
We could all have made that list but Wotte was pressed on how to make this happen. He went on: "We have to start at the top. We had a good discussion with the government about the bigger topics. We have started communications with the clubs; with the academies. I have started discussions within the SFA to intensify the programme for the national youth teams to create national training centres. We have an exciting project coming up with the seven performance schools which are football schools in a very unique way. We all know in France you have a full-time school for age 12, 13 and 14 for talented players. We are going to do something similar, so that the best youth players in a region can attend this school and start every day with football, of an hour and a half which means they will have a lot of extra hours to benefit from quality football sessions. When they are 12-13, 13-14, 14-15 five times a week they start school with football which is obviously a very good tool for us to produce better youth players. By producing better youth players everything will be better in Scotland. I mean, to have your home-grown players in the first team is very good for the clubs because it is cheaper; you don't have to pay a fee to bring foreign players in; you don't have to pay high wages. I see Kilmarnock-Celtic with only five Scottish players on the pitch from 22. That makes me very sad but again the best player on the pitch was a nineteen year-old Scottish player. That is the light and the darkness for me. It means there are good young Scottish players but we should give them more chance to play. We should give them more first-team football. The best player in the national under 19 squad has not been playing for his club's first-team, which compared to other countries it is very, very strange."
He is not fan of the long ball to the strikers and wants to start getting young players using a different system. It is no longer good enough to rely on the long ball and picking up the second phase ball. The best thing Wotte has seen is the competitiveness in Scottish football, the mentality to challenge but against more intelligent players or skilful teams he feels it is not enough. Asked what his targets were for Scotland Wotte said: "I have short and long term goals. Short term goals is we have to organise the seven performance schools in Scotland which is also part of the long term goals. These players will be 12-13 so it will take five to seven years before they knock on the door of first-team football. But in the meantime, we are trying to create a better programme for the national youth players; 15, 16 17, 18 and 19 to train them every week at a national training centre to train the best with the best. If you compare Scotland with countries like Belgium or Slovenia, those countries have double the activities on national youth level than in Scotland. I don't think we really took youth football very seriously in the last couple of years. Maybe it was a matter of priorities and we know we are living in a tough economic climate but because of these problems we should invest more in youth football because we don't have a lot of money to sign quality players then you need to invest in your youth academies. Then you have a natural life-line for the club. There are a lot of examples around the world where clubs survive with a very good youth policy and creating talents who, after a few years in the first-team, can be sold and you have a return on the investment and you can survive. I see clubs paying a fortune on average players. Some clubs are paying English Championship salaries for League One footballers."
Wotte has spoken to all levels of coaches as well as things have to be seen in the bigger picture. Parents as well have to be involved as it is not just about winning; it is about how you play as well. Proactive supportive coaching is the way to go as a lot of young players will drop out as they don't like the pressure they are put under to win at such a young age. He wants players to be confident and he is not interested in winning in the process of development. The way you deal with winning and, more importantly, when you are not winning at that level is important to him. Wotte is keen to see young people develop into well rounded individuals who understand that they have to look after themselves physically to also develop into a modern society within Scotland. There is talent around but it is important to develop them for life as well as football in the right way.
I am at a loss to see an argument against anything Wotte had to say today at Hampden and the way he said it you can feel the passion - and element of frustration - in what he wants Scotland to achieve. He knows there is a long road a ahead and is calling on all bodies involved in the future of Scotland - and not just those involved in football - to work together to reach the targets he has set out to achieve. He does not want to see coaches looking at short-term targets and wants them to have some security so that they can nurture talent over more than a season. The nature of the football fan is to want success and want it yesterday. No success in a year or another failure to reach a championship and we call for a manager to be sacked. Scottish football will not be re-built in a a year or two. The hardest battle Wotte will have, I feel, will be changing the fans attitude and expectations in Scotland to more realistic ones and over a longer period.