Project Brave, Performance Schools Etc

Following on from my recent posts I was asked my opinion on Project Brave, Performance Schools, Club Schools and player development.

Quite a complicated subject for someone who is essentially on the outside looking in but I will give it a go

Project Brave

SFA’s first Performance Director Mark Wotte

Instigated a couple of years ago it was a project to look at the academy structure from U11’s through to U16’s. There were a number of reasons put forward for the change, with around 2300 players across 29 academies it was felt it was far too big and the available funding was spread too thinly. The plan was to cut this to a maximum of 16 academies and clubs were invited to apply for either Elite or Progressive Performance level.

Clubs outwith these two groupings would still be able to run academies or community outreach schemes. With a commitment to receive the same level of funding for three years. The three years have just passed, I’m not sure what impact that has had on the funding now.

Clubs needed to submit a three-year business plan to show that their academy is financially viable, has enough support staff and coaches and good enough facilities. The additional full time staff required meant a few clubs felt the Elite status wasn’t financially viable.

The main stumbling block to clubs was the requirement to have six full-time academy posts.

  • Head Of Academy
  • Head of Youth
  • Head of Children’s Programmes
  • Head of Player Recruitment
  • Head of Academy Football Science and Medicine
  • Head of Academy Performance Analysis (This had to be in place in the second year)

As a consequence Dundee United, St. Mirren and Partick Thistle did not apply for the Elite status.

Thistle’s Gerry Britton opts not to apply for Elite status

There was a couple of changes to the structure with the season moving to a calendar year, from March to November. There was also a change to the number of players allowed, it had been a maximum of 20 per age group and was changed to 110 over the six age groups, so cut by 10. Although in reality very few groups at any club would have had the maximum 20 players, you have to leave space just in case the next Messi turns up at your door.

By launch we had the 16 academies and a wee bit extra. With a few tweaks the state play last season was as follows.

Elite

  • Rangers
  • Aberdeen
  • Celtic
  • Hamilton Accies
  • Hearts
  • Hibernian
  • Kilmarnock
  • Motherwell

Progressive

  • Ayr United
  • Dundee United
  • Greenock Morton
  • Inverness Caley Thistle
  • Partick Thistle
  • Ross County
  • St. Johnstone
  • St. Mirren

Performance (This is the wee bit extra)

  • Dundee
  • Fife Elite
  • Queens Park

From U11’s through to U16’s the Elite clubs play each other three times and the other 11 clubs once. At U16’s this is done through two cup competitions and a league campaign. With the change to a calendar year season the U16’s have a few months in limbo as they change to a conventional season at U18’s. This is addressed by the second cup competition which runs from March till June.

Malky Mackay trying to explain how the U18 League works.

The structure sort of runs through to U18’s with two leagues, Elite & Performance. This is where it gets a wee bit bizarre, Elite clubs play each other twice and they play the performance clubs once, for league points. So when Rangers drew 1-1 with Dundee United in February they got a point each for their respective leagues. Makes looking at the league table hard to get your head round.

But it doesn’t end there, below this there is another level.

Advanced Youth Level

  • Airdrie
  • Alloa Athletic
  • Elgin City
  • Montrose
  • Queen of the South
  • Stirling Albion

I think these six clubs only meet Elite clubs in the U16 cups.

So has it worked ? Well I think this is only part of the issue and has to be looked along side Performance Schools, Club Schools and what happens beyond U16’s. I don’t think you can argue with an increase in full time professionals in these posts at clubs but in any profession some will be better than others.

I think it has had an negative impact on some clubs and was a significant factor on the demise of decent academies at Livingston and Falkirk/Forth Valley. Of those still around Queens Park were probably were the biggest losers, now finding themselves in the third tier.

Best v Best Rangers v Atletico Madrid

It is supposed to bring in more games of best v best which brings a smile to my face. Rangers v Celtic would come into that category but they have a tendency to avoid each other. Above under 16’s they were due to meet in the U18 League, Glasgow Cup and the semi official six team best v best tournament. By the time the season was curtailed they had met once, a Glasgow Cup tie in February. They of course blame each other when the games are cancelled.

Rangers have made a lot of effort in arranging best v best games but I have seen a few against teams such as Liverpool, Man City, Newcastle and Huddersfield that have been rendered meaningless due to a mismatch in the age profile of the teams.

Performance & Clubs Schools

The main idea behind both the SFA Perfrormance Schools and Rangers & Celtic in house schools programmes is to increase coaching time, with an estimated 10,000 hours Elite coaching at the end of their schooling.

I’m not so sure its any kind of magic bullet, all kids are different and have different personalities, so some will benefit and for some it will be an environment that hinders them. I know one high profile Rangers player who along with his family decided to leave the SFA Performance School and go back to their local school.

First Performance School graduate to play first team football

The programmes poster boys seem to be Billy Gilmour, Kieran Freeman and Dean Campbell, but does anybody really believe the Performance Schools were a big factor in them achieving what they have so far. Having seen a fair bit of these players over the years I’m pretty sure the major factor was their natural ability.

There are seven SFA performance Schools which have been in operation since 2012, the schools are.

  • Holyrood Secondary, Glasgow
  • Graeme High School, Falkirk
  • Grange Academy, Kilmarnock
  • Braidhurst High School, Motherwell
  • Hazlehead Academy, Aberdeen
  • St.John’s RC High School, Dundee
  • Broughton High School, Edinburgh

Selection is made from trial games involving recommended Primary 7 players, I would think SFA scouts probably watch CAS fixtures as well. There are also places for girls and players from grassroots (boys clubs) players, seems a wee bit of tokenism in my opinion.

Celtic started their link up at St. Ninian’s three years earlier, they pretty much want all their players attending the school and I have heard of some making significant daily journeys. Has it been a success ? Looking at the age profiles Kieran Tierney may have attended the school and qualified successes Michael Johnston and Tony Ralston probably did. Recent debutants Scott Robertson and Karamoko Dembele did attend the school.

I’ve been told by people at Celtic that a consequence of having so many at the school they have probably kept on players they would have other wise released because they are at the school.

They had a major issue at the school recently but details were kept from the public domain to avoid identifying the school and those involved.

Rangers link up with Boclair Academy is much more recent only starting in 2016. The club said from the outset that it would be “selected” players, I could see that being an issue as most parents would see their kid as being in that group. Logistics don’t suit everyone, so some have declined and attend either their local school or one of the SFA performances schools.

I have always had a question on these schools, what if…… ? A player at 12 can be totally different at 14, I have already touched on the fact that Celtic may have kept players on they wanted to release. I don’t know what is in place at Celtic or the Performance schools if a boy’s football hasn’t progressed. Rangers programme is in its infancy but I believe that if a player at the school is released they have the option to remain at the school and to continue to be coached.

How do you measure if they have been a success ? The SFA Schools claim 36 graduates across the seven schools since Dean Campbell made his debut, from Chelsea’s Billy Gilmour to lower league players Thomas Halleran & Marky Monro (Stenhousemuir), Gavin Scott (Stranraer), David Wilson (Elgin City) and Kyle Sneddon (Cowdenbeath). How many of these players would have graduated to first team anyway ?

A very young Lewis McGrattan, Stephen Kelly and keeper Darren Montgomery selected for SFA Performance School Holyrood Secondary

Interestingly eight of those “graduates” were Rangers players while they were at the Performance Schools. Billy Gilmour (Grange), Josh McPake (Braidhurst), Zak Rudden (Broughton), Kai Kennedy, Dapo Mebude, Stephen Kelly, Niyah Joseph and Lewis McGrattan (Holyrood). I think Nathan Patterson also attended Holyrood.

Development Beyond Academy Teams

That is the $64,000 question.

In my opinion you only improve by playing against better or physically stronger players. Which kinda underpins the best v best mantra.

Ironically Malky Mackay sums it up in a paragraph talking about Project Brave.

“We are setting the bar high because it has to be the elite players we’re focusing on. It’s the 19-21 age group where the whole thing breaks down and we need to get them into first teams.”

Rangers are well aware that this is a problem and have been pushing for Colt teams in the lower leagues for the past couple of years. Unfortunately its not going to happen any time soon, not one league 1 or 2 team backed the proposal when it was voted on a couple of years ago. Only Albion Rovers backed Colt teams entering the Lowland League.

From a selfish point of view I would love to see a Rangers Colts team in the lower leagues but I can understand the other point of view.

Josh McPake at Dundee

That leaves loan deals which you have less control over and as shown by Josh McPake’s spell at Dundee is a bit of a gamble. Or our own best v best arrangements but I feel a friendly is a friendly no matter what you call it.

With around fifty non first team players that is a lot of best v best games to arrange. All tournaments from U18 League, Glasgow Cup, Challenge Cup and even Champions Youth League have doubts hanging over them so game time will be a big challenge. Some players will go out on loan but with almost thirty U18 players and rumours of a couple of academies being mothballed, it is far too many to provide adequate game time for.

So looking at things overall if we cant resolve this third issue then Project Brave and Performance Schools will lose much of any benefit. Its probably too early to pass judgement on the three year Project Brave and Performance schools whose oldest “graduates” are only turning 19 this year.

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