FALKIRK manager Steven Pressley has launched an outspoken attack on standards within Scottish football, and urged fans to back proposals for larger leagues as a necessary step towards improvement. Speaking at the Supporters Direct Scotland annual conference at his own club’s stadium, Pressley also said it was “criminal” that some SPL clubs still did not have their own academies and criticised the lack of “vision” within the game.
“As never before we must be prepared to make and embrace change,” he said. “This country’s hopes and dreams lie in our young players. That is why academies play such an integral part of the future.
“In 2012, we still have a situation where five of our top-flight clubs do not have their own private training base. For me that’s criminal. Where is the vision? Surely, if you were taking over a club, one of the first things would be a training base. One, to prepare your current players. And, two, to develop the next generation of players. What type of league format is conducive to allowing clubs breathing space to develop young players? For me, a larger league would do that. And I think supporters want a larger league, and less games against the same team.”
The former Scotland defender went on to explain, however, that merely building more academies was not enough. “Many of our clubs are investing time and finance in academies, and yes, we are making progress, but for me it’s still nowhere near enough,” he said. “The win-at-all-costs mentality still exists within some academies and this type of attitude is still most certainly having a detrimental effect on the development of our game. Young individuals either have a desire to win or they don’t. But what we can influence is the understanding of standards, their game intelligence and the young player’s technical ability.
“We must surely be aspiring not for mediocrity, not producing players just capable of playing in the SPL – but players who are capable of getting this country back to being a force to be reckoned with in Europe. We must open our curtains and realise that what we have previously been doing is not working, and that the importance of winning an under-12 academy game is insignificant. The real importance is how many of these youngsters playing in that game are being schooled in the manner which can take our game back to where we all want.
“The academies are only bricks and mortar. What’s fundamental, and the most important aspect of any academy, is the footballing philosophy and the quality of coaching.”
Pressley believes that if coaching standards can be improved, a virtuous circle can begin. Better play would produce higher crowds, which would generate the income to allow clubs to hire more coaches. And, although he thinks the Scottish game as a whole is too resistant to change, he is sure there are already good examples in this country of how to make progress.
“For the short term, we must address one concerning problem – falling attendances and what is influencing them. How do we get the lifeblood of the game back through the turnstiles? Because football, after all, is dear. There is without doubt an apathy and monotony hanging over our game and we must take action to reinvigorate it. I am an advocate of a larger top-flight league. I believe with the right consideration and creativity it can address many of the fundamental issues. If you were to visit Alloa, I think you would be astounded by the vision that their owner is putting in place. It would put a lot of our SPL clubs to shame – and clubs like Alloa might start overtaking some of the bigger clubs if they’re not careful.
“We’ve seen it in Denmark recently. FC Nordsjaelland are a tiny club, but they’ve built the club in youth development, and went on to be a Champions League team. Football on the continent has evolved enormously over the last ten years, while our game stands still.”