Mark Wotte was in predictably bullish form yesterday as he discussed Scott Booth’s departure from the Scotland youth set-up, predicting great things for Scot Gemmill, Booth’s successor as under-17 coach. For Wotte, the SFA’s performance director, it is the plan, not the personnel, that is key.
Booth left last month, taking up the manager’s post at Stenhousemuir, but his exit should have little impact on Scottish football’s player production programme which is designed to be fully functioning by 2020. Wotte isn’t critical of Booth’s decision to move on. He even suggests it might provide an opening for a superior candidate. Gemmill has been lined up to take the under-17s after Wotte has guided them in the elite round of the European Championship next week, when they will face home games against Belgium, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Romania.
Wotte has confidence in his succession plan and doesn’t entirely rule out the possibility of following Booth into club management. The 53-year-old Dutchman spent 15 years in that domain, which included a year with Southampton.
“Not yet,” was his reply to whether a Booth-style move would appeal. “I’m not ready to leave this programme yet because I think we are making progress.” However, he would not offer assurances he will see it through until the critical date of 2020, by which time the 2013, ground-breaking, first influx of elite players from the seven performance schools will be developed 20-year-olds.
“I’m not telling you I’m going to do this for the next five years – but we have just started with this programme,” Wotte said. “We started in 2012 with the performance schools, the national team coaches and I am still enjoying sharing my experience with a lot of people in the Scottish FA and clubs.
“I don’t have a contract until 2020. It’s an ongoing staff contract. It’s a permanent contract with no end date. We have a yearly evaluation with my CEO Stewart Regan and until now everything is going well. Everything is in line with the plan. The strategy works at the moment. The only thing we need to do at the moment is what they do at the Swiss FA, the German FA, the Belgian FA. We need to keep doing what we are doing at the moment – don’t change it
“Succession planning should be important, including for myself. If I leave we have to have an organisation and a foundation that will continue. It’s not my strategy we are implementing, it’s the Scottish FA’s strategy based on the report of Henry McLeish and the clubs have all bought into it. If you want to change it it’s very dangerous for the future of Scottish football.
“Why are Switzerland and Belgium so good? Because they started a strategy and have stuck with it. You have to keep on doing the things that are working. The most important project for me is the performance schools. There are 100 kids per year and eventually we will have 400 to 500 kids. There is also an individual programme for each player. That is key.
“We started 18 months ago with the boys and the girls born in 2000. They are now more or less Scotland under-14s and that crop of players is amazing, really, really, really good. The 2000s are better than the 99s, better than the 98s. Why? Because they have been coached and trained for five days a week for a year and a half already, as well as three training sessions a week at their pro youth clubs.”
Wotte wouldn’t be drawn on Booth’s surprise decision to leave a well-paid, high-profile post to go part-time with a League One side. The Dutchman has previously lost Ian Cathro and Ray McKinnon from the performance schools, the former becoming assistant coach at Rio Ave in Portugal and the latter taking up the Brechin City post.
“Everyone is ambitious and everyone wants to be the next Alex Ferguson,” said Wotte.
“There are plenty of coaches who are still with us, Ricky Sbargia, Billy Stark and seven performance coaches. I have mentored Scott into an independent coach who did the under-17s in the Victory Shield in 2013 and did a great job. I also knew that when he came to the Scottish FA his ambition was to become a first team manager. He’d seen Derek McInnes and Jackie McNamara. Why would it not be for Scott Booth to achieve that too?
“It’s not a worry for us. We have good coaches. There are enough good coaches in Scotland to replace Scott Booth or Ian Cathro or Ray McKinnon. Sometimes you can get better coaches. If someone leaves it gives you the opportunity to bring in better people. So I’m not worried at all.”
Wotte didn’t say if the trading-up theory might also apply to performance directors.
Scotland U17 squad: Goalkeepers: Robbie McCrorie (Rangers), Devlin Mckay (Kilmarnock). Defenders: Cameron Ballantyne (Dundee United), Jack Breslin (Celtic), Kyle Cameron (Newcastle United), Sam Wardrop (Celtic), Jake Sheppard (Reading), Tom Lang (Birmingham City). Midfielders: Ross Finnie (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Michael Kelly (Aberdeen), Aidan Nesbitt (Celtic), Joseph Thomson (Celtic). Forwards: Steven Boyd (Celtic), Ryan Hardie (Rangers)
Greg Kiltie (Kilmarnock), Calvin Miller (Celtic), Craig Wighton (Dundee), Scott Wright (Aberdeen).