MARK Wotte left his post as the Scottish Football Association’s first performance director yesterday with opinion sharply divided as to the contribution made by him across three years of what was expected to be a decade-long commitment to developing elite players.
And the fact the SFA has yet to state whether the Dutchman will be replaced after three years has led to speculation a squeeze on budgets demanded by the Professional Game Board may have helped in his departure.
Wotte’s generous salary was said to be an issue in the overall package of £10 million the SFA sought to invest in its Scotland United: A 2020 Vision, strategic plan.
Fundamental to that plan has been the creation of seven regional performance schools, which allow for three hours of daily football coaching for elite players placed in these secondaries from the age of 12.
The 53-year-old former Southampton manager also forced through an under-20s youth league, which brought him into conflict with a number of managers and coaches at Scotland’s top-flight clubs.
A source close to the SFA contended Wotte’s “ego” had allowed him to do “stupid things” while thinking he was untouchable through his backing by SFA chief executive Stewart Regan, who had placed such store in his appointment.
In a statement released yesterday, Regan said: “I would like to thank Mark for taking the performance strategy from an ambitious goal in the early days of our strategic plan, Scotland United: A 2020 Vision, to an exciting reality.
“In just over three years, we have already seen signs of great progress and I would reiterate my thanks to Mark for providing such a solid foundation on which to build future success for Scottish football.”
Yet, former Scotland international defender Maurice Malpas, who was more recently assistant manager to Terry Butcher at Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Hibernian during the Wotte era, was withering in his assessment of the always bullish and voluble Dutchman, who the SFA also credited with having “restructuring of Club Academy Scotland”.
Speaking to BBC Scotland last night, Malpas claimed Wotte “didn’t create a very good feeling” with the clubs, “ruled with an iron rod”, and didn’t allow clubs to “have an opinion”.
These sides were “never given any feedback on the academies – and we were all interested in that”, stated Malpas, who added: “Stewart Regan has thanked him for what he has done.
“But we need to know what he has done.”
Wotte contended he had achieved everything asked of him both by the SFA and Regan – who said on the arrival of the former Netherlands under-21s coach, who also had a spell as Feyenoord technical director in 2011, that he could be a “key appointment that could turn around Scottish football”.
“I am proud to have been the Scottish FA’s first performance director leading this nationwide project and I leave safe in the knowledge this great football nation is on the rise again,” Wotte said in a statement after news of his departure was announced yesterday lunchtime.
“With the performance schools now into their third year, the successes in qualification for finals by our national youth teams, and of course the great work by Gordon Strachan and Anna Signeul in the men’s and women’s A squads, I am confident that Scottish football is on the path to success again.
“I have absolutely loved my time in Scotland and have been grateful for the excellent support of my coaching team, performance department staff and, of course, the member clubs.
“However, my job was to implement the strategy to move Scottish football forward: clearly the structure is now fully in place and Scottish football will continue to see the benefits in coming years. I feel I have completed the tasks I was set and I am delighted with the swift progress but I am really looking forward to a new challenge.”
A charismatic, straight talker, Wotte made headlines in claiming that football in Scotland was in danger of becoming a middle-class sport, while later taking a different tack in citing the reason that 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds drop out of the game was “because they are away on the Buckfast and see things they think are better than football”.
He was also branded “insecure and paranoid” by Neil Lennon after a public disagreement with the former Celtic manager over the subject of youth football.
Wotte had said repeatedly that the full fruits of his root and branches changes would not be witnessed until the first batch of the performance schools youngsters – the so-called 2000s, in reference to their year of birth – were ripe, which won’t be for another four to six years.
Wotte, who has himself rarely put down roots in any of the numerous coaching posts he has held over the past three decades, will have to judge the impact of such maturing from afar.