Ayr United moved their football operation full-time last month and manager Mark Roberts reckons the benefits may not be seen immediately, but will last for years.
The Somerset Park club and the Ayr United Youth Academy have joined forces to give players the opportunity of progressing all the way from seven-a-side games to being a full-time professional. Roberts is convinced the move will bring progress to a club who have been promoted twice in recent seasons but failed to establish themselves in Scotland’s second tier.
Roberts said: “We have 12 of the first team squad full-time and some academy players so we have a core to work with every day of the week. We are in Monday to Friday but we vary our hours so we can work with the part-time first-team players on a Tuesday and a Thursday evening.”
“It is a big change for the club and there are one or two teething issues. It has been quite intense and we need to watch the energy levels for Saturdays, but we will get the balance right.”
A desire for Ayr’s youngsters to develop by competing against the cream of Scottish talent is behind the move. Roberts said: “It is a joint venture between the club and the academy and it is all about giving young players the best development possible. We want to get to a Silver Star Status with the SFA which would see our young players competing against the likes of Rangers and Celtic.”
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Queen’s Park, despite producing a raft of players in recent years including Scotland cap Andrew Robertson, recently lost their elevated SFA status. Roberts said: “It is shame for Queen’s as they have a great youth set-up but cannot offer the full-time route. There have been seven or eight years of hard work to get our academy well established and we could not let that drop because of a lack of full-time football. For us to progress we had to be able to offer it and now we are.”
The Somerset Park boss added: “We are making a good academy better and using a partnership approach is right. The club needs the academy to produce players and the academy needs the club to give these players an opportunity. Hopefully it will get to the stage where I have a team full of boys we have known for a long time.”
Ayr chairman Lachlan Cameron is based in California, but he wants a local feel to his first team. “The chairman spoke to me about this move three months ago,” said Roberts. “He has always been keen on youth development and he wants homegrown first-team players. The plans were delivered, however the launch was overshadowed by talk of the takeover that never happened.”
Businessman Hugh Clarke was reportedly looking to buy Cameron out and install Kenny Shiels as the manager, but nothing came to pass. Roberts said: “It was not unsettling for me as I talk to the chairman frequently, even though he is in America. Kenny was linked with the job but with his Kilmarnock connections I am more popular than him even when we lose… well maybe. However, it did not help the players as they are a close bunch and were wondering what was going on. We had been flying at the start of the season and then we had a lull when the takeover talk was going on. Hopefully we can get back up the way now that is out of the way.”
At a first-team level, education is being enhanced the most with the move, Roberts said. “The players are getting fitter but the main benefit is working with them on an individual basis. I spent time with Paul Slane this week going through the types of runs he should be making and I would not have been able to do that working with him for an hour and a half twice a week.
“Alan Forrest, Peter McGill, Andy Muir, Shaun MacKenzie who have all been with us for years in the academy are now getting enhanced development every day, although it will take time for the benefits to be seen on the pitch.”
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