Rangers manager Mark Warburton has launched a scathing attack on what he regards as a narrow-minded attitude prevalent throughout the academy system in Scottish football, claiming it is stunting the development of the country’s best talent and ultimately undermining the progress of the senior international team.
On the day he agreed to allow his 20-year-old midfielder Tom Walsh to join St Mirren on loan until January, Warburton criticised what he has found as a lack of willingness to send young Scottish players further afield in the formative stages of their professional careers.
He believes the current approach to the loan system in Scotland is contributing to the failure of many players to fulfil their potential and could eventually prompt club owners to question the worth of running youth academies at all.
“We get stuck in a rut,” said Warburton. “I get told Scottish boys don’t travel well. There is a long-held mentality that we just send them local. They are local lads, so they can come back, it’s not too far to drive. It’s nonsense.
“It’s not about mollycoddling them, as they are good players, tough individuals. We just have to challenge them.
“People say there aren’t enough players coming through the system to help Gordon Strachan and the national team in Scotland. There are some really good young players in Scotland. But are we giving them the best chance to make that transition?
“England hasn’t got that right either but there are more coming through down south. The only reason academies exist is to get players into the first team. Sometimes there’s so much talk about ticking boxes in academies but it’s about getting players through.
“If you’re not doing that, then at some stage directors will turn around and ask ‘Why do we have an academy?’.
“So we have to produce players and give them the chance to be the best they can be. Tom Walsh has gone to St Mirren, a Championship club and that will be a good division this year. So I’m not saying that’s a bad loan – but we have to think about each player and not just send them round the corner because it’s local.
Warburton, who was yesterday preparing his side for tonight’s Betfred Cup Group F match against Annan at Ibrox, added: “We need players going out on appropriate loans, loans that challenge them, brings them on and really develops them as a player. Right now, the loans are not working. How many Scottish players go to English clubs on loan?
“The immediate thought process is to send them locally. We should be saying ‘where is the best club that is going to challenge them?’ And if it’s down in Cornwall, Torquay or Bournemouth, then do it. But we don’t. The mindset now is to keep them local.”
Warburton, who also plans to send goalkeeper Liam Kelly, midfielder Jordan Thompson and striker Ryan Hardie out on loan again this season, would like to see young Scottish players follow the example of Gedion Zelalem and Dominic Ball, the duo who played at Rangers on loan from Arsenal and Tottenham respectively last season.
“Look at Gedion,” he added: “He’s 18 and went from Germany to the USA, from the USA to London with Arsenal and played in the Champions League. Then he goes on loan to Rangers. That’s the difference, where are our young players doing that?
“We just have to challenge them. Send them to the best level they can play at. We need to take them out their comfort zone and really see how they get on. Look at Martyn Waghorn and Tavernier and where they’ve been to on loan earlier in their careers.
“David Button, our goalkeeper at Brentford, had 13 loans. Dom Ball went out on loan to Cambridge, didn’t play there, so then goes out on loan to Rangers. He got an apartment up here, settled down and deals with it. But we send all the local boys just around here.
“They can sit here and enjoy Murray Park, say they are at Rangers every day and enjoy the canteen and gym, it’s a fantastic place to be. But they have got to play football.
“There is no point being the 20th man here every week and travelling with the squad. They won’t develop as players, so they have got to go out and play and we’ve got to encourage them.
“The Under-20 league here won’t suit them, there’s nothing to be gained by that at all. So go out and play competitive football where the guy alongside you needs to pay his mortgage. That’s what they need to do and experience what it’s like to lose three points on Saturday.
“We want young players at Rangers and if they are good enough we will pick them. But there is this fantasy about homegrown players and fans wanting that. Of course they do. The Spurs fans love Harry Kane and Ryan Mason coming through. But they’re good enough to be there.
“There’s no point us putting a player in front of the Ibrox crowd if they aren’t good enough. We want to pick the young players but they need to get the chance to be good enough. And at the moment I’m not sure they are getting that chance.”