Hearts and Hibs started more academy graduates in first team matches than any of their Premiership opponents in the season just ended.
The Edinburgh clubs each field eight players who had progressed through the youth ranks at Tynecastle and Easter Road. That was one more than Aberdeen and Celtic, although the latter’s graduates made more appearances than those of any other club.
At the opposite end of the scale came Livingston – who scrapped their youth academy for financial reasons at the beginning of the campaign – and Rangers. They started just two apiece, and Rangers included Allan McGregor who is now 37 and in his second spell at Ibrox.
Billy Stark, who has a vested interest in seeing youngsters progress having recently returned to the Scottish FA to take charge of the national under-19 side, believes the calibre of player being produced by Celtic is particularly impressive.
“Looking at the figures, Celtic are the success story here,” Stark said. “James Forrest was Scotland’s Player of the Year, Callum McGregor was runner-up and, even allowing for his injury problems, Kieran Tierney continues to impress.
“Mikey Johnston started the Scottish Cup final and Karamoko Dembele made his debut at the age of 16. He’s a real talent and the club have been very sensible in the way they’ve brought him through. Ewan Henderson has also looked the part.”
Livingston’s decision to close their own academy is self-explanatory but Stark believes that the demands placed on a succession of Rangers managers since liquidation could help explain why they have relied on imported talent.
“When you look at the journey they’ve had to make since being admitted to the fourth tier in 2012, it may be that the pressure to win promotion and then succeed has meant that the chance to promote youth development just wasn’t there,” he said.
“Having said that, the talent they have at my age group is very healthy indeed, as is Celtic’s.
“So you can hold Celtic up as the shining example but there’s a monster of a debate to be had been the merits of the Academy route and the old S-form system. “I came through the latter and it meant you could sign for a club but still play with your mates for your school team and, for me, the more games kids play, the better.
“We also had these quotas a few years back, where SPL clubs had to include so many Under-21 players in their match-day squads.
“Managers hated it because they had players on the bench who weren’t there on merit and who were keeping better players from being stripped. Plus many of the young boys thought they’d made it when they hadn’t.
“You also have to remember that Scottish football is unique in the sense that we are a small country with two clubs who play in front of 50-60,000 every week and who tend to attract the best young talent.
“Going back 20 years or so, players who hadn’t made the grade at Ibrox or Parkhead by the age of 19 or 20 would
go elsewhere to play. Nowadays, though, players can still be hanging around there at 23 or 24, having missed out on years of game time and experience.
“Clubs also need to have a vision when it comes to youth development.
“Hamilton have it and it’s not something you can play at – you’ve got to go full on.
“It would also be interesting to see how many youngsters went on to have careers elsewhere after being let go by big clubs.”
As it happens, a remarkable 11 members of new Scotland manager Steve Clarke’s squad for next month’s Euro 2020 qualifying matches against Cyprus and Belgium were released by Premiership clubs after failing to break into the first team.
Mikey Devlin, Stuart Findlay, Charlie Mulgrew, Stephen O’Donnell and Andy Robertson were freed by Celtic while Liam Kelly, Greg Taylor, Kenny McLean and Lewis Morgan were released by Rangers, and Scott Bain (Aberdeen) and Eamonn Brophy (Hibernian) were also adjudged to be surplus to requirements.
Tomorrow night Robertson will play in his second Champions League final for Liverpool.
“You can’t be too critical of the coaches who let him go at Celtic,” said Stark. “Judgments have to be made each year and there will have been guys ahead of him at that time who are now a million miles behind him.”
Academy graduates’ first-team starts for Premiership clubs in 2018/19 (number of games in brackets)
Hearts (8): Christophe Berra (35), Jamie Brandon (5), Harry Cochrane (6), Marcus Godinho (13), Aaron Hickey (2), Andrew Irving (2), Callumn Morrison (20), Connor Smith (2).
Used as sub: Anthony McDonald (6).
Hibs (8): Lewis Allan (2), Paul Hanlon (31), Scott Martin (1), Fraser Murray (2), Ryan Porteous (18), Oli Shaw (14), Lewis Stevenson (38), Steven Whittaker (14).
Used as sub: Jamie Gullan (2).
Aberdeen (7): Bruce Anderson (1), Dean Campbell (3), Andy Considine (44), Scott McKenna (39), Connor McLennan (21), Francis Ross (2), Scott Wright (7).
Used as sub: Ethan Ross (5).
Celtic (7): James Forrest (53), Ewan Henderson (4), Jack Hendry (11), Mikey Johnston (11), Callum McGregor (56), Anthony Ralston (4), Kieran Tierney (39).
Used as sub: Karamoko Dembele (1).
Hamilton (6): Steven Boyd (12), Ziggy Gordon (40), Darren Lyon (1), Scott McMann (32), Reegan Mimnaugh (5), Shaun Want (11).
Used as sub: Ross Cunningham (5), Aaron Smith (1), Lewis Smith (4).
Motherwell (6): Chris Cadden (20), Allan Campbell (35), Jake Hastie (12), Barry Maguire (1), James Scott (6), David Turnbull (28).
Used as sub: David Devine (1), Adam Livingstone (3), Jamie Semple (3).
St Mirren (6): Jack Baird (40), Ethan Erhahon (20), Cammy McPherson (13), Kyle Magennis (15), Kyle McAllister (10), Stephen McGinn (38).
Used as sub: Cameron Breadner (2).
St Johnstone (5): Zander Clark (42), Aaron Comrie (1), Callum Hendry (5), Chris Kane (16), Jason Kerr (44).
Used as sub: Alistair McCann (2), Jordan Northcott (1).
Dundee (4): Jesse Curran (28), Cammy Kerr (33), Callum Moore (1), Finlay Robertson (1).
Used as sub: Matthew Henvey (3), Jack Lambert (5).
Kilmarnock (4): Kris Boyd (14), Greg Kiltie (2), Rory McKenzie (17), Iain Wilson (2).
Used as sub: Devlin Mackay (1).
Livingston (2): Jack Hamilton (4), Keoghan Jacobs (27).
Used as sub: Craig Henderson (1), Matthew Knox (1).
Rangers (2): Allan McGregor (52), Ross McCrorie (16).
Used as sub: Jordan Houston (1), Stephen Kelly (1), Adepapo Awokoya-Mebude (1).