In an interesting article yesterday, Michael Grant, Chief Football Writer for The Herald, wrote about English clubs pillaging the most promising talent from among the youth teams in Scotland, long before they have the opportunity to fully develop and make any real contribution to the Scottish game:
He is referring to an aggressive style of courtship that has flourished partly because of the category two ranking of compensation fees between Scottish and English clubs, allowing English clubs to entice our best young players with the promise of significantly higher earning potential, at a relatively low cost.
He goes on to suggest that upgrading cross-border compensation fees to category one between Clydesdale Bank Premier League and the Barclay’s Premier League would help address this problem, meaning that English clubs would have to pay more than twice the amount they currently pay in compensation.
That would definitely be a start and I am sure the majority of Scottish clubs would be delighted with such a move. However, it doesn’t really help the long term ambitions of Scottish football in general. How can the game in Scotland ever be improved if this unfortunate pillaging of our best young players continues, albeit with higher levels of compensation?
We are often told that one of the key solutions to the decline in Scottish football is to invest in youth development, better training facilities and academies, and so on, in order to identify and nurture the best of our talent at a young enough age.
In Henry McLeish’s 2010 Review of Scottish Football, for example, he argued that, among other things, investing more in Grassroots, Recreation and Youth Development, would be essential to addressing some of the key problems in our game:
Of course he is absolutely correct in saying this. It is an obvious place to start. And league reconstruction is an obvious one too. But you really have to wonder just how effective all of this would be as a means of improving the game in Scotland when, even with a re-categorisation of cross-border compensation fees, the aggressive pillaging of our best young talent by the wealthy elite in England is likely to continue, unabated; even more so, if the calibre were to improve again as a result of significant new investment.
Thinking up a fine array of initiatives to improve standards at youth level and above is futile if we cannot find a way of incentivising that talent to remain in Scotland. Pushing for higher compensation fees would only help in so far as it brought some additional income into the Scottish game, but it certainly wouldn’t stop our best young talent being lured down to England.
It is difficult not to be too cynical. But in a world defined by unimaginable wealth and dictated by those who are in possession of it, ignoring the advances of persuasive agents in order to continue with the less lucrative hard work you have started, is most unlikely.
Until the financial bubble bursts in English football, the game in Scotland appears destined to be an occasional provider of under-developed Scottish youths with star potential, and a regular developer of unknown foreign players, for wealthier clubs in England. Few perceive it to be anything other than that now.
It would take a deep rooted attitudinal shift to reposition the Scottish game as an attractive end in itself, rather than the means to the more financially lucrative end it has become. But it appears to be no longer obvious to anyone within the Scottish game how that shift could ever be achieved. A radically new way of thinking is required. Until then, Scottish football will remain an unglamorous option.