Scotland National Youth Coach Scot Gemmill believes that his Scotland Under-15 squad are as good as any in Europe.
Gemmill’s squad, which features eight players from five of the Scottish FA’s seven regional Performance Schools, are in County Kerry this weekend for friendlies against the Republic of Ireland.
Speaking to the Scottish FA website, he said: “I know it is a big statement to say, but I genuinely believe that these players are as good as any in Europe. What is crucial, however is that they continue their development over the next six years and that they stay on track. Whether they do or not, I cannot say.
“History shows that we have produced a lot of high quality players in the past who have not made the grade because of a lack of application or opportunity. The Performance Schools gives these players the opportunity that those in the past did not perhaps have.”
The youth coach was keen to stress that, while his squad possesses a great deal of potential, it is important that these players stay focused through the formative years of their careers.
He feels that the system has given the current crop of players a massive advantage over their predecessors.
He said: “The main difference that can be seen by Performance School players currently and players in the past is their technical ability and football intelligence.
“Technically, these players are ahead of previous groups I’ve worked with at this stage in their development.
“By football intelligence, I mean their understanding of styles of play, positions and systems, as well as a knowledge of in-game decision-making. All of these topics come under the education that a structure like the Performance Schools provide.”
The Scottish FA Performance Schools are now in their fourth year and this generation of players, born in 2000, are the first to have been in the system since the beginning. Those who entered the programme as part of the first intake in 2012 have achieved an average of 524 practice hours per player (416 of which with the ball). That nearly half of the squad are part of the Performance Schools highlights to Gemmill that the system is developing talented players.
He said: “It definitely is starting to bear fruit. The work that goes on at the Performance Schools is starting to show with these players, who are now ready to compete at the highest level.
“This age group have played the likes of Holland, Czech Republic and Switzerland. They are starting to amass experience at this level, a CV if you will, and it is crucial that these players continue to play in “Best vs Best” scenarios.”
Gemmill also emphasised the significant role played by clubs in player development in Scotland, and not just the Performance Schools. Ten of his squad do not attend these schools, and those who do train independently away from the schools with professional clubs.
“I would be ignorant not to mention the great work done at all the clubs, too”, he said.
“In my opinion the work all the clubs do for elite youth development has never been better, and you an definitely see it in the performance of their players.”
The short trip to Ireland is not the first taste of football outside of Scotland for the squad, having previously faced the Netherlands and Czech Republic last year. The journey does however gives the players a sample of what pressures are to be expected with becoming a professional footballer.
“This trip is not the first one for this age group, as they played the Netherlands and Czech Republic in Eindhoven last year”, he said.
“These trips help the players get used to the demands which come with being a professional footballer. Whether it is staying in hotels for extended periods of time or knowing what and when to eat, trips like these help us judge whether players can handle the demands on and off the pitch.”
Scotland Under-15s play the Republic of Ireland twice this weekend in County Kerry, and Gemmill is aware of the difficult opposition that they will provide.
He said: “We know that the matches this weekend will be really challenging for the players. The Republic of Ireland team are very strong and skillful, and will provide a big test of our players.”
Applications are now being accepted for the 2015 intake for the Scottish FA Performance Schools. To apply, young players entering S1 in August 2015 should visit www.scottishfa.co.uk/performance?
The deadline for applications for professional club players is 1st February, and for recreational club players it is 15th February.
Healthy energy drink Little Big Shot is the title sponsor of the Regional Performance School Programme and the prestigious Youth Cup www.littlebigshot.com
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