Scottish FA Performance Director Malky Mackay has hailed the early success of the Scottish FA JD Performance School programme.
In the week he welcomed the new intake of 70 first years to Hampden, Malky expressed his delight at the progress being made by many of the graduates – the first batch to have come right through the system that operates out of seven schools across Scotland.
Some 44 professional contracts were handed out to graduates last year, while eight have already made their debuts for their respective first teams.
Dean Campbell is a regular fixture in and around the senior side at Aberdeen, while Anthony McDonald and Harry Cochrane have established themselves in the Hearts team.
Jambos defender Chris Hamilton and Billy Gilmour both made the trip to the summer’s prestigious Toulon tournament with Scotland’s Under-21s while aged 16, with Chelsea playmaker Billy going on to win Best Breakthrough Player in France in addition to becoming the youngest player to feature for, score and captain the Under-21s.
On top of that, attendance rates and exam results for Performance School pupils are higher than the national average.
With many more on the verge of making their mark, it’s clearly a source of great pride for Malky, who is determined to take the programme from strength to strength - after announcing Brian McLaughlin as the new Performance School Manager.
He said: “It’s been a terrific year for the Scottish FA JD Performance School programme.
“By the end of the year we’re now up to 100 professional contracts since the programme began, while eight of the boys made their Scottish league debuts.
“Then we had players like Billy Gilmour and Chris Hamilton playing four years out of their depth at the Toulon tournament.
“The fact we’ve managed to get attendance rates and exam results up as well is important because we impress on the families and kids at the start that they have to get an education as well.
“It’s about sacrifice, hard work, discipline and listening to their coaches and their teachers. We’re trying to mould better boys and girls – rather than just players.
“Brian McLaughlin told the parents on Monday that our promise is to treat their children as our own for the next four years.”
The Performance School programme requires substantial investment year on year but Malky is happy that those quickly becoming household names provide proof that it is paying off even sooner than anticipated.
He added: “It takes a big investment from the Scottish FA. It’s a large chunk of money every year that the board allows us to invest. We have to use that prudently, but we firmly believe it’s the best way forward in trying to produce Scottish players of the future.
“It gives the players the chance to have double the number of touches of any other young player in Scotland.
“Fundamentally we hope that gives them better technique and gives us the chance to bring through more players for Alex McLeish and Shelley Kerr, to help the national teams qualify for World Cups and European Championships.
“It’s a long-term programme that you might not see immediate results from but I think we’re seeing signs already.
“As an example, our Under-17s had more possession of the ball than any team they played in the last calendar year and, between Under-16 and Under-21 level we’ve beaten England, France, Holland, Germany, Brazil and Spain.
“Personally speaking, there have been some great highlights, like young Dapo Mebude from Rangers scoring the winning goal against Germany for our Under-17s.
“We’re starting to see the fruition of this programme and we look forward to many more breaking through in the years to come.”