The Scottish FA are delighted to confirm the appointment of Stuart McLaren as a national youth team coach.
The 43-year-old will look after the Under-16s – starting with November’s Victory Shield series – alongside additional responsibilities as a coaching mentor.
Before this change of role Stuart had been an integral part of the Scottish FA’s Coach Education set-up as Coach Education & Development Manager, so the former Stirling Albion manager is pleased his new position will combine two of his passions.
Stuart, congratulations on the new job. Talk us through what you’re responsible for.
It’s been a good first week and I’m looking forward to getting up and running properly. First and foremost I will take the Under-16s but I’ll also be a coach mentor for the respective club Heads of Children’s through our Pride Lab programme that’s been established by Malky Mackay. As and when my diary allows I’d still like to keep a hand in with Coach Education. I always really enjoyed working in that area and stepping away from that aspect was the only downside to going for my new position so I feel fortunate that I’ll still be involved to an extent. It makes sense to put my experience to use.
What has the first week entailed?
I enjoyed taking in the Scottish FA JD Performance School festival at Oriam. It was great to get another look at some of the players I know and familiarise myself with some of the other ones. Given they were all on the one pitch it was useful in terms of being able to draw comparisons and see where they all are at the moment. Aside from that it was good to catch up with the various Performance School coaches to find out from their perspective how everyone is progressing. I also had a trip down south to take a look at a potential player so I’ve not had much of a chance to get my feet under the desk yet.
The success of the Performance School system has been evident in the number of players who have made it into the various youth level national squads. Presumably, though, there’s a balancing act to be struck and you won’t be afraid to cast the net wide in search of those who can strengthen the pool of talent?
I think that’s important. I was in a meeting with the other national team coaches that went over the reinforced Talent ID department and I think that additional scouting plan can only be a good thing. It was great to get an insight into that. It’s about finding the very best kids, wherever they may be. The Performance School programme has been terrific but we always have to be aware of others who have maybe gone down another route.
You’ll take the Scotland Under-16 squad into action for the first time in November’s Victory Shield campaign. How much are you looking forward to that?
I know all about the history of the tournament and it’s a prestigious one when you look at some of the players who have been involved over the years. I’m honoured to be taking a Scotland team, to be honest. It will be a really proud moment to be standing on the touchline with the badge on my chest. With three games in quick succession we’ll have a real opportunity to work with the boys as a united, develop as a team and take it from there. I was encouraged with what I saw when I travelled to watch them play against England and Turkey. There may be a couple of alterations to the squad but not for the sake of it.
Have you missed the buzz that comes with taking charge of a team, having obviously managed at senior level?
There’s no denying that. I’m sure everyone who has had a taste of it previously would relate to that. There’s nothing better than being on the training pitch and having matches to prepare for. It’s something I’m going to relish being involved in, with a really talented age-group. We hope this will be an early but key step for them along the way to becoming Scotland players in the full squad. The pathway is there for them and we’ll do everything we can to offer support. One of the great things, for me, is that the boys in the squad have role models to look up to. I look at Performance School graduates like Anthony McDonald, Chris Hamilton, Dean Campbell and Harry Cochrane who have already had first-team experience at Scottish Premiership level. Billy Gilmour’s settled in wonderfully at Chelsea and is making a real impression for the Scotland Under-21s, despite only just recently turning 17. So, for the current Under-16s, there is that incentive to work hard and see where it takes them because they might not be that far away from some big landmarks in their career.