Day 1 – Wednesday 10 April 2013
15:30 – 16:30 The Future of Scottish Football
– Gordon Strachan, Manager, Scotland National Team
– Stewart Regan, Chief Executive, Scottish Football Association
– Rod Petrie, Chairman, Hibernian FC
– Mark Wotte, Performance Director, Scottish Football Association
– Moderator: David Davies, Senior Consultant, Soccerex
David Davies opened this last session of Day 1 with his reminiscences of Scottish Football. He for instance recalled that the first European Cup he watched growing up was that at Hampden Park in 1960 between Real Madrid and Eintracht Frankfurt. Davies added that it should be remembered that the first British club to raise the European Cup was Celtic in 1967 and that Scotland were the first team to beat England after the 1966 World Cup Final. His favourite Scottish players included John White, Jim Baxter and Martin Buchan and Davies was also an admirer of the Scotland teams that qualified for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.
The first question to the panel was whether the rich history of Scottish was indeed a burden to the modern game and its players. Stewart Regan replied that it did provide a huge weight of expectation. He continued that technically, operational and financially countries like Scotland (with only a population of 5.5 million, similar to that of Yorkshire) could not compete at the top level these days. David Davies probed further by asking if the public expectation was realistic. Mark Wotte responded there had been a reality check recently with the results endured by Scotland, but countries with similar populations such as Denmark and Uruguay had made progress and that Scotland had to take their example to aspire to be better. Davies then asked Wotte as a Dutchman as to whether he was aware of the history of Scottish football. He replied with a wry smile that he remembered when Scotland beat the Netherlands 3-2 in the 1978 World Cup in Argentina. Wotte said this could happen again in the future, but that it would take time and people would have to be patient.
Next David Davies asked if there was a moment in the 70s or 80s when Scottish Football had ‘taken a wrong turn’. Gordon Strachan answered this question by saying whilst others turned left and right, Scotland just went straight-on. He continued that countries like France and Belgium had explored the rules in terms of players’ nationality and so been able to get in greater numbers of quality individuals, whereas Scotland hadn’t. Strachan also added that part of the success of previous Scottish teams was their ability to play in an aggressive manner, which in the modern arena was just not possible. Finally the Scotland manner said that most of the Scottish talent that he looked at for the squad now played in the Championship rather than the Premier League, in contrast to the 70s and 80s when most First Division clubs had top Scottish talent on their books.
Mark Wotte was next asked where the future players were to be found – Academies, Regional Performance Schools and how they would be spotted and nurtured. The SFA Performance Director said that there was talent everywhere, but that youngsters needed time to develop. Wotte added that there was no patience in football and that it would be 8 years before the new talent emerged into being internationals. As part of this process, Wotte added that the various age-group teams were playing the best international opposition.
David Davies next asked if clubs were happy to release players for youth internationals. Rod Petrie said that clubs were supportive and wanted the positive progression it provided for their players. He continued that clubs had pride in providing young players for national squads. Mark Wotte added that they wanted to instil a philosophy that winning was not everything and that educating players and developing individuals was important at the U12 and U13 level.
Next Davies asked if the point of nurture was important. Gordon Strachan responded that Scottish players generally don’t travel and tend to be home-grown. Stewart Regan added that getting players in the top leagues was important, as many were plying their trade in the Championship and League One.
Moving away from players, David Davies asked if there were enough coaches in Scotland. The SFA Chief Executive said that you could never have enough coaches, but these needed to be backed by more ‘Quality Mark’ clubs, referees and volunteers. Regan continued that the work had to be tracked and done in conjunction with clubs and that in schools. Picking up on the mention of schools, Davies said that Sport at school these days was so different and would never be what it was. Gordon Strachan replied that you have to love the game and that there was nothing like school football where it was a group of lads together. He added that it was a problem for Academies, where they train for an hour, are brought there on their own and with parents pushing for their sons to be the best. Strachan added that this doesn’t bring camaraderie and only created isolated players, whereas school was about enjoyment. He finished by saying that you were made better by the players around you.
Hibernian Chairman, Rod Petrie was asked about Scottish clubs in Europe. He replied that Celtic had to be commended for their progress in the Champions League this season and gave praise to all the other Scottish teams as they strove to progress and gain points for the UEFA coefficient. He added that Hibernian had struggled in Europe, with qualification games coming too early in the season but that it was always difficult to reconcile ambition with resources. Davis continued by asking if it was conceivable that anybody else in Scotland could currently make any progress in Europe. Rod Petrie said it was what clubs were in the game for, but accepted in the current financial climate it was difficult.
Gordon Strachan was asked about the ‘European nights’ at Celtic. He said that that they had two seasons where they got to the last 16 and that was realistically as far as they could be expected to progress. He added that it was a special job and that the atmosphere on those nights was something else. However, Strachan remembered that as a player at Aberdeen, the wages were the same as at Celtic. When he was Celtic manager, the club paid 20 times more that of the players at Hibernian. He concluded that clubs must not overreach and that at the end of the day, the development of grassroots players was the way forward. Stewart Regan added that football was no different to other businesses, with ‘big brands’ getting bigger and dominating the market. He added that the ‘big’ clubs had a responsibility to ensure the league survived and that meant supporting the ‘smaller’ clubs. The aim had to be to create a vibrant league which fans wanted to watch and contained exciting players.
David Davies turned to Gordon Strachan and asked him how special and how big a challenge was the job of National Team Manager. Strachan responded that he wanted to put something back into the game and bring ‘heroes’ back to Scottish Football. He added that it was so different to club football in that you had to get to know players in a very limited time. Strachan continued that he didn’t mind even it all he achieved was a platform for the next manager. He went on to say that it was part-time hours for full-time stress and he would have to take a few ‘slaps’ along the way. Ultimately he had a vision of how he wanted the team to play, but currently didn’t have the players to do it. David Davies then asked if Strachan believed he would get time and would get to carry out a long-term plan. The Scotland manager replied that in the short-term he had to bring some respectability to their World Cup Qualifying campaign. They were building for the future and for Euro 2016 in France, but he saw the job as a long-term project building foundations for the years to come.
David Davies then asked about the McLeish reforms which relate to governance of the game and which have mostly been implemented. Davies asked if anybody, especially fans and sponsors actually care about them. Stewart Regan answered that fans want to see the club and national team do well and want to see the game run fairly. He added there was no such plan 8 years ago and now the Former First Minister Henry McLeish had made 163 recommendations across a wide range of football related areas. Regan said they would allow on-pitch activities to improve.
The next question asked about the vote to restructure the league which was due next week. Rod Petrie thought that the change being voted through was likely and was part of a process which started 3 years ago. He added there was still significant discussion to be had, but there was a willingness to change. However, every club could have its say. David Davies asked if the current structure was helping. Mark Wotte said that the young players needed to play first team football and in a league that was competitive.
Gordon Strachan said that he spent the majority of his time watching Championship football, whilst Mark Wotte kept him informed of the talent North of the Border. Strachan acknowledged that Scotland wasn’t flush with great players at the minute and therefore it was important to get young players in and getting using to the pressure and hardening them to the realities of first team football. He added that David Beckham went on loan at Preston, whilst Jack Wilshere had time at Bolton, spells Strachan believed helped develop them as players.
David Davies asked if there were major worries that the atmosphere and quality in Scotland was now very poor. Rod Petrie responded that many people were very quick and good at talking the game down and reinforcing the perception that history was a burden to the Scottish game. He said that Scotland had the highest attendance per capita in Europe. Petrie added that the league needed to bring in television and support the game.
The next question was in relation to the events at Rangers and what lessons could be learnt. Stewart Regan said that the impact was felt across the country and not just in the football community. He added that between February and June 2012 problems started to emerge and once Rangers went into administration the real investigation started. Regan continued that with 6 weeks to the start of the new season they had to deal with the situation and said that on reflection they tried to handle too much including league reconstruction. He added that the SFA should have just dealt with Rangers and so created less animosity.
David Davies then asked Stewart Regan if he could comment on the racism charges levelled at Rangers Chief Executive Charles Green. He said that the SFA didn’t condone any form of racism and Green had been issued with two notices of complaint in relation to breaking Disciplinary Rule 66 and Disciplinary Rule 71 which guard against comments which bring the game into disrepute and those which are not in the ‘best interests’ of the SFA. Davies asked whether racism was an issue in Scotland. Regan replied that it has re-emerged recently across Europe but it was not a high profile issue as it was in England.
Returning to the issue of Rangers, David Davies asked if there were lessons to be learned for other clubs. Rod Petrie said that other clubs were also experiencing problems, but fundamentally they had to live within their means and the Financial Fair Play Rules and Club Licensing would be vital in achieving this.
The question of Celtic and Rangers moving to England was next put to the panel. Gordon Strachan said that the most important thing was that both these clubs were involved in helping create a healthy league structure, which Stewart Regan agreed with. Rob Petrie added that clubs were always looking at those above them and those below them, but they had to aspire to be the best they could be as Scottish clubs.
David Davies asked if Gordon Strachan was looking forward to the England v Scotland game at Wembley in August, especially as there hadn’t been many in recent years. Strachan said he thought Craig Brown was the last Scottish manager to win at Wembley. He added he was looking forward to it, as it was at the start of the season and the players would be fresh. Mark Wotte was asked for the Dutch view of the game, who replied it was just an ordinary game, but could understand the passions the fans had for the game. David Davies ended the session by asking if there would be a return of the Home Internationals. Stewart Regan replied that the game had moved on and there were no gaps in the footballing calendar. He added that he didn’t believe that clubs would release players, but that after August game at Wembley there maybe discussion for a one-off return fixture at Hampden Park.