My team are a good bunch. A good mixture of talents and individuals. Many have ambitions to get to a pro-youth club and become a professional footballer. Moving into under 15’s in the new season, many grassroots players think that if they are not with a senior club by now then it is too late. I think many senior clubs think the same thing and consequently are missing a great opportunity in talent acquisition. Many of our players have had trials at pro-youth; played in regional select squads and been ‘approached’ by higher profile grassroots clubs. While all this is very nice and flattering for the player, I believe, it has no impact on whether a player makes it to the professional ranks.The most important thing, for me, is that players enjoy their football and develop both individually and as part of the team. What happens over the next few years is a combination of luck, genetics, skill development, attitude and exposure.
My own personal experience contradicts the belief that players must be at a senior club by the time they reach 14 yo. I would like to cite three players who I played with but didn’t reach the seniors ranks until later but then went onto great success.
Firstly, Chris McCart (Motherwell) was one of a number of talented of talented individual’s I played with from 12 – 14 yo. Chris was not at the very top of the pile but a decent player who signed for Celtic at a young age. Things didn’t really work out for Chris and he asked to be released by Celtic. He later went to Motherwell and had a long and distinguished career, reaching the pinnacle of winning the Scottish Cup. Chris is now Head of the Celtic Academy and no doubt producing players for the future. I am sure his own personal experience has helped him shape the belief that players develop at different rates.
Secondly, Ian Ferguson (St Mirren and Rangers). I played with Ian at under 16. He was an interesting case. Not the best player in the team but someone who always wanted the ball wherever he was on the pitch. He had an incredible work rate and a real old fashioned box to box midfielder. These traits took him to St Mirren at 17 and soon after scored the winning goal in the Scottish Cup final. He then went on to play for Rangers winning many trophies and gaining 9 international caps.
Last (but certainly not least) is a good friend of mine, Rab McKinnon (Newcastle, Hartlepool, Motherwell, FC Twente, Hearts). I played with Rab at under 18. An attacking winger with good skill, but by his own admission, not the best player in our team. We both played with our local grassroots team, with friends we had known since primary school days. These were probably the most enjoyable football games I can recall from my youth. Shortly after that final season when most of us joined the junior ranks, Rab was spotted by a Newcastle United scout after ‘filling in’ at left back for a game. He then went on to have a great career as a marauding left back, reaching cult status at many of his clubs and representing Scotland at international level. All this and a great guy to boot.
All these players were only picked up later in their careers between 16 and 19. I have seen and heard about all the great talents at children and youth level who are destined to ‘make it’ but can honestly think of only one from my time and age group. That was Derek Ferguson, who went on to play for Rangers and had a decent career. He was an unbelievable talent at 12 but probably now better known as the older brother of Barry. I would argue that the three players I mentioned had more success than Derek had (only my opinion!).
In summary, there are many factors that contribute to ‘making it’ in football. Players need to work on the ones they can influence i.e. Work rate, practice, attitude. More importantly, they need to enjoy every minute of their football whether in training or matches. Working to be that ‘late developer’ and playing with a smile on your face just might be the difference in being picked up. And if not, then you will still have developed your love of a great game that stays with you for life.