As Scotland prepare to open their defence of the Victory Shield, manager Scot Gemmill insists his side are out to win, but is keen to balance what is a results based industry with the development of our future stars.
Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, the former Nottingham Forest and Everton midfielder said: “With no players in the squad that were involved last year, it’s a completely new group and the main aim is to get the balance right. Everyone wants to win it, but we have to balance that with development.
“I would admit that, sometimes, I’ve forgotten that and have been too results orientated. It is very difficult to get the balance between doing your utmost to win games but at the same time remember that it is about the development of the players as well.”
Having worked with Mark Wotte over the past year, Gemmill feels the Dutchman’s influence and legacy will have a positive effect for many years to come. Wotte stepped down as the Scottish FA’s first Performance Director last week, and Gemmill credits him with the introduction of the Performance Schools and increasing the number of matches and calibre of opposition that the youth teams of all age ranges play.
“One difference I’ve noticed and I’m aware of, is that the games the youth teams have played in the last few years have been against good teams, really competitive games. I know that’s something Mark’s spoke of and something I believe in too. Playing best v best at that level really does help you. The guys at Under 17 level had played roughly 25 games and I think that showed.”
Gemmill also cites the introduction of the SPFL Development League as a positive step in the future of our youngsters. He commented: “The more games they play, the more knowledge they amass and the more experience they gain. Bit by bit, they almost become better players without necessarily knowing about it, it almost happens unconsciously. In the future, they’ll be better, and I would include the Victory Shield in that. The players that play come out the other side better players without even noticing it and I think it’s the same with the league structure.”
For Hibs hitman Jack Adamson, watching last year’s Victory Shield triumph inspired him to emulate their achievements this year. Adamson, who previously played for Linlithgow BFC, can play out on the left wing or up front, said: “Ever since the first Scotland training camp my main aim has been to be picked for the Victory Shield so I’m just glad I’ve managed it. I saw a few of the games from last year and it looked like a great atmosphere and I can’t wait to be a part of something similar.”
Dundee United defender Kieran Freeman is also relishing Friday’s game, which is being played at St Mirren Park. Freeman, 14, is the youngest member of the squad and has caught the eye of Manchester United, who have invited him to Carrington on a number of occasions. He explained: “It’s something we all want a taste of and from a personal point playing a year under, I’ll just work hard and hope to get picked again next year.
His Dundee United teammate Ali Coote received plaudits for this performance in last year’s Victory Shield and Freeman says Tannadice is the place to be for any youngster. He added: “If you’re good enough at Dundee United you’ll get the chance to break into the first time. I think there was a lot of pressure on him after he scored and started to make a name for himself, but he really enjoyed coming away with the squad and playing for the trophy.”
Freeman is a product of Performance School St John’s High School, and commented: “I feel like I’ve come on massively from being involved. We have a coach Iain Jenkins who has a lot of experience, plus we’re training every day.”
Describing his normal day, Kieran says he has to wake up around 5am and doesn’t return home until 7pm, with the pressure of schoolwork and normal teenage life on top of his already hectic football schedule. Acknowledging the time commitment and dedication required, Freeman realises that all of the time, effort and setbacks will be worth it to pull on a Scotland jersey and play for his country.
Scotland take on Northern Ireland on Friday night at St Mirren Park, kick off is 7pm.