Making a living playing football is the dream of almost every boy growing up in Scotland. The obstacles to achieving that are many, and even if and when that goal is achieved, the career is a short one, and one that apart from the lucky few does not guarantee future prosperity or even security. Despite that, or even because of that, there are more youngsters getting involved and playing youth football in Scotland than ever before.
Clubs are realising that the tactic of looking abroad for cheap talent is not necessarily the best way to go. It is a far better policy to look closer to home. It is cheaper, it helps to engender a community spirit and bring the club closer to its grass roots. It also provides some very good players which is good for that club and can only be good for the country as a whole, in the future. Some clubs and managers are further ahead of the curve on this than others, and there are many that are doing sterling work. One club in particular deserves special credit however, and that is SPL club Dundee United.
If you look at the ten youngest players to have featured in the SPL this season, five of them play for Dundee United. Considering that the club are sitting comfortable in the midtable, that is quite some achievement.
Ironically, the second youngest player to play in the SPL this season came on for Celtic against Dundee United on January 29th. That game looked like it was going to be the archetypal acca breaker for those who like to bet on football, until Liel Abada scored a last-minute winner to break United hearts.
Whichever way you look at it, having five of the youngest players in the league is an incredible feat, and a lot has to do with gaffer Tam Courts. Courts initially came to Tannadice Park as head of tactical performance for their academy in February 2020, but when then manager Micky Mellon left in the summer of 2021, he made the step up to become head coach.
It is not so surprising then, that the man who worked so closely with the youth players, overseeing their development, should be so eager to help them make the next step up to the first team. It is also a testament to the quality and strength of the academy at United that so many are able to come in and stake a claim in the first team.
It is essential for any player making their way up through the ranks of any club that it is in an environment where firstly they know that they do have a chance of getting minutes on the pitch for the first team, that their efforts in the under 18s, under 21s and under 23s is rewarded. Seeing their peers achieve that is a huge boost, especially if they play alongside them in the first team. Attacking midfielder Chris Mochrie is one of the divisions most exciting young stars and will provide inspiration for those coming up behind him.
It is also essential that the players that they will be coming in alongside in the first team are willing to mentor them, instruct them during the game, support and help them, and the structure at Dundee United has just those players. The likes of Calum Butcher, Kevin McDonald and Nicky Clark have all enjoyed very decent careers at a number of different clubs and are the experienced pros that young players at the start of their professional careers can learn so much from.
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