It works in other countries, they say. In Spain, for instance, Barcelona and Real Madrid…
Scottish football finds itself at a critical juncture in its history. What happens now, with the implementation of Project Brave and all that has come with it, will set a course for the future of the sport in this country. The next generation will be shaped by the decisions that are taken in the present day.
One of those decisions could be the introduction of Celtic and Rangers Colt teams in the SPFL. As per Gordon Waddell’s report in last week’s Sunday Mail, the scheme could be in place as early as next season with representatives of the two Glasgow clubs meeting with the 10 Scottish League Two teams.
This, predictably, hasn’t gone down so well in some quarters. The debate over Colt teams in Scottish football has raged on for quite some time, but with Celtic and Rangers fronting this perspective proposal the discourse has never been fiercer. It’s the equivalent of a bypass being built through suburban back gardens, but rather than the government making the case that a strong economy benefits everyone, it’s the two biggest trucking companies.
Surely there’s a better way. If the objective is to benefit the Scottish game as a whole, there must be a concept that doesn’t appear to so overtly favour The Big Two over the rest. This can’t be the only idea on the table. There are some smart people working in Scottish football. Let’s put them to work on a better idea.
Well, as a matter of fact they were put to work on a better idea. Not so long ago, the notion of a loan draft system was raised. The plan was put forward by the Scottish FA in January 2016, with Gordon Strachan and former performance director Brian McClair lending their support. For some reason, though, the suggestion of a loan draft system never came to anything.
But why was the idea dropped? If top flight clubs are so desperate for their young players to sample competitive football in the lower leagues, then this would be a much better way for them to achieve that without warping the Scottish league pyramid. There is a much stronger case that this would benefit our national game as a whole without giving The Big Two yet another advantage.
In practice, the SPFL and Scottish FA could model their system on the one used to great effect by the NFL. Clubs would enter players into the draft at the start of the season, with lower league sides picking from the pool depending on their league position. For example, the team top of the Scottish Championship would have the first pick from the pool.
Perhaps it would be best to have tiers within the poor, with top-flight clubs placing their young prospects in different categories for Championship, League One and League two teams to choose from. Maybe Championship sides could enter their young players into the tier for League Two sides to select from on loan.
This way, clubs would have some control over where their players ended up, while also giving lower league clubs the freedom to make the signings that will benefit them. The point of a loan draft system wouldn’t be to force young players on clubs. Instead, there must be a compromise found that suits all parties.
It would also help eradicate the Instagram culture that exists among so many youth teams at clubs like Celtic and Rangers. Of course, this isn’t just a Scottish football problem. This is something clubs all over Europe, but particularly in the Premier League, are struggling with. Young players at big clubs receive too much too soon and as a result lack the hunger to truly succeed in the game.
The theory goes that by sending them to the bottom tier of the Scottish game, they’ll be given a reality check. But how much of a reality check will it be if they are still wearing the colours of their illustrious parent club, training at their state-of-the-art facilities every day? It matters little the division they are playing in if their day-to-day reality is no different.
Speaking at the time of the proposal being raised, then Celtic manager Ronny Deila was open to the concept. “In general, it is important the youngsters get experience and a chance,” the Norwegian said. “That is why we loan out a lot of our younger players when they come to a stage that they have trained with the first-team, played in the under-20s and then need a new step between playing under-20s and playing for Celtic.”
The proposal back in 2016 was fully fleshed out. Each Premiership club would have made five players eligible for a loan to the Championship, fully funding the wages of every player. This would have been a start, but the plan should have gone even further than that. It could have been even more comprehensive.
Some will point out that a loan draft system wouldn’t adhere to the ‘best v best’ mantra the Scottish FA is attempting to instil in its revised youth infrastructure. It wouldn’t exactly align with the ideals of Project Brave either, but by the same token, neither does the scheme to introduce two Celtic and Rangers Colt teams to the league structure. There is a disconnect there.
It’s unclear whether the Scottish FA ever formed the mooted focus group to discuss the implementation of a loan draft system, but somewhere along the line, the suggestion got lost in the mire of messy Project Brave recommendations. It should be revisited, though. It could work well for our national game.