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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 October 2007, 07:17 GMT 08:17 UK
Why Scots football is flourishing
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Berti Vogts penned an emotional farewell to his critics when he walked away from Scotland three years ago - others wrote obituaries for the death of a football nation.

Craig Brown
The return to home-grown talent was a welcome departure from expensive foreign imports

Former Scotland boss Craig Brown

Scotland had hit rock-bottom under Vogts and a once-flourishing production line of talent had dried up to, at best, a trickle.

For Scotland, the only way was up after Walter Smith was appointed as Vogts' successor - but few expected them to hit the heights so spectacularly.

Smith's brief reign lit a fire under Scottish football and Alex McLeish has kept the flame burning to the brink of Euro 2008 qualification.

Both managers have enjoyed victories over World Cup finalists France and now Ukraine arrive at Hampden Park on Saturday with the showpiece in Austria and Switzerland in sight.

The renaissance has spread to the Scottish Premier League, with Rangers and Celtic recording Champions League victories against Lyon and current Cup holders AC Milan.

606: DEBATE

Former Scotland manager Craig Brown praises the work of Smith and McLeish - but reveals the road to Scotland's recovery has been no quick fix.

It is the fruition of a plan stretching back more than a decade, and a by-product of an expensive influx of failed foreign talent into Scotland.

He told BBC Sport: "There was a very good development programme put in place back then. The Scottish Football Association decided to instigate a community coaching programme.

"There are at least 36 community coaches employed throughout Scotland to develop the game at grassroots level.

Walter Smith and Alex McLeish brought success to Scotland
Walter Smith and Alex McLeish are both products of an excellent Scottish coaching structure

Former Scotland boss Craig Brown

"When you look at the Scottish players coming through into the national team and the club sides, they have benefited from the initiative put in place all those years ago by Andy Roxburgh, which I maintained and the SFA technical director Jim Sinclair carried on.

"Many of these community coaches were also linked to clubs, strengthening the system. It was a tripartite arrangement in some cases between the SFA, the local club and the local sports or local town council.

"It really helped find young players and then develop them. It was a concerted effort. These plans were put in place and a very good development programme was instigated throughout the country."

After the building blocks were put in place, the search for new Scottish talent was unwittingly helped by an influx of expensive - but in many cases inferior - foreign players arriving in the country.

Brown said: "One or two expensive players were flops in Scotland, although there were exceptions such as Henrik Larsson at Celtic and Brian Laudrup at Rangers, who were excellent.

"But there have been far too many foreign players who had a very high salary playing in Scotland and had not produced the return that had been expected.

"This meant clubs turned to their own youth development programmes and we are seeing the results now, even at places like Celtic with Stephen McManus and Shaun Maloney, who they sold to Aston Villa. There are similar examples at Rangers and at Hibs and Aberdeen.

"The return to home-grown talent was a welcome departure from expensive foreign imports."

So had the production line dried up, or was the well of talent simply blocked by sub-standard foreigners?

"A bit of both," admits Brown. "There was a good initiative to have a couple of Scottish under-21 players on the bench in Premier League matches and the reserve league is flourishing at Premier League level in Scotland again.

Berti Vogts
Berti Vogts left Scottish football at its lowest ebb

"The talent was beginning to be blocked because young guys were getting despondent when a player in their position was coming from abroad and they weren't getting an opportunity. The opportunities have now returned and everyone is much happier."

Brown, now football consultant at Derby, also lavishes credit on the Scottish coaching structure, which has produced a string of managers now nurturing the country's growing reserves of talent.

He said: "We've got Walter Smith at Rangers, Alex McLeish before him and Gordon Strachan at Celtic. All these managers were trained at coaching courses in Scotland and all products of the Largs school, where they have excellent coaching development and facilities.

"Even Jose Mourinho came to that course. They are all products of the SFA coaching award system. They have all got the Uefa pro licence.

"When you look at the staff of the national team you have Alex McLeish, Andy Watson and Roy Aitken, who are all SFA coaches. At Rangers you have Walter, Ally McCoist and Kenny McDowall who are all SFA coaches and at Celtic you have Gordon Strachan and Tommy Burns.

"The coaching system for coaches, managers and players has been par excellence. I strongly believe that.

"In England you have David Moyes at Everton and Billy Davies at Derby who have also been successful.

"The people in Scotland have been working really hard to produce young players and coaches and we are seeing results, not just with Scotland, but with Celtic and Rangers in the Champions League.

"You can add Aberdeen to that, because for them to make the group stages of the Uefa Cup is a terrific achievement.

"It is a good time for Scotland and a reward for the hard work and organisation that has been put in place."

SEE ALSO
Alan Hansen's column
10 Oct 07 |  Internationals
Smith praises successor McLeish
09 Oct 07 |  Internationals
Scots hope for Caldwell recovery
09 Oct 07 |  Internationals
McLeish sounds Shevchenko warning
09 Oct 07 |  Internationals
Dailly makes return for Scotland
03 Oct 07 |  Internationals
Weir wary of Ukraine strike duo
10 Oct 07 |  Internationals
McFadden goal to be commemorated
10 Oct 07 |  Glasgow, Lanarkshire and West


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