Scots on the rocks: what's gone wrong north of border?

Lack of TV money and poor facilities are just two of the problems hurting what used to be a footballing hotbed

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The Independent Online

Heart of Midlothian arrive at White Hart Lane tonight for what Scottish football (Hibernian fans excepted) fears will be a second ritual slaughter in eight days.

Hearts' 5-0 home drubbing by Tottenham Hotspur last week appeared to lay bare the impoverishment of the Scottish game. With the Old Firm's Europa League progress also at risk Scottish clubs' involvement in European football could be over before August is out. Oh for the Lisbon Lions of so many years ago.

The national team never reached the heights that Celtic team scaled in winning the 1967 European Cup, but were once more regular World Cup participants than England. No longer. Scotland last qualified for a major tournament in 1998 and have slipped to 55th in the Fifa rankings.

Add the problems that beset the domestic game – with last season marred by a referees' strike and a series of rabid Old Firm matches, plus falling gates, and widespread financial problems – and the state of play in one of football's birthplaces appears grim.

There is hope on the horizon, but first some perspective is needed. In 2009-10, the last available figures, Hearts' turnover was £8m; Tottenham's was £120m. Even with Hearts lavishing 115 per cent of their revenue on wages, Spurs are paying their squad seven times as much.

Confirming the scale of football's Hadrian's Wall, Rangers, one of Scottish football's two behemoths, with an average gate of 47,564 and Champions League group stage participation, earned £56m and paid £28m in wages. Wolves, who spent the English season fighting relegation, had a gate of 28,366, earned £60m and paid £29m wages. From these similar figures Wolves made £9m pre-tax profit, Rangers £4m.

However, in contrast to the situation south of the border, the poverty of Scottish clubs should benefit the national side. Stretched clubs are investing in their own. Celtic fielded six Scots at the weekend. The authorities have acted too. Each club must include three under 21-year-olds in the match squad and receive financial incentives to start Scottish youngsters.

While this enhances opportunity, it is of little benefit if the raw material is not there. Craig Brown, the last manager to lead Scotland to a World Cup in 1998 and now manager of Aberdeen, has two main explanations for the decline of talent. One is that it is cyclical: a country of five million will inevitably have dips in production. The other is a lack of facilities, which exacerbate the same factors affecting English youth development: electronic games, poor diet and a lack of school sport. "Player development should be good because we have excellent coach education," said Brown. "The problem is facilities. We have three indoor full-size pitches in Scotland. I went to Norway, a country with a similar climate 15 years ago; they had 12 back then, and every village had a half-size indoors pitch."

Change is on the way. In 2009 the Scottish Football Association commissioned Henry McLeish, former first minister at Holyrood, to conduct a review of the Scottish game. His report had a raft of recommendations, chief among them a call for £500m to be injected into facilities for youth development. The SFA council, acting on McLeish's report, voted to streamline the organisation and shook up youth development, instituting summer football and small-sided games. Scotland have appointed their first performance director, the former Southampton manager Mark Wotte.

Maybe the model should be Portugal, a small country that makes an impact through good youth development and, at club level, shrewd transfer strategies. There is one major difference – the climate. As Brown and McLeish argue, Scotland's future depends on investment in facilities.

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