They are quickly becoming the Gucci men’s bags of European football. The essential fashion accessory without which no self-respecting club would be dead.
Suddenly – and almost overnight – young Scottish football players have become the new fixture in some of the most fashionable and image-conscious leagues in the world. Over the past two days, Lewis Ferguson and Josh Doig have marched through Bologna and Verona as Italy’s Serie A continues its recent trend towards Serie Aye – having already said yes to trailblazers Liam Henderson and Aaron Hickey.
With Hickey, Nathan Patterson and Calvin Ramsay joining Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, John McGinn and Billy Gilmour in the English Premier League, it feels for the first time in a very long time that Scottish football is all the rage. It has truly been a remarkable transformation given that our game has spent so long being dismissed by the rest of the continent as an eternal ugly duckling.
And few have worked harder over the years to oversee that blossoming than national Under-21 boss Scot Gemmill, who at one point propelled nearly every one of them onto the international stage. And he credits three players in particular – Robertson, Tierney and McGinn – with becoming early trendsetters at Liverpool, Arsenal and Aston Villa.
“It all sounds very different, very exciting,” Gemmill nodded while speaking to Save sport on the sudden rise in status of Scottish football. “Robertson, Tierney and McGinn obviously have an impact at the highest level. But what they have achieved now reverberates at all levels of the Scottish game.
“These guys have set themselves incredible examples of what young Scottish players can achieve if given the opportunity, as they influence games at the highest level. But then you look at Calvin, who breaks into the Scottish Premiership in Aberdeen and now has the opportunity to follow in Andy’s footsteps at Anfield.
“Yes, he may be a little further down the road at this stage of his development, but there is no doubt what these guys have achieved there has been an eye opener to the level of players produced in the north of the border. It’s a similar story with Nathan Patterson and Billy Gilmour.
“But there are some very good examples of even younger kids moving to big clubs – guys like Kerr Smith and Rory Wilson going to Aston Villa from Dundee United and Rangers. Stuart McKinstry moved from Motherwell to Leeds and Josh Reid moved to Coventry from Ross County.
“I could find other examples, but the fact is that Scottish football is now seen as a place rich in young talent at all age levels. It’s not just one or two players who make these moves, it’s It’s a whole wave of them all at once. That’s why it’s so exciting.
“Now look at Lewis moving to Bologna and how many first team games he has under his belt. These guys have really strong resumes in terms of football because they’ve been playing men’s football since they were young.
“They show they can do it at this level, where the result really matters. And the more our clubs are prepared to play these young guys, the more experience they will accumulate.
“I actually spoke about this at a recent Under-21 camp – it’s obvious to me that clubs should play against these youngsters and take a more strategic and commercial view of development. Lewis and Josh are heading to Serie A shows how well this model can work and what our clubs have to gain by placing more trust in their most talented children at an early age.
“In England they are starting to realize that they are not quite right. From this summer, Premier League II will be an Under-21 league rather than an Under-23. These kids have spent too much time playing college football. But here our young players have an edge and an edge playing first-team football – it makes them more in demand – and you’re starting to see the evidence of that now.
“Hopefully this will encourage Scottish clubs to have more young players because if you dig into the data the stats are still low.” Even so, it feels like, almost overnight, our game has cracked the code.
Gemmill – who has spent the last 20 years as a Scotland manager banging his head against a variety of brick walls – continued: “Yeah, I agree and it’s very exciting. But it also happens for good reasons. One of the most important factors has been the work done at the level of the interpretive school. I’ve coached all age groups from under 15 to under 21 so I’ve seen the improvement.
“I will tell anyone that they are working and have dramatically improved the level of players we are producing. Credit must also go to Club Academy Scotland as there is a lot of good work being done there too, day in and day out.
“When we get these guys to junior national team level, we only have them 25-30 days a year. But the show schools have them on a daily basis. And the evidence is starting to mount that they have to do something good !
“The players also deserve to be recognized as individuals. Not only have these young guys seized their opportunities and reached a level where clubs want to sign them, but they also show ambition and courage to say: “Yes, I like the sound of being away from home. It’s a challenge I want to take on!”
“You have to give them huge credit for that because, one by one, they are changing the way the rest of the world watches Scottish football and sending the message that our game is alive and thriving.”