Celtic Needs A Re-Jigged Youth Setup, And A Manager Who Uses It.

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Today more news about youth players departing Parkhead.

This has become a genuine exodus now, and it shows no signs of slowing.

Players we’ve been talking about and looking forward to seeing in the first team for a long time are going to leave without ever having made their mark.

This doesn’t bother me in any one particular case; if you’ve never made a contribution, how can you be missed?

But the number of them certainly is disturbing.

This trend raises two questions in my mind; the first is, are we utilising our youth academy properly? It’s the second that is somehow more worrying; is our youth academy simply not producing the goods for us?

There are reasons for wondering about both.

First, you have to look at some of the destinations our young players have headed to. Liverpool just snapped up one of our young keepers. Another is on the radar of Manchester United.

It wasn’t that long ago that one of our best young centre backs wound up signing for Bayern Munich. Karamoko Dembele will have suitors at major clubs everywhere.

Those instances make it very hard to argue that our youth system isn’t producing anything.

When you consider that in and on the fringes of our first team there is Forrest, McGregor, Ralston, Henderson, Welsh and Johnston, which is to say nothing for Kieran Tierney, it seems clear that the academy has done good work and is capable of doing more.

Still, the kids who’ve gone on to big clubs – and those who seem certain to leave – are only potential; none made our club an indispensable case for first team football, or you’d have thought you’d have seen them make there at least some of the time.

Lennon does not have a great record for bringing youth through, but when Frimpong showed what he could do the manager knew there was no case for leaving him out of the side … good players do that.

That our youth prospects haven’t done so suggests that they might be the problem and not so much the manager. The failure of our academy to produce top class centre backs or strikers in the past 20 odd years also suggests that the problem is there.

It’s pretty clear that both the management and the youth setup are wrong.

Rodgers and Deila at least tried to graduate young players into the team.

But in order for any manager to do so the tools have to be available to hand, and that’s also obviously an issue.

One of the most difficult tasks which lies in front of our incoming CEO is the rebuilding of Celtic’s youth system.

Our younger players don’t play enough matches.

Many seem to be lightweight.

We need to decide on what we’re looking for in our youth players … do we want to emphasise strength and speed or do we want to work harder on technique?

There is a happy medium between both, I’m sure, but if you look at England, for example, strength and speed at premium qualities … the truly gifted players shine and are able to enter first team squads early.

What’s our model going to be? The Dutch and Spanish still emphasise skill above else. The Germans and English are all about raw power and stamina, although they do not overlook the necessity of good footballers.

We need a director of football who has the responsibility for overseeing the strategy at every level of the club, including youth development.

Start with the basics; what do we require to be successful in Scotland?

You would think that physically strong players would be our best bet, initially. Speed would give those players an advantage over most players from other Scottish clubs.

In terms of central defenders and strikers, strength and speed would be key assets.

The academy has to have an over-arching direction, a philosophy.

The Germans are good at infusing a culture at a club and their style football is perfect for us. I’m not suggesting that our Director of Football has to be from there, but they follow a unified approach.

This is a key part of our transformation. The club needs to think clearly, strategically, purposefully about every single element in it. Instead of them running counter to one another, or even just separate, they should work as a whole system with every part complimenting every other bit, and the manager should be fully onboard and part of that process.

The system needs to work for him. He needs to want to utilise it. The task will take years, and we have wasted so many years, and the next manager might not even be the guy who makes best use of the system, but our club has to start thinking long-term.

I am not afraid of the exodus of young players.

If they were ready we’d already know it, because class is so obvious even this coaching team would see it. But like so much of we do right now, our whole youth coaching system seems to be hit and miss.

It’s time we directed it better and gave it back its central purpose.

Before we do that we need to know what that purpose is.

We need to know what we’re building for and for whom.

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