Exclusive Interview: What has gone wrong with Rangers Youth Development?

Tom Walsh

Soon after taking control of the club, Rangers Chief Executive Graham Wallace proclaimed that he is implementing a five year plan to regain the club’s place of competing with Celtic on a domestic level  & competing against Europe’s best in the Champions League.

Rangers Report is publishing an ongoing series that is meant to assess & provide a recommendation or two as Rangers have publicly embarked on their five year plan.

Part 6:  An Assessment of Rangers Youth Development

Obviously at the core of any five-year plan is a strong youth development system that funnels talent into the first team & into the transfer market on a regular basis.  An obvious model for Rangers to emulate, ‘The Southampton Way’, was profiled in the first two parts of this series.

For the latest examination of Rangers plan, I decided to reach out to an insider who has covered Rangers youth teams since 2008 for his blog Rangers Youths Given some of the discouraging responses to my questions, I have decided to run the post in an interview format.  Not all is bleak for Rangers though, as he also pinpoints players who have the potential to feature for the club in the coming years.

The following are the insightful opinions of Elfideldo from rfcyouths.wordpress.com

Robbie Crawford & Lewis MacLeod from a 2012 U-19 Match

Given the language of the latest Fan Engagement Survey, It appears that Graham Wallace is about to put a renewed focus on Rangers youth development system….what changes/improvements do you envision him implementing?

Unfortunately there doesn’t seem to have been anyone overseeing the youth department from board level in recent years.  I don’t know anything about Graham Wallace and whether he will take a serious look at youth level.  I don’t know who he would seek input from or if he feels it is an area we could improve on.

I think we have regressed in recent years, a few points I believe highlight this.

Recruitment From Other Clubs

Nineteen players have been purchased from other senior clubs at the age of 13/14 –  only five of these players progressed to a professional contract at 16/17. Some have been released after one year.

Identifying Talent and Player Retention

Our record of releasing players at a young age who are then developed by other clubs into first team players and in a few instances sold for decent fees.

Murray Wallace, Falkirk

Seven players we have released in recent years have featured in the top division in Scotland this season, the number of released players making it into Scotland youth squads in the past year is into double figures. Falkirk have taken on and developed Murray Wallace (sold for £300,000, could rise to £700,000) and Jay Fulton (sold for £200,000 with add-on’s).

If the numbers were one or two in the above examples it would be understandable, but when it is reaching these numbers it must be a concern.

Is there any evidence of a coherent philosophy being applied across the age groups?  If so, who is shaping that philosophy? (question from reader @HorneSupremacy)

I believe the football philosophy should come from the top. With a manager and two coaches at first team level on significant wages –  in my opinion, one of them should be at Murray Park when the development games are played on a Sunday.  I don’t remember seeing Kenny McDowall or Ian Durrant being at any development games and Ally McCoist may turn up if they are playing Celtic or if the first team happen to be in training.

To qualify for the elite status and the grants that come with it, the academy had to be split into Junior, Intermediate and Senior academies. Each of these sections has an appointed director (just a title not board directors) and a degree of autonomy, but Jim Sinclair will be in charge overall.

Ryan Sinnamon

The style and formation of play should come from the first team down, this doesn’t happen, with the Under 17’s recently lining up in a 3-5-2 formation for several games. I’m an not sure the current philosophy is coherent, our current Under 20 squad has ONE naturally left footed player and our Under 15’s do not have any. As a result, Ryan Sinnamon who in my opinion is one of our best prospects, has played the season at left back rather than his more natural right back.

Neil Warnock claims that one of the RFC youth teams (12/13 year old?) is the best group he’s ever seen, is this accurate? (question from reader @HorneSupremacy)

I’ll answer in two parts, firstly the source and context of the comments. Neil Warnock’s teams have always been associated with a particular style of football, and it’s not a style of play I would like to see any of our teams adopt. I have to say it is not dissimilar to the style our older youth teams have been asked to play in recent years, with a slight change for the better recently. His comments came when his son spent a few days training with this age group, I believe he has a holiday home up here and with his contacts he managed to arrange for his son to train with the Under 13’s. From what I gather he never actually has seen the squad playing any games and only observed a few training/coaching sessions.

In saying that I would agree that the Under 13’s are a really talented squad and without doubt the best for the age group in Scotland.  How they would compare to English teams is difficult to compare, Rangers rarely play English opposition and when they do there is usually a slight age imbalance with the squads. They recently beat Newcastle 2-1, but on the day I took in the 14’s game who lost 2-1. The Under 14’s also have a talented squad and I hope these players get the chance to develop, a lot of the really talented players in these groups are not the biggest and our record in that respect is not great.

Charlie Telfer

How would you evaluate the potential that players like Charlie Telfer, Luca Gasparotto, Craig Halkett, & Liam Kelly can bring to the club?  Do they have futures with the first team?

That is the $64,000 question, unfortunately  until they play in the first team we don’t know. There has been so many over the years that couldn’t make the step forward, John Morrow & Alan Lowing for example. What I would say is that the four you mentioned and a few others deserve a chance to prove what they have. I think with the level of football we are playing we have missed a chance.  Two younger players should be among the substitutes every week and flooded in the first team if the opportunity allows.

What are some other players who may feature for Rangers in the next 2-3 years?  Who are some of the younger players that fans should be aware of that may be 4-5 years away from first team football?

With the level of football we are playing at any of our Under 20 team should be able to come in to the first team and contribute, not all at the same time of course.  I think we have a good group of players at U18/U19, although having been to around half the Under 20 games we were carrying a bit of luck earlier in the season and picked up a few wins and draws we didn’t deserve.  Recent performances against Hibernian and St. Mirren have been much better where we recorded comfortable wins. As I say this is a good group and a few I believe have a chance, if I had to pick two I would go for Ryan Sinnamon who is an attacking right-back, but as I said I’m not sure being continuously being played at left-back is best for his development.  The other would be Tom Walsh, a two-footed attacking midfield player and a player that has something different that can open up defences.

Ryan Hardie & Junior Ogen

I don’t think our current U15’s and 17’s are as high a standard as we have had in the past, that is reflected with only Ryan Hardie being picked for Scotland.  Ryan is a fantastic goalscorer and if he can continue in the same vein as he moves up through Under 20’s he should make the breakthrough. Anyone who was at last season’s Glasgow Cup Final left talking about Junior Ogen, I have to say that game was far and away his best game for Rangers at that point. Until recently Junior was a midfield player, but with Ryan Hardie missing for a period through illness Junior was tried in the striking role and has been a revelation.  As a result the U17’s now play with two potent strikers rather than Ryan Hardie up front on his own.

A few of the first year U17’s have been progressing nicely and if they continue they could feature in the first team in a few years. The McCrorie brothers, goalkeeper Robbie has been playing a year up with Scotland and impressed in the Victory Shield in the past two seasons attracting interest from English clubs.  Defender Ross featured in this year’s Victory Shield and has been very consistent and a regular for Rangers 17’s. Left back Lewis White has only been pro-youth for a couple of years, his attacking style has saw him break into the Scotland setup.  Right sided Ross Lyon who can play either full-back or further forward has been a consistent performer through the age groups and a regular for Scotland.  Josh Jeffries either plays off the main striker or as an attacking midfielder, skillful and creative.

The current U15’s are currently hoping to progress through to selection for next season’s Victory Shield.  The most likely candidates are Aidan Wilson is a centre back who is also comfortable stepping forward into midfield, he has had a few injuries recently but made the Scotland squad for a recent trip to Turkey.  Grant Nelson usually plays wide on either side of midfield, a talented player who needs to add a wee bit of consistency.  Jamie Barjonas is a central midfielder who has already played for the U17’s and can be the mainstay in midfield.  Liam Burt has also featured for the 17’s and is pretty versatile having featured in a few positions, in my opinion he is best as an attacking midfielder.  Sam Jamieson has played and scored for 17’s and plays striker for the 15’s, I feel he is probably better playing off a main striker.

As I already said the 14’s and 13’s are of a high overall standard but I don’t think it is right to name any of these players at this stage. There is talented players at all the age groups with some exceptional players at these younger age groups from U10’s  through to U14’s.

Lewis MacLeod in 2012 with U-19s

Do you think that  Rangers youth development system is at a place where it can provide 1-2 new, quality first team players every few years (MacLeod, Aird, etc) – while building a foundation of depth (Crawford, McAusland, etc.) to offset the need to purchase players to provide that depth (Smith, Simonsen, etc)?  Basically, do you think Rangers will get to the point in which the club is truly relying on the youth system for potential stars, depth players & even for assets to sell off in order to build capital?

This has to be an ultimate aim and you won’t achieve it if you don’t try. The first stage is to be the best in Scotland and the place that all the best young players want to be.  I believe that the number of youth players that Rangers attempted to sign this year and chose to either remain where they are or move elsewhere reached double figures.  We should certainly be producing and average of one player a season, I believe the clubs that are renowned for their setup look upon somewhere between one and two as a success.

As I said these answers are only my opinion, backed up with a few facts on occasions.

You can follow Elfideldo’s regular reporting on all of Rangers youth teams at his blog – Rangers Youths.  You can also peruse over five years of archived reporting on Rangers youth.

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8 thoughts on “Exclusive Interview: What has gone wrong with Rangers Youth Development?

  1. An excellent read, really good to hear Elfideldo’s opinions on what’s going on with our youths. Reading this and the recent article relating our situation with that of Southampton, the glaring difference is our lack of focus from the top.

    Unfortunately, it seems like so many nice dreams to think that those running the club would have a coherent policy for bringing through young players as a priority. It’s all too clear where board members laser-like focus has been, instead of on the primary football operations.

    This deficit has, unfortunately, not been countered by Ally himself. He’s perfectly entitled to consider that winning the league by thirty points will be an achievement and his only target, but it’s a real disappointment to me that he hasn’t seemed brave or imaginative enough to do something more ambitious. Again it seems clear to me that any board paying proper attention to the future of the club would not have permitted the signing of unnecessary, expensive and experienced squad players. The financial folly is obvious, the closing down of first team opportunities to young players worse.

    The obvious sense in investing in youth seems moot at this time, unfortunate and depressing as it is. Without settled finances and board members that truly seem to have football as their main focus, I can’t see anything changing soon.

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  2. You’re spot on on every point, Jay. The hope is that Graham Wallace is the man to implement sensible leadership & hopefully can bring some balance to the financial situation.

    Once that happens (& it may take a while) I would like to see Rangers put in place a Technical Director in charge of overseeing the football at all levels at the club. Implementing a playing style & philosophy that can improve not only Rangers reputation but that of Scottish football in general. Obviously the budget is not there yet for such a position – but ideally it will be someday soon. Someone with a connection to Rangers but with international experience could really help give the club a fresh, new direction. A Brian Laudrup, or Ronald deBoer, Gio Von Brockhurst meet that description – heck, even Claudio Reyna is already in such a position leading the new MLS club in New York.

    But like you said – none if this will happen until finances improve.

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  3. I honestly never thought I was painting a grim picture with my replies to the questions.

    On a few occasions I also stressed it was just my opinion.

    I did emphasize there are talented players at every age group but also pointed out a few areas where in my opinion we could do better.

    Oh and I’m not a “Rangers Youth insider”, anything but, I just go and watch youth games at Murray Park and other venues and comment on what I see, as anyone else is free to do. I try to keep my opinion out of my blog posts which I think in the main I succeed.The blog is intended to inform and not an outlet form opinions.

    Occasionally someone asks my opinion on various forums and I’ll respond honestly, the six questions I was asked are there, anyone else with an opinion should respond with their answers.

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  4. While discussing Rangers youth system from top to bottom – I do consider you an ‘insider’ in the context that you can provide insight that very few can. That’s why I sought you out….

    Your blog sets the standard of thorough coverage whilst maintaining a journalistic balance.

    Admittingly, I did use the word ‘grim’ to bring attention to the post. I wanted Rangers supporters to read what you had to say, because there is a lot to ‘chew on’. I also did so because I was honestly discouraged by some of the information.

    I have been running this series on Rangers Five Year Plan for a few weeks now – & every post ultimately comes back to the importance of an efficient youth development system. Some of your insight left me frustrated because it seems like the club could do a much better job of using the youth system as a funnel to first team success.

    Like you said, there is talent in the youth system & that should be applauded. It is also, as a fan, where I get frustrated by the apparent lack of cohesion & to a certain extent, leadership, to truly maximize that talent’s potential impact on Ranger success in the coming years.

    Hopefully, as Rangers have publicly declared that they are launching a five year plan & given the emphasis on youth in their latest fan survey – that the club will be improving some of the issues that you brought up.

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  5. Efideldo – For what my opinion is worth, I’m sure that the the observer role you strive for when reporting on the youth teams comes across clearly to most. That you can make the RM forum worth reading on the occasions that you link to your blog posts says a lot!

    It’s unfortunate that the closest most Rangers fans will get to seeing the likes of Walsh, Gasparotto, etc., is via your reporting. As you suggest, your insight from having watched the youngsters for so long will inform the rest of us and, rightly or wrongly, draw inferences about the general running of the club while we’re rebuilding rather than having to compete.

    The points made about you not having seen the management team at many youth games, the apparent ease with which boys seemingly no longer jump at the chance to join us, and the lack of a structure to willfully try and promote youth, are disappointing, if no longer a surprise.

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