As the Scottish FA welcome 100 new recruits to one of the country’s seven Performance Schools, recently appointed Performance Director Brian McClair insists Scotland’s future footballers have to dare to dream.
For the 51 year old, who previously headed up Manchester United’s youth academy, the ambitions of the performance school pupils is of paramount importance.
"The thing with dreams or visualisation, or whatever you call them, is that somebody steals them. Over time, somebody dampens that fire, puts it out, douses it, whatever. Here, we should be the opposite," he said.
"I still dream now. None of it’s realistic, but I still dream. I’ve won the US Open. I’ve won Wimbledon. I’ve won the darts. A lot of it is to do with sport, actually. I’ve even dreamt of being a journalist in Scotland!"
Asked what his dream would be in his role as Performance Director, McClair explained: "What we’re giving the kids is a fun, safe learning environment with some advice along the way. Ultimately, we want them to look back fondly and say that it was a great experience and it either helps them with their dreams whether it be by becoming a professional footballer or in their chosen careers."
Speaking at a press conference to launch the fourth year of the programme, the former Motherwell, Celtic and Manchester United man concedes that the latest recruits have embarked on a rollercoaster ride.
"For these young players, a number of them are going to play professional football if that’s what they want to do and that’s what they dream about. It is difficult. Very, very rarely is it a straight line from one age all the way, it’s a bumpy ride and some of the bumps can be pretty steep ones, but if you can manage to hang on it gives you a hell of a good chance to climb back out of it again," he said.
For Scottish FA Chief Executive Stewart Regan, the programme is already showing signs of success.
He said: "It’s still early days, because the true feedback will be when the first kids come off the pipeline. An accurate reflection will be when they leave school and how many get signed by their clubs and ultimately get to play first team football and - we hope - international football.
"At the moment, we’re measuring technical skills: the accuracy of their passing, shooting, dribbling as well as their fitness and making sure they’re spending more contact time with a ball. When we launched the Performance Strategy in 2011, we had a number of ements - one which was 10,000 hours contact time. As such, we hope all of this will turn into results when they leave school."
An example of such success is Rangers and Scotland under-17 youngster Zak Rudden (pictured, right). Rudden, who attends Broughton High School - one of the seven Performance Schools - was included in Scot Gemmil’s squad for the Under-17 Championship Finals in Bulgaria earlier this year. Rudden, 15, became the first Performance School player to score for Scotland when he netted in the under-15s win against Switzerland last year.