February 2013

   Don Pertrie talks to EDDY WHYTE


Mickey Mouse or just going through a transitional period?

Bright future or are we heading for another dead end?

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Like me, aren't you fed up with the claims of Mickey Mouse league, you have very few Scots playing in the English premier league, and your national team is so useless that they haven't qualified for any tournaments since the turn of the century?

Well, we may have missed a trick, because as far back as 1995 a Scot called Eddy Whyte started publishing a number of reports and books on the state of the British game and the need for urgent change. Not just a keen football enthusiast or local sports reporter, but someone who actually played and coached in both Holland and Germany during the seventies. I suppose you could say, been there, done that, and actually worked within the very development systems that we have been trying to emulate since the early nineties, albeit not very successfully.

Grass Roots Report 1995
A detailed and hard hitting report covering every aspect of young player development in the UK between 1965 and 1995 in direct comparison to our continental counterparts.
In conclusion, were a large number of recommendations in respect of our future development needs based around his own SSD (Systematic Structured Development) system (1994).

Three years later, in 1998, the English academy programme was introduced and a number of other countries worldwide also adopted the new SSD system.

Coaching Tools 2000
A book aimed solely at professional British managers and coaches (senior level SSD) which gave them a new insight into alternative and progressive continental style coaching techniques . . . . how the German national team had been using sports psychology since the early seventies . . . the use of skill coaches . . . . individual player development programmes . . . mastering the possession game . . . . .

All of these methods are now common practice within the top sector of the professional game!

Kicking Into The Future 2010
Although 70% of the original Grass Roots Report had been implemented within the English development structure, there were still a number of key omissions, so his follow-up report hit the facts home:

"We are trying to convert athletes into footballers when we should be converting naturally gifted players into athletes" - Eddy Whyte
"We still don't have any professional development coaches - the one cap fits all philosophy doesn't work in a development process" - Eddy Whyte
"You are trying to copy continental style systems without any consideration for Cultural Adaptation" - Eddy Whyte

In 2011 the English FA and Premier League announced radical changes to its existing development programme - a number of which were clearly highlighted in this report!

Yes, I asked myself the same question, "if all this information was freely available as far back as 1995, then what the hell have we been doing"?

Well, before contacting Eddy I did some homework, and here comes the crux . . .

The initial Grass Roots Report (1995) had a very small restricted circulation, with only the higher echelons of the English game and top club managers in the premier league having access to it. Although plans were in place for a wider circulation at some later point (including Scotland), that was soon cancelled after the mud started to fly - nobody likes criticism so those responsible for development within the English game either denied the report's actual existence or totally undermined it, and on the other side of the fence the experienced club managers fully backed the proposals.

In 1998 when England announced a total revamp of their youth development programme the SFA duly trundled off down to England for guidance and advice, and it is here that I think two key errors were made:

Firstly, the English had millions of pounds to invest in their new development programme, we had no money whatsoever, so what was the point, we couldn't copy that model even if we wanted to?; and

Secondly, the English FA only had access to a very small part of the overall SSD programme (the section contained within the Grass Roots Report), hence, why there overall success rate was later shown to be very low. Why didn't the SFA go direct to the main source, Eddy Whyte, who held the full SSD programme (500 pages) under copyright?

Both Coaching Tools 2000 (senior player development) and Kicking Into The Future 2010 (follow-up to the Grass Roots Report) also had limited circulation with the SFA only receiving a small draft version of KITF (minus the key SSD section)in 2011.

The only real connection that Eddy ever had with the SFA was sometime after the publication of the Grass Roots Report when they eventually tracked him down and enquired about his SSD training programmes, but before anything could be pursued further we had a management reshuffle at the oval office in Scotland's football white house, and that was the end of that!

Whilst other countries were making giant leaps forward in their youth development programmes by buying Eddy's SSD system and consultancy skills, and the English were sinking millions into their project, we seemed to remain forever static, and in fact, some people would go as far as to say that for a substantial period of time we actually went into reverse!

It was time to meet the man himself and get some views:


Why can't Scotland just copy the English development programme?

Numerous reasons, but the two main markers are population spread and finance.

Population Spread
Where one development school in Edinburgh, one in Aberdeen, etc, may suffice in Scotland, you need at least 20 to cover the London area alone. Development is all about progression and you can only achieve that through greater challenges, and in footballing terms, that means continually playing against and alongside the very best. In the London example you could have the 20 development schools (all age groups) competing against each other in close proximity, whereas in Scotland it would mean the Edinburgh under 7's travelling to Inverness one week and then to Dumfries the next. It just isn't feasible. The alternative is to either fill up your development schools with passengers so as to make up the numbers to form a small local league, or you can continually play against lesser opposition.

"Local League Structure - that was the English system prior to 1998 and it was totally counter-productive!

That may seem negative, but Scotland has to adopt its own unique structure to fit in with its own population spread, and there is a way of doing that.

On the financial front, my local team Derby County (a championship side) receives more TV and league sponsorship money per annum than Rangers and Celtic put together, so they can self-fund modern astro pitches, satellite development schools, and floodlit training facilities. How many Scottish clubs can do that? Once again, this may appear negative from the Scottish perspective, but if you can't afford one way, then you must compromise and go down another road to achieve the same objective.

"We don't have the money or the facilities to implement a whole new development programme", was one of the initial reactions to my Grass Roots Report, so a year later, I opened up my first development school at the University of Sheffield which quickly became the most successful in the UK . . . . plus the city soon recorded the largest youth football league structure in the world. The message was clear, "yes you can"!

I seen the article in the national press, "Scot who teaches the English a few home truths from abroad" - that must have made you proud?

Typical journalistic licence, because I had no say in what the title would be and I was also told that the interview was exclusively for the Scottish press, so a bit awkward later on when one of the English Sunday papers ran the story!

Scotland has recently started to implement a new youth development programme - are we on the right track?

From the information that I have read so far on the project, yes, a big step in the right direction, but it does appear very limited in its scope. Maybe this is another case of being over-reliant on funding or basing the system around the future development of new purpose built facilities?

Eddy Whyte You have to think, "what did we do in the days before astro pitches and floodlights"?

It is just the beginning, but there are a lot of other areas that need to be addressed, not least of all, a new grass roots foundation - where every primary school in Scotland has its own football team - every local area has its own set of junior leagues (age 7 to 11) - more localised development steps in place - more parental involvement - more self-funding structured systems.

With a bit of thought there is a way to quadruple the current number of development schools, introduce more localised training programmes, and increase young player practice hours, all at minimal cost!
If you want it badly enough then you can achieve it!

We have just employed a Dutch development coach - what are the advantages of that?

The main advantage is that he has had first hand experience of working within a very successful alternative style development programme and that can only bring benefits in terms of new ideas and suggestions to the Scottish plans, but that is where it ends!
If you can recall, a number of years ago the SFA brought in Swedish and Dutch coaches to overhaul the development system, but it failed miserably. It was for the very same reasons that the English failed when they tried to copy the Dutch system and later on the French model - and now they have invested £340m in a Spanish style structure!

'Cultural Adaptation' is the key! By all means have a look at alternative systems from overseas, but under no circumstances do you just package them up in a standard box and bring them back to the UK. The Spanish do things this way, the French do it another way, and we are completely different again - because we all have are own unique, distinctive, and separate ways of doing things based on our 'own' culture. It's a complex subject and unless you have coached in many different countries, it is sometimes very difficult to understand, but in simple terms, from the Scottish perspective, the Dutch development coach should be responsible for outlining the specific skill base, training schedules, and time frames, but then it is over to the senior Scottish coaches to actually implement them - because they understand the Scottish culture and learning process - "what makes these kids tick"?
Remember, there are different ways of achieving the same objective!

There appears to be a problem in England with talented young players getting senior level experience - do we have the same issues in Scotland?

This has been a long standing issue in England because of a clear conflict of interest. The premier league, not the FA, as most people think, has complete control over the academy system (youth development programme), but then refuses to put any restrictions on the number of foreign imports (non EU member state players) entering their league, which in turn, leaves no room for the senior level development of academy graduates. Currently, only 34% of premier league players are home nationals, whereas that figure is 72% in Spain and higher still in a lot of other countries! In addition, they also permit the recruitment of foreign kids into their academy scheme with some clubs now claiming more than 30%. The reason is pure profit because if the premier league can attract the best senior players then it can sell its TV rights worldwide.

"Is it any wonder that 75% of academy graduates in England eventually leave the game by age 21?"

A year ago I would have said that Scotland did not have the same issues with foreign imports, but sadly, things are now starting to change, and this is mainly down to the failure of past Scottish youth development programmes - the standard is simply not good enough so managers are now looking elsewhere!

"To develop young players professionally you must always structure your senior leagues in such a way that talented home grown players are always given ample opportunity to develop"

If the English system is to improve then they must emulate the German example!
That said, 'Transitional Stepping' (the art of taking a talented 16 year old from academy to full senior level) has always been a struggle in the UK because a lot of our coaches do not understand the key development and nurturing processes. In fact, at the present time, I probably spend more days with clubs on this very issue than any other topic.

Some people have suggested that the talented Scottish kids should go south and join the English academies just like the Irish have done?

I agree, certainly in the short term, and until such time as the new Scottish development system becomes more fully established. Yes, it may be an initial loss to the Scottish clubs, but the success of young Scots filling up the English premier league in future can only inspire and help the Scottish cause.

What is the hardest part of developing young players?

Having lots of good ideas is the easy bit, implementing them properly is the hard part. All kids develop at different rates so understanding the correct nurturing procedure is imperative. It isn't a case of one system fits all. As I outlined previously, the transitional step is where a lot of clubs fall down and why we need specialist development coaches working at senior level.

Is it true that back in the nineties you offered to open up several private development schools in Scotland, but the SFA got in the way?

Yes, plans were already drafted when I got a telephone call to warn me off!

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