Having ‘B’ teams in Scotland’s lower leagues may be a better way for the country to produce international players, says Stephen Craigan.
Rangers and Celtic would have such sides in the bottom tier of a 14-14-18 league set-up proposed by Rangers.
Former Motherwell defender Craigan has coached the Fir Park club’s under-20 team and has also worked with his native Northern Ireland’s youth teams.
“Why not try something different?” Craigan said.
“Ultimately Scottish football is about producing players who can play at as a high a level as possible and ultimately play for the Scottish national team. People have said over the last few years Scotland haven’t produced enough good players so what has previously gone on hasn’t worked.”
In recent seasons, Premiership ‘colt’ teams have featured in the Scottish Challenge Cup with Craigan’s Well once getting to the quarter-finals and Rangers going as far as semi-finals.
“The best games I had with my group of players and as a coach against other managers was in the Challenge Cup, when the players looked forward to it,” Craigan said on BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound.
“They played in the stadium, our four games at Motherwell, I think we had over 1,000 fans at each home game. There was a real appetite for it, you could see the players growing and they wanted more of that. It was almost whetting the players’ appetite to say, ‘a little bit more of this, you could potentially get in the first team’.
“You then look at a reserve game, an under-21 game the week after that game – flat, dead, no-one at the game.
“I genuinely think if Motherwell had been involved in a Lowland League, third or fourth tier, we would’ve had some players come through when I was there into the first team a little bit quicker. They would’ve been exposed to senior football, making better decisions and manager Stephen Robinson at the time would’ve had a clearer indication for those players how quickly they could step up.
“If David Turnbull had been in that environment, he would’ve come through six-to-eight months earlier.”
Under Rangers’ proposal, they and Celtic would immediately pay a £125,000 joining fee, with further payments to be made in each of the following three campaigns.
Hearts, Partick Thistle and Stranraer would get a reprieve from relegation and Brora Rangers and Kelty Hearts would be invited into the senior set-up while Premiership clubs could forge strategic partnerships with lower-league outfits that would allow up to six players, plus one coach to be loaned by the top-flight club.
And former Rangers and Hearts player and ex-Dundee manager Neil McCann commented: “The injection of cash that’ll bring, I think that’ll be attractive to a lot of teams in that division.”
A ‘no brainer’ or ‘tedious’?
Highland League winners Brora, who missed out on the League Two play-offs after the SPFL season was declared over because of coronavirus, have urged clubs to back Rangers’ proposal.
“The SPFL clubs must not let this opportunity pass,” chairman William Powrie told the Brora website. “Financially it’s an absolute no brainer for the lower league clubs, whom are the ones most worried about money.”
However, League Two club Elgin City’s chairman Graham Tatters is not in favour and says the rate at which restructuring proposals are being submitted is “getting tedious”. Changing the current 12-10-10-10 to a 14-14-14, a 14-14-16 or a 14-10-10-10 has been discussed in recent weeks.
“We’re just going round and round the houses now,” Tatters told Sportsound. “We just want to get some stability. We’ve sat for five different Zoom meetings trying to put a budget together and we can’t do anything at the moment because we haven’t got a clue what’s going on.”
Meanwhile, Ross County chairman Roy MacGregor is generally supportive of the idea of colt teams but sees Rangers’ proposal as more of “a medium-term project”.
“Making these decisions at a time when there is stress on the industry is not clever,” he said. “We’re going to get a fixture list out in three weeks.”
And Stenhousemuir chairman Iain McMenemy has “an open mind” over the proposals, despite previously being against the idea of colt teams in the lower leagues.
“I think there is a lot in there that is good and innovative,” said McMenemy. “But there is a concern we cheapen our league if it becomes all about development.”
Strategic partnerships between clubs is an issue McMenemy has been “pushing for some time” and he believes it would be “mutually beneficial”.
“It would involve the lower-league club working with the Premiership team on a style of play, sharing coaching involvement,” he added. “So there would be lots more connections and opportunities than just players coming into clubs on loan.”