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Exclusive: New director Stuart Glennie outlines vision for Aberdeen youth academy

The Dons new youth supremo explains to The Press and Journal why player development comes before trophies.

Aberdeen youth academy director Stuart Glennie. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.
Aberdeen youth academy director Stuart Glennie. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Aberdeen’s new youth academy director Stuart Glennie insists player development will always trump trophies on his watch.

Glennie, who joined the Dons as head of academy coaching last summer, was named as Gavin Levey’s successor as academy director earlier this month.

The former Forfar Athletic player – also previously co-manager of Deveronvale with Dons under-18s coach Scott Anderson – has taken charge at a time where the club’s youth academy have been celebrating success.

He is delighted to be able to celebrate silverware – which was proudly on display at the academy’s annual awards night at Pittodrie on Monday.

But he insists development will be the academy’s top priority.

The trophies won by Aberdeen’s youth teams were proudly on display at club’s youth academy awards at Pittodrie on Monday. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

Glennie said: “The big picture is to develop players. Yes, we want to win things, but the fundamental thing is about developing players.

“If the young lads go and win things by doing the right things in terms of how we want to play the game then fine.

“But if we win a tournament, but I don’t like the style of football, then I won’t deem it a success. That’s important for me.

“There is more emphasis now on developing the individual player.

“For me, I’m not assessing coaches or players on whether they win games, I’m assessing on whether players are developing.”

Patience is key in player development

Stuart Glennie was Regional Elite Performance coach at the SFA’s Perfromance School at Hazlehead Academy prior to joining the Dons. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

The highly-respected Glennie was performance coach for the SFA’s performance school at Hazlehead Academy for 11 years prior to moving to Cormack Park.

The 48 year-old believes a strong relationship with the performance school can benefit both the association and the Dons in their shared goal of player development.

He said: “We have a good relationship with head teacher Jim Purdie at Hazlehead and (former Don) Derek Young has taken over there now – so we have a great link with the school.

“The performance school started in 2012. It started in August under Ray McKinnon before he moved to Dundee and I took over a month later, so I was there for almost 11 years.

“People think it’s a long time, but when I look back I recall Jack Mackenzie being in the first year group.

“Sometimes in Scotland you have to be patient with these programmes.

“I remember around 2013 going to France where they have similar type schools – but their schools had been going for 10 years back then. They had one or two coming from each centre and that was deemed a success.

“We’ve got two or three in the Scotland A squad right now, but we don’t see that as success in Scotland as we always want more.”

Glennie wants to see more young players pushing for the Aberdeen first-team

The young Dons at the Aberdeen youth academy awards ceremony on Monday. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

“The youth academy has always been in a healthy position here because it’s a great club.

“There are a lot of great people who have worked here, when you think Neil Simpson and Gav Levey have been in this job and done fantastic work. (And) There has been a lot of consistency with part-time staff.

“Perception is shaped at every club by how the first team is doing, but we know there are a lot of good things happening behind the scenes in the youth academy.

“There is success, and I don’t mean in terms of winning trophies although it was great to end the season on a high with the under-16s winning a league and cup double to add the under-18 side winning their league.

“We have guys who have come through and are playing in our first team right now, but we want more.

“I want to see that across Scotland, of course, but here I think we have got players who can make that step up.

“To do that they need to get that opportunity to play, but I’m sure it will come their way – it’s up to them to take that chance when it comes.”

Key roles need to be filled in the youth academy

Aberdeen’s success at youth level has not gone unnoticed at youth level.

Since the last awards night in December 2022, the Dons have lost Glennie’s predecessor Levey to Swansea City.

Gavin Levey – the departed head of Aberdeen’s youth academy. Image: Shutterstock.

Academy youth phase manager Liam McGarry has recently rejoined Levey after making the move to the Swans.

On the field, promising young talent such as Lewis Pirie, who won the under-16s player of the year award 18 months ago, has joined Leeds United.

Continuity is important for Glennie, but he also believes change, while often a difficult task, can be a positive.

He said: “I came on board as head of coaching, so I’m looking to fill the head of coaching position now I am in this new role, and we’re also looking to fill the youth phase role as well.”

“One of the things when I worked for the SFA was accepting staff moved on. You have to take that as a positive – even if it’s not always positive trying to replace them.

“What we have is really good people with an affinity for the football club. We have a good structure, but we’re always trying to develop it and try to get more out of it.”

Increased focus on individual players

Aberdeen's Fletcher Boyd celebrates with Graeme Shinnie after scoring to make it 5-1 against Livingston. Image: SNS
Aberdeen’s Fletcher Boyd has scored on both of his first-team appearances this season. Image: SNS.

One of the changes Glennie has implemented is a sharper focus on player improvement at an individual level.

Developing a team ethos and style of play remains fundamental, but harnessing the talent of each individual is now a priority.

He said: “The biggest change I’ve made is to have more focus on the individual player and push them to really progress.

“If a player is getting to 14 or 15 and is still short of the same thing we’ve been talking about for a number of years then we have to ask ourselves why is that the case?

“Now, you won’t be able to change everything in every player, but we need to look at it.

“We do player reviews here when a player joins the academy. We call them areas of focus, and it is just that – areas we want players to focus on improving.

“They don’t change too much over four or five years.

“They get better at them, but to push forward they always need to improve and that comes from concentrating on whatever that aspect is and making as well-rounded as you can.”

Cooper Masson epitomises fast-tracked player pathway

One player who hopes to realise that focus is midfielder Cooper Masson.

The under-16 winner of the Neale Cooper award for 2023-24 has had a fine season, stepping up to represent the under-18s side as well as his own age group.

He said: “I’ve had a good season. I’ve enjoyed it.

“To win three trophies has been brilliant and both teams have been really strong all season.

“We’ve stuck together and been a team all the way through – that’s why we have managed to win those trophies.

“Playing with the 18s has made me mature and I feel I’ve developed as a player and become more of a leader.

“I’ll be stepping up to the 18s in pre-season permanently, and the experience I’ve gained this season will really help me.

“I’m excited at seeing what’s coming next.”

Under-16 player of the year Cooper Masson, left, received the Neale Cooper award from Findlay Marshall. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson.

The desire to develop shown by Masson highlights the ethos Glennie wants in his academy.

He stressed that point in his remarks to the players at the awards ceremony.

He said: “We want our first team to play in Europe and win cups – but in the academy it’s about developing players on and off the pitch.

“We develop resilience, team-work, a work ethic and set of standards that will stand them in good stead wherever their pathway takes them.

“We cannot guarantee where their pathway goes and that’s why it important not to look too far ahead to the end goal.

“Try to make sure you enjoy the here and now. Enjoy it now and make the most of it.”