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Reconstruction and homegrown quotas for match-day squads – Charlie Christie’s plan to improve Scotland’s youth development

Now-Celtic star Ryan Christie (right) with dad Charlie.
Now-Celtic star Ryan Christie (right) with dad Charlie.

The coronavirus has pushed it to the top of the list in many boardrooms throughout Scotland, but league reconstruction is now back on the table in Scottish football.

Charlie Christie has been an advocate of a bigger league in Scotland for more than a decade. He called for it during his 18-month reign as manager at the club back in 2006 and some 14 years later Christie, who is head of youth development at Caledonian Stadium, remains as vocal in his desire to see bigger leagues in place.

Christie knows reconstruction is back on the agenda due to a financial need and the desire to protect clubs who face being relegated before playing their full fixture list, but whatever the reasons for it, he is simply glad the debate is under way again.

The 54 year-old also knows opinion will remain divided, as always seems to be the case when matters of this nature come around, but equally he knows the benefits remain as important to clubs today as they have ever been.

He said: “I have been a proponent of a bigger league for a long time, back to when I was manager. I remember giving an interview prior to a Rangers game when we were seventh in the league and in no fear of relegation that I felt it would be beneficial for Scottish football as a whole to have a bigger league.

“There are five teams at the start of the season who think our aim is to stay in this league and anything above that is a bonus. When every point is a prisoner it becomes very difficult to then give youngsters their chance.

“For near enough half of the teams in the league every point is a prisoner. Out of the top six we know the big two are going to be there, Aberdeen are going to be there and you can bet Motherwell will be up there too, so you have a good idea of who the bottom six will likely be before a ball is kicked.

“Some can do it but for most it is very hard to introduce young players. I look at the teams and I love it when I see managers putting academy players in. It gives a huge lift to a club.

Christie wants other clubs to have the homegrown success he sees at Celtic with the likes of Kieran Tierney, now at Arsenal.

“I’ve mentioned in the past – James Forrest, Kieran Tierney and Callum MacGregor were playing week in, week out in the Celtic starting 11 and they are homegrown players. If the best team in the country can do it, I think others can.

“I’m not saying it is huge factor, but it certainly influences a manager’s decision and I just think being able to bleed some young players by getting them in the team can help a manager decide whether it would be beneficial to put them out on loan or give them more game time at the club.”

Christie does not need to look far for inspiration in seeing the benefits fielding players who have come through a club’s youth system can offer.

There is son Ryan for starters. A product of Caley Thistle who now plays for the reigning champions of Scotland. Then there is a former team-mate of Christie junior who has emerged after being thrown into the starting line-up at Aberdeen.

Christie senior said: “Scott McKenna also springs to mind. I was up watching Aberdeen regularly when Ryan was there on loan and Scott was given his chance a wee bit by default.

“Aberdeen suffered a disappointing defeat at Motherwell in the League Cup and Derek McInnes and Tony Docherty were desperate to freshen the team up again for a second game in the league at Motherwell again days later.

Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna.

“They brought Scott in and he did well as Aberdeen won. I remember going to the next home game and there was a buzz about the boy. Aberdeen are a massive club, but Scott is a good example of what can happen. He was brought in, has developed in the first team, become a multi-million pound player and a full international.

“I also look at what John Hughes did with Ryan early in his career at Inverness. John took Ryan into the team, drip fed him in and out for a six month period, then put him and said ‘go on kid, show what you can do.’ Ryan repaid that faith in him by becoming a first team regular before being sold and making the club a lot of money. My disappointment is we haven’t done that more often.

“When I think back to my time as manager I gave three academy players their debuts and it is one of the best things I’ve done. It is one of the things I’m most proud of doing. It was great to do that and I remember one of the games against Falkirk Zander Sutherland got man of the match on his first full debut. It was fabulous and it has potentially such a great knock-on effect for clubs.

“That what reinforces my thinking a bigger league is the way to go.”

“All we are saying is ‘give youth a chance'”

League reconstruction is not the only way Scottish football could help ensure youth academy talent is given a better chance.

Charlie Christie believes one simple rule tweak could ensure more young players develop an affinity and a greater belief of making a breakthrough.

He said: “I said years ago I’m a great believer, and I know they did this in Switzerland, is to have a requirement that a minimum of three, four even five, of an 18-player matchday squad should be from your homegrown academy system.

“We have seven subs every game and surely we have more players involved and feeling a bigger part of the club?

“Whether it is Celtic, Aberdeen, Hearts or Caley Thistle, you would hope at least one boy would grasp this opportunity and kick on. If that happens everyone is a winner.

“When I made those comments two or three managers came out against it but one man who I have a huge amount of time for and a man I respect immensely, Craig Brown, backed me to the hilt and said he thought it was a top idea.

“I’ve a lot of time for Craig, he is a gentleman with huge experience and knowledge so for him to back me was a big plus.”

Craig Brown is the last man to lead Scotland to a World Cup.

Christie has never been shy in giving his thoughts on the game in general and while he stresses his opinion is purely his own take, he hopes the exceptional circumstances caused by the coronavirus can be viewed as an opportunity to bring about real change.

He said: “I think it is a good time just now to really look at this. We all have more time to think about it and clearly it is going to be a struggle for Scottish football when we get back.

“But one thing we can do is take the opportunity to make some changes to improve the game as a whole in the country for when we get back playing.

“I do realise there are repercussions and the TV companies like four Old Firm games.

“The split has been relatively successful, but we could revisit that and have a different split which could maybe take away the absolute scramble for every point.

“It’s very topical at the moment which I’m glad to see but my thoughts are not a response to any talks happening now. I’ve been advocating this for 14 years.”