Scotland has taken a novel approach to find some of the best young talent south of the border in England by hosting a training camp not in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but deep in the heart of England to scout almost 70 youth players who would be eligible to play for Scotland.
The training camp was set up in the Midlands and attracted talent from a host of Premier League academies as well as Spanish-born Jack Harper of Real Madrid. The Scottish Football Association sourced players with Scottish heritage between the ages of 14 and 20, working both as a camp for scouting talent as well as convincing them to play international soccer for Scotland.
Scotland Performance Director Mark Wotte recently spoke to The Herald newspaper about the training camp:
“We decided rather than fly the players up to Scotland to train, we would set up a camp in England. It makes more sense for the coaches to go to them.
“There are 24 academies in England and we have to tap into them, because not every player will get the chance to play for England.
“We have taken steps to source players with a Scottish heritage and the response we’ve had has been excellent.
“Of course, there is a risk involved that you want a player to pledge himself to Scotland and they do so but decide to play for England at the last minute. It happened to us with Southampton’s Sam Gallagher; that was disappointing and frustrating. But, then, we have had the positive in someone such as Ikechi Anya at Watford, who has made an impact for the full national team.
“We have to broaden our horizons and accept that not every player will be born in Scotland and spend all of his young life there. We must not restrict ourselves.
“If you look at the Germany team that won the World Cup, not every player was born in Germany. France hasn’t had success because every player was born in France. It’s the same with Holland.”
The question that obviously arises out of this is whether this is acceptable. Of course, all the players at the camp are able to play for Scotland, but when one looks at it as ‘poaching’ another nation’s talent, it becomes something of a moral dilemma.
This isn’t to say that people who hold dual heritage or citizenship should be tunneled into one single nationality. Players have every right to choose where they play, and players also have every right to their own reasons why they play for the nation they choose. Whether they choose a country for a better chance of success, for the purposes of their heritage or identity or perhaps or even because they don’t realistically have a chance of playing for another nation they are eligible for (such as Shola Ameobi representing Nigeria instead of England) – each player has the right to their own decision. What is morally questionable is planting these choices into a 14-year old’s mind. Youth players are not allowed to sign professional contracts at this age, and perhaps the same ethics that formed this rule makes me question whether this is acceptable behavior.
Of course, many players have played for teams at youth levels and then go on to commit their future to another nation (such as Carl Jenkinson, who switched from Finland to England), but offering these camps building an affinity to a nation at aged 14 you are establishing the basis of a decision that should be deeply personal. Perhaps because the Scots have often been seen as footballing minnows compared to their English neighbors, with many players over the years having played for England despite Scottish heritage, this practice is seen as acceptable.
If the Spanish were looking to hold camps in Argentina, where many share heritage, I wonder if this would be held in a more negative light than it is with a Scottish camp in England. Just because the talent pool is smaller in Scotland, does not mean that accessing and convincing talent as young as 14 to play for a particular nation is acceptable. If Spain was to find the next Lionel Messi or Gonzalo Higuain and convince them of their international future at 14, would there not be uproar? I am not against a player playing for any nation that they choose or for any reason, as long as it abides by the relevant ancestry and citizenship laws and regulations, but to try to convince and manipulate the decisions of those that are so young is cynical at best, and irresponsible at worst.
You can follow Jordan Willis on Twitter @JMWillis01