It’s been a terrific week for everyone involved with the Scotland Under-17 team, after they achieved qualification to this summer’s UEFA European Under-17 Championship Finals in Malta in May. To do this whilst also remaining unbeaten during the entire qualification process is something that the players and staff can be extremely proud of.
To be one of just seven of the European countries to qualify along with hosts Malta is a terrific achievement but, as I stated after the win against Belgium that guaranteed a place in the finals, it is a small step towards what are aiming to achieve with the Scottish FA’s performance strategy, Scotland United: A 2020 Vision.
The players should be proud of their performances and results in the Elite Round and added to the Sky Sports Victory Shield – which Scotland won for the first time in 15 years, in December – we should be cautiously optimistic.
These recent successes are obviously welcoming, but the success of the strategy will be when, the first generation of players from the seven performance school begin appearing for the youth national teams. Some of the talent emerging from the schools is extremely encouraging.
As for the boys who have just defeated three very good sides in Belgium, Romania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, we’ll know if the strategy has been successful if they are knocking on Gordon Strachan’s door over the next couple of years. Qualifying for the finals this summer is a bonus, but we need to see our youth national teams qualifying for Elite Rounds and finals on a regular basis, as tournament experience is invaluable.
What we are seeing is the benefit of our best young players playing more international matches than before with some of the under-17 squad having already played for Scotland’s youth teams more than 15 times before last week’s elite round. This is an integral part of our performance strategy; by playing against quality opposition from across Europe and beyond on a regular basis. Victories like Wednesday’s win over a talented Belgium side, which required the team to comeback from going behind, are a testament to the strategy’s impact.
Talent ID is also an important factor, with scouts identifying the best young Scottish talent from an early age.
Credit must be given to all the players who wore the blue (and, on one occasion, pink) jersey for their country during both the qualifiers and the elite round. To win five out of the six matches and remain unbeaten is an achievement that cannot be understated, and the players deserve the praise that they’ve received in the national media.
Scot Gemmill, Gareth Evans, Colin Stewart and Andy Gould, along with all the other backroom staff, have been integral to the successes of the past week and I would also like to place on record my thanks to the clubs for their support and commitment to the development of these talented young players. I would also like to thank Scott Booth for his efforts with the squad prior to accepting the manager’s position at Stenhousemuir.
The three victories in the Elite Round were the product of intense preparation, coaching and motivation and we are confident Ricky Sbragia’s under-19 squad can repeat the success of the under-17s and qualify for their finals in Hungary this summer.
We find out who will be in our group at the finals next week at the draw in Valletta, the capital of Malta. Regardless of who we get, I’m sure that we will prove why this age group deserves to be amongst Europe’s elite this summer, and it is our intention to make a habit of attending major finals.