Last season, Montpellier won the French league for the first time in their thirty-eight year history. What is most remarkable about that is the fact that their player budget was only 13th in their league, yet they won their league with the second highest points total in French Ligue 1 history. When asked about his club's recipe for success, the club's president put it down to hard work, developing their own talent and an exceptional team spirit throughout the club. Their recipe of good old fashioned values is clearly working. Indeed, six of the regular starting eleven of their first team are graduates of their own youth system, with one of them winning France's Young Player Of The Year Award.
Football is a team sport. That team consists not only of the players on the pitch, but of all the professionals at the club, including the youth players, coaches and the decision makers at board level. Success is achieved when a team is united in a cause, with every member of that team singing from the same hymn sheet, ready to give of their best, both collectively and individually, for that cause. That creates a strong team identity. One of the greatest human psychological needs is to feel a connection with those around you. The psychological advantage for a club bringing through their own players from their youth system is that these players have a strong sense of identity at their club. They know the ethos of the club and they know exactly what is expected of them. They feel connected, part of something bigger than themselves. Twenty four of the thirty four players given a first team squad number at Barcelona last season came through their own youth system. Pep Guardiola once commented that for these players, Barcelona is not just a club, but a culture. In contrast, last season's Scottish champions Celtic had only five players in their first team squad of thirty four that had come through their own youth system. Only two of them featured in more than eight games.
This strong sense of identity and track record of successful youth development at Barcelona and Montpellier will have had a key impact on the psychological development of their young players. This impact would be most evident in the players' level of confidence. Confidence is a vital ingredient for young players who need to learn from mistakes in order to improve their technical skills, enhance their game-time decision making and development of a winning mentality. It is worth mentioning that common barriers I come across in my line of work with young players in Scotland is lack of confidence and a failure to comprehend what is expected of them.
Where young players are brought through a youth system and into the first team, like at Barcelona and Montpellier, we can see in these players enhanced levels of qualities such as unity, team spirit and commitment to the cause. These are sporting components that money simply cannot buy. The origin of these qualities is intrinsic motivation, where players first and foremost are playing for the love of the game. For too long, we have allowed extrinsic motivators, such as money and media attention to dominate the modern game in Scotland. External motivators have a short shelf life in sport and are fraught with danger. They cause individuals to play for themselves rather than the team, in order to earn improved contract terms, or attract bigger sponsorship deals. Arguments over money, or egos that need massaged can easily inflict lasting damage on a team's spirit. These are the very things that can cause a team to fail to fulfil their potential.
Perhaps the silver lining in the current cloud over our national game is that we will see a greater emphasis on youth development and all the sporting advantages that come with that. Dare I suggest we may even see the re-emergence of the likes of the great Dundee United and Aberdeen teams of the 1980s in our game, or the Celtic team of the 1960s, who conquered Europe with a team of players born and raised in Scotland, that didn’t cost a king’s ransom in wages.