WHEN Scotland’s under-21 side took to the field to play Mexico’s under-22s last week, there was one club who contributed to a creditable goalless draw more than any other. It wasn’t Celtic, nor was it Rangers, but Motherwell who provided four of Scot Gemmill’s starting 11.

Joining men of the moment David Turnbull and Jake Hastie in the line-up was Fir Park midfield mainstay Allan Campbell and young defender Barry Maguire, who is currently excelling on loan at Queen of the South.

It was a proud moment for everyone at the Lanarkshire club, and there would have been no one whose chest swelled more upon seeing the young men represent their country more than the head of the Motherwell academy, Steven Hammell.

And after watching the young prospects flourish with their exposure to first-team football, the former full-back wouldn’t have been surprised to see them excel for their country too.

“It’s great to see the guys handling it so well,” Hammell said.

“That’s the aim and the whole purpose of the academy. I said that when I took the role, that we need to get more young boys into our first-team, and they are doing really well and thriving.

“They are making an impact, they’re not in there for any other reason than they deserve to be there.

“I think the fans enjoy watching the boys coming through as well, so it’s all positive, although we’ll keep striving to do even better.”

While Campbell is the most experienced of the foursome, he is perhaps the unsung hero among the Motherwell hit-kids while Turnbull and latterly, Hastie, have grabbed all the headlines.

The problem for smaller clubs is not so much developing such talents, but holding onto them, and while Turnbull has extended his contract, Hastie is attracting suitors with his own deal set to expire in the summer.

Rangers are known to be hopeful of landing the 20-year-old winger, while English Premier League side Crystal Palace have also watched him recently.

Hammell’s admittedly slightly partisan advice to the pair would be to stay put and continue to learn their trade in the claret and amber, but he knows there will come a time when the players will outgrow the club.

“The two of them have great character,” he said.

“They have undoubted ability, but they are humble with it. They are quietly confident in their own ability, it’s not arrogance, and on top of the tactical knowledge they are getting from the guys here, the sky is the limit for them.

“They are at a club that will give them the opportunity to showcase their talents. Hopefully they are getting some good advice as well off the pitch, and it is exciting to see.

“I’d like to see them continue their development here for a long time, but I really hope these boys can go on and make a really good career for themselves. Hopefully they can do that on the international stage as well. Everybody I speak to when they are away with the national teams as well are really complimentary about them, and that is great.

“We don’t want to put too much pressure on them too early, but if they continue on the path they are on they will have successful careers for sure.”

While it may be frustrating for Motherwell supporters to contemplate the core of young players coming through into the Fir Park first-team being broken up just after they have broken through, but at least they have got to enjoy them for a short time. The stark reality is that bigger clubs are sniffing around their young players long before they even near the first-team, with 16-year-old Stuart McKinstry agreeing to join Leeds United at the end of the season before he has made his first-team debut.

Hammell is philosophical about the club’s place in the footballing food chain, but he hopes that the promise of opportunities at first-team level can continue to see the conveyor belt of talent turning.

“I think it shows how well we are doing that we are having people coming and asking questions about all of our kids from 13 all the way up,” he said.

“My message to pretty much every young player would be to think ‘how can I get to a first-team environment as soon as possible?’ Try to be part of an environment where the young boys will go up. How do you get exposed to that as soon as possible? For any young player at any club, that’s what you should be aiming for.

“You see young boys at top clubs that think they have made it because they are in an under-23 team and are probably earning more than most of our first-team players, but when it comes to getting to 20 or 21 and you haven’t really played any first-team games, then I would be starting to ask the question why.

“I was training with the first-team at Motherwell from when I was 15 or 16, and it helped me massively. If I hadn’t been exposed to that it might have been a different story for me.

“I’ve been down at Man United, Man City, Liverpool and over to Benfica as well, and what they’ve got compared to the teams in Scotland is incredible. They look after every aspect of this boy’s life until he’s 25. They go to have a look and they turn on the lights for them, and then it is very unlikely that a boy would say no to it.

“So, the question is how we compete with that, and our message is the target of 100 games. Come to Motherwell, stay here, and if you are good enough then they will come and buy you for their first-teams once you have been exposed to first-team football.

“I’d like to see 11 academy players on the pitch, however unlikely that may be.”