SCOTLAND’S performance schools are producing footballers as tactically and technically gifted as those emerging in England, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Portugal despite having just a fraction of their multi-million pound annual budget for youth development.

And the fact that major clubs down south and across Europe are now flocking up to buy young players who have come through the JD-sponsored system, which has only been in existence for seven years, indicates just how well it is working.

Those were the confident and encouraging claims made by JD Performance School manager Brian McLaughlin at Hampden yesterday as he and SFA Performance Director Malky Mackay welcomed the latest intake of 53 young hopefuls.

The decline in standard of the national game and the ailing fortunes of the Scotland team have been concerning for some time. However, McLaughlin, the former Celtic winger who was appointed to his current role a year ago this month, is optimistic that both are set to improve in future due to the work that is being done at grass roots level.

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He has seen definite signs in age-group games against larger and richer rivals that the performance schools, which are run in conjunction with the top clubs, are having a significant impact. He believes it is only a matter of time before senior football in his homeland benefits.

The SFA may not be able to lavish the same sort of sums as the major football nations do when rearing their own players. But McLaughlin is certain the coaching talented kids here receive is as good as anything their foreign contemporaries are getting and is adamant that is why the gulf in quality is, slowly but surely, closing.

“The programme has changed in the last seven years,” said McLaughlin. “We are now trying to focus on individual development. It is a lot more specialised coaching for these young players.

“We are giving them the same standard of coaching, in fact I think it is better coaching, than they are getting across Europe. We haven’t got the money of France, England, Spain, Germany, Portugal, but we have got the people and we have got the knowledge. We have got the programme that we know can challenge these countries, it just takes time.

“I base this on our under-17 teams. We have played everybody in Europe now, including the very top teams, in the last two years. There is no team that we have faced, and I include England, Italy, France, Spain and Germany in that, that has more possession of the ball than us. Technically we are as good as well as tactically now. That is because we have made the training more specialised.”

McLaughlin added: "The figures that come from England show that clubs spend £5 million to £6 million a year on academies. That figure is just getting higher. It is the same in France, Spain, Germany and Portugal.

"Clearly if we want to compete with that, which we do, we are not going to do it with money. That is impossible. We are doing the SFA Performance Schools programme for a fraction of that cost.

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"But we are giving clubs’ players a full-time specific coach of their young players. We will give them on average eight to 10 hours extra a week on specialised training. The clubs work alongside us and that is the only way it can be successful and combat these millions that are spent.”

McLaughlin reckons the fact that so many gifted teenagers in this country have been snapped up by English clubs this summer, and clear signs that UEFA are copying the set-up, underlines how highly the performance schools are regarded across the continent.

"You will have noticed that clubs are now spending money on young Scottish players,” he said. “European and English clubs realise we are doing something different.

"We wanted Reece McAlear to play for Motherwell, we wanted Stewart McKinstry to play for Motherwell, we wanted Archie Nair to play for Aberdeen. But they all went down south - two of them to Norwich City and one to Leeds United - for big money for relatively unknown players. They were all graduates of the SFA Performance school and we are immensely proud of that.

“We know that when we play the likes of Spain, Italy, France, Germany and England they are talking about how to stop our key young players. It is testament to the SFA Performance school that the system works.

"There are English and European scouts at every single game the Scotland youth teams play. I am talking about the biggest English and European clubs to look at these players. It is up to the individual clubs if they accept the money. It is the 16 and 17 year olds that are being targeted now as they see something different in them. That has been the major change in the Scottish football landscape in the past few years.

"It now looks as if UEFA - who have already funded four programmes similar to ours - are about to fund another three. It's almost like people are looking at ours and thinking 'we want to copy this'. The plan is to stay ahead. We can do it. We don't have the same money as other countries, but we can still achieve it if we stay together."