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Scotland: The next generation

Let's just hope a new season will herald the start of another new generation of talented teenagers making the big breakthrough at the top. Scottish football might be guilty of self reproach but the game still carries genuine hope for a brighter future.

Former First Minister Henry McLeish painted a bleak outlook for the national sport in his specially commissioned report as he called for a new wave of investment to fund a revolution and the man who once served East Fife during his playing days, has calculated £500 million is required to breathe new life into the Scottish game.

The Dark Blues are currently ranked 41st in the world and have failed to qualify for the last six major international competitions so something clearly needs to change.

"We have a crisis on our hands in terms of facilities and infrastructure. Scottish football is underachieving, under-performing and under-funded," said McLeish.

McLeish's damning verdict was issued just days after Gordon Smith controversially resigned from his high profile role. Smith's decision to quit as Scottish Football Association chief executive has done little to inspire confidence in the state of the nation's beloved game.

And, with falling attendances at grounds throughout the country, there is genuine need for radical reform - hence the McLeish investigation which has seen him draw up 53 recommendations. However, there is also a sense of hope for what lies ahead and Scotland has several good reasons to believe there's genuine grounds for optimism.

When Celtic name a replacement for Tony Mowbray and the financial problems at Rangers are sorted out, the Old Firm clubs are likely to look at the talent on their own doorstep this summer.

Several players have departed clubs north of the border for the chance to have a crack at life in the English Championship and expect that to be a recurring theme during the close season.

Dundee United's David Goodwillie, who was recently named as the Scottish Premier League Young Player of the Year, will surely head several wishlists throughout the country. The 21-year-old has shown a new level of maturity this season having previously been involved in several off the field incidents which at one point threatened to overshadow his career.

Goodwillie's goals have fired the Tangerines to a Scottish Cup final date with Ross County at Hampden on May 15 and also sealed a return to the European arena as they are guaranteed to finish third this term. His Tannadice team-mate Garry Kenneth has also enjoyed something of a renaissance following his breakthrough into the Scotland squad.

After making his debut at just 17 he was then sent out on loan to Cowdenbeath - a move that has paid dividends after he looked as if he was about to get carried away with all the hype. Birmingham City and Blackpool have subsequently been linked with the central defender with other clubs certain to do battle for his signature this summer.

Look further north than the City of Discovery and Aberdeen have been lifted by the emergence of Fraser Fyvie this term. Fyvie became the youngest ever player to represent the Dons when he made his debut against Hamilton Accies when he was still just 16. The midfielder, who recently turned 17, has even attracted attention from several English Premier League clubs, but the Pittodrie club are desperate to retain their prize asset.

In the central belt Danny Wilson has shot to prominence with Rangers sparking interest from Liverpool. The defender is still only 18 but certainly seems destined for the big stage and will play an even more influential role at Ibrox next season if they can afford to retain his services. The cash strapped Govan club could well be forced to sell their teen star although they'll do everything they can to keep him at the club.

Wilson is the youngest Rangers player to feature in the UEFA Champions League when he joined the record books at just 17 back in November.

Another central defender has also returned to the spotlight at Motherwell with Mark Reynolds recapturing his best form this season. The 22-year-old had been on the brink of joining Rangers two years ago and it seemed as if he had missed his chance. However, Dutch club PSV Eindhoven are reportedly now trailing Reynolds who could yet be tempted away from Fir Park.

Hamilton's James McArthur is also now threatening to follow in the footsteps of his former team-mate James McCarthy by moving south to England. McArthur has impressed again for the Accies this term and could well team up with McCarthy at Wigan after catching the attention of Latics boss Roberto Martinez.

Finally, the capital clubs Hibs and Hearts have two of the most consistent full-backs in their ranks right now.

Tynecastle left back Lee Wallace is back to his best following a consistent season that has seen him graduate into the Scotland side. Celtic were linked with the 22-year-old in January while Sunderland are rumoured to also be keen with interest expected to grow when the transfer window reopens.

David Wotherspoon scored on his debut on the opening day of the season against St Mirren and has further underlined his class throughout the rest of the campaign. The 20-year-old, who can also operate in midfield, left Celtic as a youth to secure regular first-team football and a return to either Old Firm club remains extremely likely.

McLeish might be right and there's little doubt Scottish football isn't exactly flourishing but there are some top class youngsters making the grade so some of the clubs must be doing something right.


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