The academy boss who helped St Mirren bank more than £1million in transfer fees has urged Scottish clubs to keep faith with youth development.
Davie Longwell is responsible for shaping the careers of John McGinn, Kenny McLean, Stevie Mallan, Kyle McAllister and new Celtic recruit L ewis Morgan.
All have been sold on by the Buddies for substantial profits – and the sum could rise again this summer thanks to the 33 per cent sell-on clause Saints inserted into the deal that took midfielder McGinn to Hibernian.
Yet concern has been raised about the future of the club’s successful youth set-up after it failed to achieve ‘elite’ status as part of the Scottish Football Association’s new Project Brave system.
Top-flight outfits Dundee, Partick Thistle, Ross County and St Johnstone also missed out on the top banding – which requires clubs to hire six full-time academy staff – while Falkirk have taken the radical step of scrapping their successful youth set-up altogether in order to plough funds into their first team.
But Longwell says Saints’ example proves massive sums are not needed to generate talent.
“If the SFA genuinely think Project Brave will produce more players and make the national side stronger then great,” Longwell, who now works in the US heading up New York Red Bull’s youth academy, told Press Association Sport . “There’s still a lot of talented players in Scotland so hopefully it works.
“But as far as I’m concerned it’s all about opportunity. It’s about giving players the chance to play at first-team level.
“We didn’t have a massive budget at St Mirren or big team of coaches. It came down to coaching and doing things correctly.
“So even if clubs haven’t made it into the elite banding, they can still bring players through. As long as they make sure there is a pathway to the first team, missing out on the elite status doesn’t have to be the end of the world.
“Falkirk have always had a very good reputation so I was a bit surprised by their news.
“I always think there’s a lot of benefits having your own academy. You just have to see the number of players who came out of the St Mirren set-up.
“Falkirk have also produced a lot of players down the years but they’ve obviously now got to make a decision on what is right for their club. T ime will tell if it’s the right decision.”
Longwell was the man who rescued Morgan from the football scrapheap after he was released by Rangers aged 16.
His Celtic switch will earn Saints £300,000 but Longwell says some things are more important than money.
He said: “The sum raised from the academy will be more than £1million now – and it will go up again if John McGinn moves .
“But for me, it wasn’t about the money really. It was about the number of boys who came through and are still playing professional football.
“I take as much satisfaction from the likes of Thomas Reilly playing at Elgin as I do from a Lewis Morgan.”