Celtic defend offside trap

AS CELTIC venture once more into Europe, about 80 teenagers were working on the training ground after school to ensure the club again reach the heights of international competition.

This season, for the first time, the club has youth sides competing at the five age levels between 12 and 16.

Eric Black, former Aberdeen and Scotland striker and now head of development, said the school ban was to protect boys from injuries caused by too many competitive games and ensure a balance between training and matches, allowing time to work on skills.

"We have looked at the various development systems operating in other countries and we are persuaded that what we are introducing is in the best interests of the young player as well as the club," Mr Black said. "I have the greatest respect for the work of teachers at the participative level but I believe that the development of our young players is best served by using a structure and system similar to our own."

He refutes suggestions the club are "hoovering up" youngsters only to dump them later. "We target around 15-16 boys in each age-group, and in fact we have only 13 boys currently onS-forms, though we are entitled to take on 30. No one is tied to a contract in the youth sides," he said.

"We give each boy a commitment for at least a year and three times a season we conduct an assessment exercise and discuss the player's progress with the parents. At the end of the year if we decide not to proceed with the boy we assist him to find another club and continue to monitor him."

Boys are assessed in training and matches on their technical and physical abilities, tactical awareness, and psychological approach. They play one match a week or 30 a season.

Mr Black currently runs a squad of 13 coaches, three physios and an education officer, John Cushley, former Celtic centre-half and now assistant head at St Ambrose High, Coatbridge. Part of Mr Cushley's remit is to teach study techniques, establish a tutor system for core subjects, and advise on career choices.

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