TEACHERS ARE locked in heated talks with Scotland's top 10 football clubs over the future of the country's most talented young players. Up to 800 could eventually be recruited by leading teams.
The clubs want to emulate Celtic's controversial move to monopolise the best young players. Already 12-year-olds have been banned from playing for their school, a decision that has been condemned by headteachers and the Glasgow schools' football association.
The ban will be extended to other age-groups as boys progress through the Celtic system.
Teachers, however, have decided to fight back and want to limit the clubs' hold over boys to those over the age of 15. Boys between 12 and 14 should continue to play for their school team and the youth development sides of the professional clubs, the Scottish Schools' Football Association says.
A meeting of the schools' association, the top 10 clubs and the Scottish Football Association failed to resolve the dispute. The clubs will submit formal plans at their next meeting.
John Watson, schools' secretary, accused Celtic of "hoovering up" young talent with the inevitable consequence that many young players would not make the grade in later years. "We feel it is much easier to identify players of excellence at the age of 15 and this is the stage when they should become fully involved with the senior clubs," Mr Watson said.
Harry Paton, Glasgow schools' football spokesman and principal teacher of physical education at St Margaret Mary's Secondary, said if it was true some boys were playing too many games then the clubs should think of cutting back.
Roger Mitchell, the Premier League's chief executive, said Scotland needed to protect and educate its best young players if clubs and national teams were to regain their place in the hierarchy of European football. The vast majority of players would continue to enjoy school matches but this was not the way forward for the most talented.
"Some of the brightest young talents in our game are suffering through playing up to 100 matches a year, on substandard pitches and often with a confusing mix of coaching, spread across school, club and boys' club teams," Mr Mitchell said.
"We are not only failing to maximise the potential of these players but we are also putting their health and fitness at risk, with many having to quit the game early due to stress injuries."