Scotland managers praise Irish blueprint

THE German managers of Scotland’s international football teams were full of praise for the under-age structure that Brian Kerr has established in Ireland.

They pointed to the high level of activity provided by the FAI for the various under-age squads and said the 1.5m they invested each year was reflected in the success of the senior team. They wished the Scottish FA would copy the Irish blueprint.

Brian Kerr accepted the argument, but he made the point that some of that expenditure at least was forced upon the FAI by the success of the under-age teams. A case in point is the U20 team that will travel to the UAE at the end of March to compete in the World Cup finals. The FAI are now obliged to fund that campaign because Ireland qualified - it was not pre-ordained that this level of expenditure would be incurred.

Kerr was more enthusiastic about the FAI’s support for the regional development plan he introduced two years ago and of their commitment to build up the team of development officers. Just now those officers have to cover areas that are too big and scattered.

The broad thrust of the argument put forward by the Scottish managers was justified and there was a special interest in talking to Scotland’s U21 team manager Rainer Bonhof. He was appointed by senior manager Berti Vogts and both have chequered careers with Germany. They were on the German team that won the European Championship in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974.

Both were members of a very distinguished club side in Borussia Monchengladbach, Bundesliga champions in 1971. The late Hennes Weisweiler developed a team that was feted right across Europe for the quality of their football at a time when the standard of German club football was exceptionally high.

Monchengladbach reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 1973, when they lost to Liverpool; in 1975, when they beat Twente Enschede; and in 1980, when they lost on the away goals rule to Eintracht Frankfurt.

They also lost the final of the European Cup to Liverpool in 1977, but for a decade they succeeded in challenging the big city clubs in Germany even at a time when Bayern Munich won the European Cup three years in a row.

It was an exceptional team because in addition to Vogts and Bonhof they also had championship winners with Germany in Gunter Netzer, Herbert Wimmer and Jupp Heynckes, and they had dynamic Danish international Ulrik le Fevre at outside-left.

Cork fans saw this outstanding team at close quarters when they played Cork Hibs at Flower Lodge. Monchengladbach won the first leg of their European Cup tie 5-0 in Cork and the second leg 2-1.

Bonhof recalled the fact that they had scored seven goals against Cork, when I mentioned the matches to him as he sipped a cup of coffee in the press-room after Scotland U21s had beaten Ireland 2-0 in Kilmarnock last week.

“Was it seven we scored?” he asked without a hint of smugness. And he laughed when I suggested they must have been worried when Cork led 1-0 at half-time in the second leg in Germany.

Netzer was their big star, a playmaker who stood over six feet tall, wore size 12 boots and was as light on his feet as a ballet-dancer. The manager, Weisweiler, took enjoyment out of challenging you to name the quickest player they had over ten yards before revealing it was Netzer.

Monchengladbach made such a big impression in Ireland that they were invited back in 1972 by the Munster Football Association to play a Munster selection at Flower Lodge. The match was staged to mark to mark the 50th anniversary of the founding of the FAI and the MFA.

Netzer became business manager of Cologne when his playing days finished. Nowadays he is a controversial analyst on football matters on German TV and his outspoken ways are generally not very complimentary towards the modern players.

His career at international level was foreshortened by a testy relationship with Franz Beckenbauer. Both sought to dominate the team when they played and when Germany won the World Cup in 1974, German manager Helmut Schoen had Netzer on the bench with Wolfgang Overath in midfield and Beckenbauer as sweeper.

Bonhof recalled those days with obvious pride and he was very interested in the under-age developments as overseen by Brian Kerr. He and Vogts have succeeded in launching one initiative that should pay off in years to come.

They have received the backing of the Scottish FA in developing a B squad designed to provide those players just out of U21 category and not yet ready for the senior team with regular matches.

Scotland are going through such a difficult time, however, that it remains to be seen whether they will be given time to see their plans mature.

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