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EXCLUSIVE: Dundee academy boss Stephen Wright opens up on ‘exciting’ future for Dens Park youth set-up

Grateful: Allan lauded Stephen Wright
Grateful: Allan lauded Stephen Wright

Dundee academy boss Stephen Wright is excited about the future of young talent at Dens Park.

And the former Scotland defender says it was a “no-brainer” for the Dark Blues to team up with the already-successful performance school at St John’s RC High School.

From the new school year in autumn, Dundee’s S1-aged youngsters will be based at the school that has already produced the likes of Fin Robertson, Max Anderson and Lyall Cameron for the Dens first team.

In an exclusive chat with the Courier, Wright has revealed the new setup will more than triple the amount of sessions young players have per week, but stressed their academic grades will be just as important.

“It is a great move for us and one that can take us up a notch,” he said.

“Obviously the SFA’s Performance School set-up has been there at St John’s for a while but we got the opportunity to speak to the school and they were very supportive about a partnership with us.

“They are established as the Performance School and they have been successful at that so there is a lot already there for us.

“It was a no-brainer for the club and we are all really excited about what it could bring.”

‘A new concept for the club’

In announcing the partnership, Dundee set out the aim of providing their academy players 10,000 hours of training by the age of 20.

Not all of that will be out on the pitch with a coach and a whistle, however.

There is also focus on the mental side of the game, nutrition and preparing youngsters for the adult world, whether they make it as footballers or not.

The club’s full-time head of children’s academy Kevin Garrick will be the main coach at the school and the club hope they can reap the benefits of the set-up in years to come.

Wright added: “It’s a new concept for the club.

“If I was asked as a boy if I wanted to play football every day at school I would have absolutely loved it.

Stephen Wright (second from left) tours the RPC at Caird Park with club owners John Nelms and Tim Keyes with technical director Gordon Strachan in the background.

“At the moment, boys go to school during the day and then train at night.

“Now they will be able to train while at school and then have the evenings free for family time or homework or whatever. It also takes some pressure off the parents and families.

“It’ll probably see the boys have seven periods of school each week training with us. They won’t miss any core subjects or anything while doing that.

“It will mean that instead of the three sessions they get with us a week at the minute, players will now have 10 sessions. That’s a big difference and there is so much you can do with that time.

“What it gives us is a lot of contact time with the players and that’s invaluable. The boys will be closer to the club and so will the parents but, crucially, the players will also be able to keep on top of things academically.

“The Performance School at St John’s has brought through a lot of good players already, with Iain Jenkins being the SFA coach there. There have been a few at United but also Fin Robertson, Lyall Cameron and Max Anderson in the Dundee squad right now.

“Now we will start with the current primary seven group and offer places at the school for S1 after the summer.”

‘Great role models’

Dundee midfielder Fin Robertson is a former St John’s pupil.

During his time working in the academy structure at Rangers before taking the top job at Dens Park, Wright witnessed first-hand how a set-up like this in a school can work, with the Ibrox club teamed up with Boclair Academy in Bearsden.

The SFA will continue to work with the older age groups at St John’s but it will be the Dark Blues taking control of the primary seven intakes, starting in 2021 and moving forward with player progression.

And Wright believes that can only help produce more like Robertson, Anderson and Cameron to compliment the first team at Dens Park.

“It’s great to see boys like Max, Fin and Lyall in and around the first team,” the head of academy added.

“They’ve all done really well and it’s great to speak to the school about them because the grades they got academically were really encouraging. That’s so important.

“The good thing about this set-up is it sees them grow up with the structure and discipline of routine – they know when it’s time for football and know when it’s time for studying. That shows by them getting good grades.

“They are all great role models for youngsters to look up to.”

Another St John’s graduate, Max Anderson has made an impact in the Dundee first team this season.

Wright added: “Before I came to Dundee, I had worked a year and a bit with Rangers and so have an idea of how their link-up with Boclair Academy in Glasgow worked and how it helped them.

“There are a lot of clubs who have similar set-ups – Celtic and Hearts have it, Dundee United with Baldragon.

“It’s important to note that the boys are school pupils and what comes first is their academic studies – that’s the most important thing for the school.

“There isn’t a guarantee that this will produce great footballers unfortunately. As always, that is up to the individual concerned.

“All we can do is provide the best coaching and facilities we can but it’s up to the boys themselves to do the work and put in the hours it takes to make it as a footballer.

“It comes down to how much they want it really.

“We can’t guarantee it but we’ll certainly put everything we can into helping them as much as we possibly can.”

TOMORROW: Stephen Wright reveals he almost joined Dundee as a youth player himself as he talks Jocky Scott, Sir Alex Ferguson, Archie Knox and the impact Gordon Strachan has had at Dens Park as well as how the academy is faring during coronavirus.


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