Convincing young footballers and their parents that Dundee FC provides the best pathway to a professional career will be a big part of Stephen Wright’s job description as the new head of academy.
And the former Rangers, Aberdeen and Scotland defender has set the bar high in his first week.
A trump card has been played.
“I was four days into the job and Gordon Strachan was on the phone to ask if he could come and watch us training,” said Wright.
“He was looking at the under-12s and under-13s then he got his picture taken with the coaches and the kids.
“All the parents were watching and they might not have known it was him because he had one of those big hoods on his coat.
“Then after it was all done and we were walking past the parents, he had his hood down and I said: ‘This is one of the new coaches I’m bringing in’. They must have thought: ‘this guy means business!’
“So yeah, that wasn’t a bad start in my first week.
“Hopefully the kids aren’t expecting that every week.
“It was great to pick his brains. Myself and my assistant head of academy, Grant Petrie, had a coffee after and spoke about youth football and the different countries and clubs he has been visiting.
“He still has an affection for Dundee and was great with the kids – even though some of the kids didn’t know he played for Man United. He was happy to tell them about the 50 goals he’d scored for them, though!”
Wright doesn’t need to name drop or call on football acquaintances to prove his credentials for his new role at Dundee.
His is a CV that speaks for itself.
“In terms of working in academies it started for me 14 or 15 years ago at Rangers, helping bring through the likes of John Fleck and Danny Wilson,” Wright recalled.
“Then I moved to Dunfermline with Jim (McIntyre) to be a first team coach before becoming head of youth.
“I was there six years. The club went into administration in that time and had to rely heavily on kids coming through.
“Shaun Byrne and Kevin McHattie were two who have done well in first team football and then there were the likes of Lewis Martin, Lewis Spence and Ryan Williamson. Ryan and Lewis played for Scotland at age-group level. And there was Allan Smith and Blair Henderson who are now probably the most potent strike-force in Scotland at Edinburgh City.”
Whatever obstacles Wright has to overcome at Dundee in the next few years, it is hard to imagine anything more challenging than merging several youth set-ups into one.
“The four academies in Fife were brought together to establish Fife Elite and that was interesting to say the least,” he said.
“The clubs decided to go down that route and it wasn’t nice to effectively reduce the number of kids in those four clubs from 290 into one academy with about 100.
“We had to bring coaches and scouts together as well. It all took about a year-and-a-half to bed-in really.
“It had never been done before and I doubt it will ever be done again.
“We got it up and running and the teams became really competitive and 19 contracts were given out in three years by Dunfermline, Raith and Cowdenbeath, which is a great return. Players were sold to Rangers and Celtic and others are still playing first team football.
“Then it was back to Rangers working in the intermediate academy. There are top international youth players there and everything that goes along with Rangers like going to tournaments across the world.
“It was another part of my development that I enjoyed.
“I’ve now been given the opportunity to come to Dundee and it’s an exciting one.”
The relationship with McIntyre was one factor in persuading Wright to swap Rangers for Dundee but this isn’t an old pals’ act.
“It’s not just because of Jim,” said Wright. “He has said himself, you don’t just bring in your mates. You bring in people who have the skillset to do a job.
“The club has got its structure in place – it just needs strengthened a bit.
“There are really good players at Dundee. It’s a proud city and proud football club that has got a history of developing great players.
“I remember coming down to play Dundee at Dens in the reserves as a young player at Aberdeen. You were coming up against the likes of Stevie Campbell and Stevie Frail.
“I’ve been in the job a week and it has confirmed to me what I thought – that it’s a really good club.
“Hopefully I can bring organisation and structure.
“I really enjoy working with the coaches and making them better, as well as the players.
“People would say: ‘why would you leave Rangers?’ But it’s a step up in terms of the job and the responsibility.”
Ex-pros who work in the academy system often view it as a stepping stone to the senior side of the game. Wright isn’t one of them. Indeed, had he been given a choice between being McIntyre’s assistant manager and Dundee’s head of academy, the post he has been given would have been the post he would have chosen.
“I love my job,” he said. “I love developing young players to make them better. That’s where I’m happy at the moment.
“I’ve had chances to get back into the first team scene but that’s not something I’m chasing.
“People ask you about your philosophy in football. The four principles I have are discipline, respect, having a structure and having organisation. They’re not specific to football.
“You could go into any business and if you have those principles you’ve got a chance of being successful.”
Wright, a former Dundee United player, didn’t need to be told about the competition that exists in a two-club city, which naturally extends to attracting the best young football talent.
“Competition with another club can be healthy,” he said. “If you’re chasing the same players it shows that there is talent in the city.
“I always say to parents: ‘Before you make your choice, go and do your homework on the academy, the head of youth and the coaches’. The kids can spend nearly as much time at the academies as they do at home or school.
“The parents need to be happy with the people who their kids are sharing valuable time with.”
Wright’s vision for the Dundee academy is a clear one.
“I’d like to concentrate on the city of Dundee first and foremost because I know there are good players here,” he said.
“That’s where my focus is.
“For me, to have all Dundee boys coming through the system would be great.”