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Dundee United boss Micky Mellon fears lack of football caused by coronavirus could lead to lost generation of young players

Current Dundee United boss Micky Mellon.
Micky Mellon.

Dundee United manager Micky Mellon is concerned Scottish football could have a lost generation on its hands because of Covid-19.

The Tangerines have decided not to furlough their under-18s team, which is the route taken by Celtic in the wake of the decision by the SFA to suspend football below the Championship at least until the end of this month.

Mellon avoided any direct comparison between United and the Hoops but he is worried that young players throughout the sport may never recover the ground lost by being unable to play matches during the pandemic.

United’s plan is to have their youths keep training but even that is not an ideal solution.

Teachers’ dispute

The 48-year-old Tangerines’ gaffer cast his mind back to his own secondary school days in Glasgow when he experienced the long-running teachers’ industrial action as a pupil.

The dispute, which included work to contract as well as targeted strike action, ran from 1984 to 86 and was mirrored by similar action in England and Wales.

The union, the EIS, emerged undefeated against the then Conservative government but the perception of some is that with teachers withdrawing from voluntary roles such as running school football teams the absence of games hindered potential stars of that era.

Mellon’s fear is that coronavirus could damage the chances of talented players coming through the ranks now.

He revealed that the industrial dispute he went through had influence on the Tannadice club’s decision not to furlough their under-18s.

The United boss said: “I don’t want to go against any other clubs and say we’re doing it better than anyone else.

“We made a decision based on what we want to do and we kept them (the young players) all here.

“We had a conversation – I believe you might remember this – about the teachers’ strike and how it affected Scottish football.

“All those school kids – I was one of them – missed out on two years of development.

“I think Covid will do the same if we don’t try our best to negate the lack of football these lads, these young man, are going to get.

United chairman Mark Ogren. Pic: Kris Miller/DCT Media.

“So what we decided here, which is great credit to the chairman (Mark Ogren) and to (sporting director) Tony Ashgar, is to keep that going.

“There is no doubt they won’t get enough competitive football because they won’t have matches but if we can come up with the right training that puts the demands on them then we can still develop them.

“So that’s how we have decided to do it.

“We are not competing with anybody else. We just feel that’s the best way that we can try to make sure we’re developing our brilliant young players because we do have some brilliant talent here.

“Some of them will train with the first-team group and I will be working with the other ones to try to bring them on.”

Not ideal

It is not ideal but Mellon’s hope is that it mitigates the damage done by missing out on competitive football during the shutdown.

He said: “I think it (the pandemic) is going to have an impact long term.

“When I look at my own group, the only way you are going to get better is not just by training but by playing games.

“The matches are where you look at them and see where they are as players. As coaches, we know what we need to work on in training.

“The next game the young player goes into, we see if we can make improvements.

“Some of my players have had two or three games.

“They have had no (football) examinations, no measurements of where they are up to so there will be, especially for the second-year kids, difficulties.

“How are you to make a decision on whether they are going to be footballers if you’ve not seen them play?

“That is happening all over,” added Mellon.

“In England, I’ve got my own boys, my own sons, trying to make it as young footballers and they’re going through that, as well.

“We have to try to do the best we can to make up for that gap in their development, creating the right training sessions and help these people along.

Micky Mellon during Saturday’s 0-0 at Hamilton. Pic: Sammy Turner/SNS.

“These are big years in their development. You only have to ask anyone involved in developing human beings to see that these are really impressionable years for these footballers.

“If you allow that to drift and don’t fix it then you will have problems.”

Thank you

Mellon, meanwhile, was pleased with the players who have returned from their loan spells in the wake of the lower-league suspension.

For example, Chris Mochrie, who was with Montrose, made it on to United’s bench at Hamilton on Saturday.

He thanked the teams who looked after them.

He said: “We have recalled most of them now.

“You don’t often get the opportunity to thank the clubs who have been part of their growth as people and players.

“There is no doubt the loan periods have had real positive impacts on them.

“That is a real credit to the clubs they have been at so I’m going to say thank you to them.

“The growth from when they left is really good.

“You’re looking at some of them now and saying: ‘Do you know what? He could play. He could come into the group and be part of it now’.

“I mean all eight of them. I believe I have a group of young players here who will be given opportunities.

“It’s not if but when and they will be given a chance because I think they’re good enough.”