Dundee United academy director Andy Goldie was delighted to see kids Kai Fotheringham and Kerr Smith make their first-team debuts and insists there are more to come.
Attacker Fotheringham and defender Smith are the latest budding talents to come off the Tangerines’ production line, with Lewis Neilson, Kieran Freeman and Darren Watson also making top-team bows this season.
Fotheringham (17) got 45 minutes in the recent 5-1 defeat at the hands of St Mirren, his league debut, while 16-year-old Smith made his first-ever United appearance with a cameo in Sunday’s 4-1 loss at Rangers.
Smith, in particular, has been one of many young Terrors to attract the interest of clubs down south in recent times, having had trials at Manchester United and Aston Villa.
However, youth chief Goldie hopes his rising stars are here to stay and says more kids will follow their lead into boss Micky Mellon’s plans.
“We’ve got an unbelievable amount of talent coming through just now in the 2003, 2004 and 2005 groups,” the 35-year-old said.
“We have three 2005s who’ll sign full-time contracts this year and some 2006s further down the line so it’s an exciting time.
“Some of these players are attracting big interest from down south, and in Europe as well, and some will maybe move on because we can’t keep every single player.
“We will have a number of players breaking through into the first team and the next stage for us is building on the likes of Kai’s 45 minutes against St Mirren.
“We want to see boys getting sustainable runs in the first team where they’re actually impacting in the starting XI on a regular basis.
“Kerr’s not the only one who had interest from down south, he rightly grabbed the headlines, but there were other ones like Lewis.
“They’ve both made the transition from central midfielder to centre-back and that’s coincided with a sharp acceleration in their development and, therefore, in the interest they were gathering with some of the biggest clubs across Europe.
“This is happening behind the scenes with our players on a regular basis. People are asking questions about what we’re doing and a big part of that is because they are getting that opportunity.”
Youth chief expects Gold standard after green shoots
Goldie laid down the gauntlet to his fledglings, challenging them to turn cameo appearances into a regular run of games as a bona fide tangerine.
He continued: “We won’t settle for sitting on the bench for four or five games or playing 15 minutes here or there, we want these boys to really make an impact on a consistent basis.”
“We always look to excel and it’s been great to see some green shoots come through from the hard work and the quality our staff are putting in but we want more.
“We’re third in the number of minutes in the Premiership for U/23 graduates this year but we want to be top as well as being top six, qualifying for Europe and competing for cups as well.
“That’s our standard and the level we aspire to be at.
“That’s a process, it doesn’t just happen overnight, so we’re comfortable that we’ve had some boys make debuts this year and so on but we’ll never settle for that.
“Ultimately, that’s up to the manager and even more so the players to continue to work hard and impress when the opportunity arises.
“I don’t think Tony (Asghar) and the owners have made it any secret that part of our strategy is to develop young players and get them into the first team as early as we can but also when they’re ready.
“There needs to be a bit of patience and we do need to remember at the same time Lewis, Chris (Mochrie), Kai, Darren, Adam (Hutchinson) and Kerr are all 16 or 17 years old.
“It’s still very early in their journey, however, we’ve got full faith and belief in these young boys that they will step in and will grab their opportunity with both hands.”
Lower league shutdown ‘stunting development’
One source of frustration for Goldie in terms of his boys’ development has been the current pause on football below Championship level, amid concerns over coronavirus testing.
With no games to be played in League One, the likes of Mochrie at Montrose and Freeman at Peterhead have been recalled from their loan spells.
Although it’s not an ideal situation, Goldie says they’re doing their best to make do in the meantime.
He added: “With League One, League Two and below out of action, we’ve had a number of players return which, again, is stunting their development.
“It’s been cruelly taken away from them just now but we always look at ways of being innovative and creative.
“We’re now building a programme internally that, it won’t replicate like for like, will fill the void they’re missing out with the loan spells just now.”
Goldie pleased to add McNaughton to his academy staff
Elsewhere in the academy set-up, Goldie was delighted to announce the appointment of U/10s coach Terri McNaughton to his staff, suggesting those questioning the move because she’s female are way off the mark.
“The appointment of Terri a couple of weeks ago grabbed a bit of attention on social media,” he said.
“My phone was going with a lot of people giving us praise saying we’re leading by example, we’re frontrunners and industry leading, etc.
“But, little do those people know, Mel Gormley, who also works with the community trust, has been in the programme for over a year as well.
“She’s already making a significant impact with our younger age groups so, again, everything we do we tend to look at research first and foremost.
“There’s so much out there that, if you can bring in the right person, regardless of their gender, we can find good talent.
“Having female role models and coaches within the academy actually has a real benefit to young players’ development and the environment as well.
“We’re delighted to welcome Terri in.”