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Dundee United’s burgeoning academy production line will yield ‘a bright future’ for the Tangerines believes youth coach Tam Courts after debut boys make their mark

Dundee United head of tactical performance and U/18 coach Tam Courts.
Dundee United head of tactical performance and U/18 coach Tam Courts.

Dundee United youth coach Tam Courts has praised the club for a commitment to creating an academy production line he believes will yield “a bright future” for the Tangerines.

Courts, head of tactical performance and joint U/18s boss, has been delighted with the progress of kids Lewis Neilson, Kai Fotheringham, Kerr Smith, Kieran Freeman and Darren Watson.

All five have made debuts for Micky Mellon’s first team this season and former Kelty Hearts boss Courts believes the Terrors’ infrastructure means more young talent will soon come through.

‘We want them to achieve success with Dundee United and have readymade replacements behind them’

“One thing that we’ve got is a lot of belief in these young players – we test them and challenge them every single day,” the 39-year-old said.

“Ultimately, when you have the talent, the next thing you need is opportunity.

“During a pandemic, there are U/18 players that have actually managed to get that, unexpectedly, in the first team.

“They’ve earned that and there’s more coming in behind that. We certainly feel as if we’re only scratching the surface.

Dundee United: Kerr Smith and Kai Fotheringham are latest budding talent off production line and academy director Andy Goldie says there’s more to come

“We’ve only been working together for a short period of time but our work has got to continue on a consistent basis because you can’t afford to stop.

“We want to get them into the first team, contributing on sustainable performances and results and, ultimately, try to get them on to a higher level of football.

“We want them to achieve success with Dundee United and have readymade replacements behind them every single year or two to make sure the cycle is strong.”

United award extended contracts to kid stars

Part of United’s player development strategy has been a move to extend the contracts of all their 2003-born players, most of whom are in Courts and Adam Asghar’s U/18 squad.

One aspect of the thinking behind that is the pandemic has robbed them of time on the pitch.

However, former defender Courts was keen to stress the new deals were earned by every player.

He added: “It would be easy to build a perception and say the players have lost development time, therefore we’re going to prolong their time at the club to recoup what’s been lost.

“However, I would rather focus on the positives because, actually, I genuinely think the players have earned their extended contracts as a reward for, what I believe, is these young players developing themselves.

Kai Fotheringham in Betfred Cup action against Peterhead earlier in the season.

“They’ve done that every single day during the toughest of times.

“The club deserve a lot of credit as well because it’s a real statement of intent to be investing in our young players during this pandemic.

“They’re the only U/18 team in the country training at the moment. It’s been a huge commitment from the club.

“The players have honoured their end of the bargain by working even harder than what they were in normal times.”

Academy Awards shine spotlight on young talent

On top of the commitment to new deals, Courts believes reaffirming progress in the form of an awards night last weekend was an important step for the academy.

Much like their showbiz counterpart, the Oscars, United’s Academy Awards was impacted by Covid-19 and took place place online.

Dundee United boss Micky Mellon alongside sporting director Tony Asghar.
Dundee United boss Micky Mellon alongside sporting director Tony Asghar.

Owner Mark Ogren, sporting director Tony Asghar and boss Micky Mellon all attended virtually, with young defender Neilson winning the Alastair ‘Breeks’ Brodie Player of the Year.

“I think it was a huge boost for our young players, probably at a time when they really needed it,” Courts said.

“It was a good opportunity for us to recognise progress and development and an example of us forging ahead with a no excuse culture in the academy.

“To be able to deliver a showpiece event in these testing times, it was good for us to prove we can pull something like that off.

“The year before, when we held the first one at the Bonar Hall, it was a showpiece event and I think what we’ve seen 12 months later is we can still actually pull together something that shows our unwavering commitment to the players.

“The biggest show of commitment was from the leadership at the club, by the attendance of the owners, the sporting director and the manager.

“The fact they gave up their Sunday night to talk and sit through that to recognise these young players.”

EXCLUSIVE: Dundee United kid Lewis Neilson on living next door to Stuart Armstrong, EPL ambitions and why he’s every inch a star in the making

He continued: “It’s great to see Lewis is still recognised as an academy player and I think what we need to do is create opportunities where our younger players can look up to these guys.

“They’re at tender ages experiencing top-level football, facing big challenges and have aspirations, some of whom are actually attracting interest from Europe’s top clubs as well.

“The different awards really showcased people like Lewis, Kerr, Kai and Darren. All of these boys have made their debuts this year, been in squads and are trying to push their careers to the next level.”

Courts holds ambitions of becoming a league manager

Acting up as first-team boss for United’s trip to Livingston in December, due to a Covid outbreak in the United camp striking down the top-team coaching staff, Courts believes he, too, is developing.

Reflecting on the experience, Courts is grateful for the opportunity and feels vindicated in his decision to join United two years ago.

“For me, personally, it was a good experience and a bit of a baptism of fire because of the developing situation,” he said.

“Also, though, it was a reminder that I’ve gained a lot of managerial experience over the last five-six years so it was relatively easy to tap into that skillset again and what was expected of me.

“There’s no doubt that it was a unique situation where, yeah it was a good experience, but I was there to deliver a specific job for the manager in service to the players.

“It’s something I look back on as a reminder that it’s where I’d like to be at some point in the future but I’m also happy with what I’m doing just now.

“I think a lot of people expecting me, after I left Kelty, to go into a first-team management position but, for me, it was about recognising the skills gap I had at the time, two years ago.

Tam Courts and Adam Asghar on the touchline at Almondvale.

“I wanted to take on a different type of experience and, ultimately, making me a more rounded manager when that opportunity arises.

“There were different opportunities, I was interviewed by West Ham and NAC Breda in Holland so I thought my next move was going to be outwith the country.

“When Andy Goldie got in touch, it coincided with some chats I was having with the family at the time because my middle child was going to high school and I felt staying in Scotland, learning about the academy set-up, was the right move.

“I really wanted to hone in on developing young players in the academy setting because I wasn’t an expert there.

“It’s paying off, I’m working with some really smart minds every day and I feel like the club has a very well-connected vision for itself and that’s grounded in the academy.

“You’ve seen this season that the club can be sustainable in the Premiership in its first season back and I see a bright future for the club where, hopefully, young players can be a part of that.”

Who is Thomas Courts? Dundee United’s stand-in boss has managerial experience, playing career behind him and passion for youth development