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Dundee United ‘local feel’ revealed as academy chief Paul Cowie spotlights key Tangerines selling point ahead of Rangers showdown

United's under-18 side play their Ibrox counterparts on Friday for a place in the SFA Youth Cup final.

Dundee United's academy director Paul Cowie.
United's academy director Paul Cowie. Image: SNS

Dundee United can retain their most precocious future talents by showcasing the “visible pathway” to first-team football, according to Paul Cowie.

And the Tannadice academy director is adamant United want to see their top kids star in the senior side – NOT depart at the earliest opportunity.

It has arguably never been tougher for Scottish clubs to fend off suitors, with the riches of English football across the border, allied with Brexit making signings from within the United Kingdom more sought after.

However, while Cowie is not ignorant of the realities of modern football, he believes United can appeal to players and parents alike due to the amount of minutes Gussie Park graduates have been afforded.

In starting against Queen’s Park, Miller Thomson became the 13th different homegrown player to feature for Jim Goodwin’s side this term. He was arguably a sole silver lining in a dire display by United against Airdrie on Tuesday night. 

Academy graduates Miller Thomson, left, and Kai Fotheringham take the acclaim of Dundee United supporters.
Academy graduates Miller Thomson and Kai Fotheringham take the acclaim of Dundee United supporters. Image: Richard Wiseman / Dundee United FC

“I wouldn’t say it’s a challenge (to hold on to youngsters), and that’s because we have a visible pathway,” Cowie told Courier Sport. “We afford our young players opportunities and I believe parents, and the players themselves, recognise that.

“It’s a compliment when clubs come and look at our players because we are obviously doing something right. But we want to provide an elite environment and experience that ensures players don’t want to leave.”

Cowie: We want to see our kids in tangerine

That will be music to the ears of United fans, with some perceiving that the club have sought to hype up and cash in on their youngsters as quickly as possible in previous years.

The likes of Rory MacLeod, Alan Domeracki and Lewis O’Donnell have reportedly attracted interest from England, while visiting scouts are understood to have taken an interest in the progress of Owen Stirton.

Dundee United academy director Paul Cowie.
Dundee United academy director Paul Cowie. Image: Paul Reid.

“There are always going to be players who are captured by bigger clubs and maybe, financially, that is right for the club sometimes,” added Cowie. “We are realistic.

“However, we want to see our players in the Dundee United team. The fans want to see them in a tangerine shirt. There’s nothing better for the academy coaches than seeing one of our players in that environment.

“For me, the aim is to get them into the senior side and see if they can make a number of appearances; grow as a player in front of OUR fans.

“Once they are at that level, the exposure will only be heightened and then they can capture a bigger audience.”

United academy players given first-team exposure

Scott Constable became the second-youngest player to ever feature for the United senior side earlier this season, while Stirton is the first graduate of the Baldragon Academy Performance School to make his debut.

Scott Constable.
Scott Constable enters the fray. Image: SNS

“Some of our players have been given fantastic exposure at first-team level, with the gaffer (Goodwin) trusting them to be involved in senior training and match-day squads,” continued Cowie.

“We would love to get them to a position where they can get more minutes. It has given them such an incentive; that taste of it.

“But it’s important to manage that. Yes, they will go up and experience that level, but they need to come out and go in (to the senior set-up) at the right times.”

Scottish Youth Cup aim

United’s academy was relaunched in 2019 following Mark Ogren’s takeover, swiftly attaining Scottish FA elite status.

And, while Cowie notes “patience is always really important” when assessing the progress made, he is hopeful supporters can start to see the work coming to fruition.

As well as several players making their senior bows, Andy Payne’s under-18s will face Rangers in the Scottish FA Youth Cup last-four on Friday, seeking to reach the final for the first time since 1998.

Paul Cowie at Dundee United's new look Foundation Park.
Paul Cowie at Foundation Park. Image: Paul Reid

“We have a rich history when it comes to bringing through young players and we want that in the future, too,” continues Cowie. “Whether it’s coaching, physical performance, analysis, education, or player care, we want to keep getting better.

“People will look at results – and there is certainly some visible momentum with the under-18s – but we look at the individual players, and how we are developing and supporting young people.

“We can’t rub a crystal ball and say, “this player will play for Dundee United”, and there are factors like growth and maturation. There are ups and downs. But we have players who are progressing at a good rate throughout our age groups.

“We are competing with the bigger clubs in the country.”

A ‘local feel’

Cowie is fulsome in his praise for United owner Ogren, who has continued to support the academy despite the tangible cost of relegation.

Courier Sport understands he has ploughed around £5 million into that area of the operation since 2018.

Similarly, he cites the “unbelievable” efforts of fans’ group Dundee United Supporters Foundation, who contributed £382,000 towards the redevelopment of the youth base at Foundation Park.

All the while, Cowie has put his stamp on the academy since replacing Andy Goldie.

He may be more understated than his predecessor, but is no less driven – and he believes his restructured team, supplemented by “dedicated” part-time staff, reflects that.

Paul Dixon is back at the club as an individual coach analyst.
Paul Dixon, formerly of United, is back at the club’s academy as an individual coach analyst. Image: SNS

“There is a more local feel to the demographic of our coaching staff,” added Cowie. “We have people who know Dundee United as a club and understand the history and where we want to go.

“We want the best possible talent pool of coaches to develop our young players.

“There have been changes in personnel and I believe I’ve got good, committed people around me supporting the academy players. That restructuring has massively helped.”