Dundee youth chief Stephen Wright has hailed the influence of Gordon Strachan on the club saying the former Scotland boss has been “brilliant” for him and the rest of the coaches at Dens Park.
He also revealed as a youth player himself, Wright almost ended up at Dens Park after training with both the Dark Blues and Aberdeen as a teenager.
Despite then-manager Jocky Scott taking training sessions with the young players, it was Sir Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox taking the Dons youngsters and Wright headed to Pittodrie.
Now bringing through the next batch of young players at Dens Park, Wright looks back fondly on his years as a youth talent, signing S forms with Aberdeen in 1986 and rising through the ranks alongside the likes of Eoin Jess and Scott Booth.
The right-back would go on to play twice for Scotland in 1993 before joining Walter Smith’s Rangers in 1995.
He may have chosen the Dons over the Dee back in the eighties but it is Dens Park he now calls home as he spearheads the Dark Blues’ youth academy after moving from Ibrox in February 2019.
Looking back at his formative football years, Wright said: “Things are completely different now, of course.
“When I was coming through you played with your boys club until you were 15 and then you signed S Forms with a club.
“I was actually training with Dundee believe it or not as well as Aberdeen. We’d train with the boys club as usual but then train with Aberdeen and Dundee once a month as well as in the holidays.
“Jocky Scott was the manager at Dundee at the time and it was actually him taking us for training. At Aberdeen it was Alex Ferguson and Archie Knox!
“In the end, Aberdeen asked and I went there.
“Having guys like that taking training plays a massive part in selling the club to you, I must say. It was a great time for me.
“As a boy you didn’t really notice too much about who was coaching, you just went out and played.
“Alex Ferguson in particular really looked after the young players and during school holidays you’d be up there training next to the first team.
“He’d come and watch us train and that was massive as a young player.
“You won’t get first-team managers taking youth training very often now but they will come and watch, James McPake certainly does with us.
“There’s something to be said of playing with boys clubs until that age but things have moved on a lot since then with the academies.”
Gordon Strachan impact
Asked whether his path crossed with now-Dundee technical director Gordon Strachan back in his early days at Pittodrie, Wright said of his now colleague: “Gordon had left for Manchester United by that time.
“I didn’t know him really at all before he came to Dundee. I had been in a couple of Scotland squads with him but I know he doesn’t remember that!
“I certainly do.
“He’s been great for us since he came in. He is a lot of help to us coaches. He’ll go through a few different things he’s seen and trends that are going on in youth football, things to implement.
“He’s more about helping us as coaches so we can get better. He’s always on hand to answer any questions we might have or if parents have concerns, he’ll get on and have a chat with them.
“Gordon has been brilliant for us and I know he’s as excited as the rest of us about the link-up with St John’s.”
‘Good times ahead’ for Dee academy
Wright reckons there are “good times ahead” for the Dundee academy as he looks forward to getting back out on the training pitch sometime soon post-lockdown.
Developing their own performance school at St John’s RC High School is the headline story for what’s coming next with the Dundee youth set-up.
The club announced their partnership with the already-successful SFA performance school will start from the summer last week.
Both Strachan and Wright feel the move will take the club’s academy to the next level.
And the youth chief is delighted with how the academy has emerged from a very difficult situation in 2020 as the coronavirus shutdown hit club finances.
Some coaches were laid off but many chose to give their time up for free to keep the players going for the second half of the year.
A second lockdown has delayed the restart for 2021 but Wright is full of admiration for the efforts put in by everybody in the youth department to see the club looking ahead to a bright future, despite the serious concern brought by the pandemic.
He said: “We’ve been OK largely but that’s down to our coaches and they deserve absolutely huge credit for that.
“Looking back a year from now before the first lockdown and we were in a really good place. Then Covid hit and it set us back initially.
“Everything came out about our situation with the coaches and them volunteering. We were back in September and I think as a club we did as much as any academy around with the amount of training and games.
“It’s a real credit to the coaches we have and the club is so grateful to them for giving up their time to keep the boys in training.
“The club certainly recognises all the work and effort the coaches put in.
“We were working fully up to Christmas and then the lockdown came in again before we started up again.
“So there’s not too much impact this time, we’ll just start a bit later.
“There are good times ahead I feel. We just try to strengthen the academy every year. Ultimately we want to produce players for Scott Robertson’s U/18 side and then subsequently the first team.
“We now have the school program and the RPC facility at Caird Park to use as well. We are ready to go when everything starts back up.”