Fife Elite Academy can be best in Europe, says new chairman Henry McLeish

Henry McLeish - chairman of the Fife Elite Football Academy - delivers his vision at Auchmuty High School.
Henry McLeish - chairman of the Fife Elite Football Academy - delivers his vision at Auchmuty High School.

The new chairman of the Fife Elite Football Academy says he wants to make it the best breeding ground for young footballers in Europe.

Having spent the majority of his adult life in politics, former Scottish First Minister Henry McLeish is well versed in delivering killer soundbites.

But giving his vision for the FEFA in front of the Press and representatives from all four Fife senior clubs at Auchmuty High School in Glenrothes, he insisted that, with the correct framework in place, the Kingdom could be a leader on the continental stage.

Set up in 2014, the FEFA saw Cowdenbeath, Dunfermline, Raith Rovers and East Fife agree to merge and support one regionalised youth structure.

It assured youngsters of an increase in the amount of coaching sessions available to them, have access to a coach qualified to at least Licence level and an opportunity to compete against the best players in Scotland at their age level due to FEFA taking part in the Elite Games programme.

Now Mr McLeish, who in 2010 delivered a major report into the Scottish game, says he wants to develop the academy even further and he has set no ceiling on just how far it can be taken.

He said: “I’m in a position to try and help all the great work which has been done in Fife over the past few years.

“I don’t say this lightly, I want the Fife Elite Football Academy to be simply the best in Europe.

“We have the solid foundations and I want to progress that even further.”

Mr McLeish, who was joined at Auchmuty by the head of academy coaching, former Rangers and Aberdeen defender Stephen Wright, reckons getting even deeper into schools and uncovering the potential in the Kingdom’s classrooms is key to finding the next Jim Baxter or Scott Brown.

“Fife has 55,000 young people in its schools and in those 55,000 we’ll find the Andrew Carnegies, the Alexander Selkirks, the Adam Smiths, the Jim Baxters - all part of Fife’s great heritage,” said Mr McLeish, who played professionally with East Fife.

“If there’s talent to be got we’ll find it in our schools.

“This progressive, unique model is all about children and young people, clubs, community and country.

“Regional academies have proved to the people at Hampden that we can do a job.”

The list of players to have signed for Raith Rovers from the Fife Elite Academy includes current apprentices James Berry and Ryan Stevenson, as well as Sean Mackie, who was transferred to Hibs last season.

A Raith spokesman said: “The appointment of Henry McLeish as chairman, which we fully endorse, will help raise the profile of the Academy in Scottish football.”

A spokesman for East Fife added that the club is “delighted” Mr McLeish has been appointed chairman of FEFA.

“We remain committed to a regional academy supported by the four senior clubs,” he said.