KENNY SHIELS claims he isn’t afraid to put ‘his head on a block’ following his stinging criticism of Derry’s junior football coaches.
The Derry City boss is aware his criticism of the city’s youth football clubs - whom he says are responsible for a lack of players coming through the Candy Stripes’ youth structures - will make him ‘a lot of enemies’.
I’m putting my neck out there for people to criticise. I don’t mind that but they can’t criticise me because all I’m saying is ‘Give us your best players. We will take them to the next levelKenny Shiels
However, while he knows his comments will cause offence, he’s hoping people will understand his intention is to help young players secure a pathway into the professional game while improving Derry City Football Club.
It’s the second time this year the Derry City manager has aired his concerns about the supply line from Derry & District Youth clubs drying up with alarmingly 80 per cent of the club’s underage players hailing from Donegal!
Back in March, Shiels claimed the Candy Stripes’ youth coaches were ‘hitting a brick wall’ and talked about a reluctance to join the North West’s only full-time professional club.
And six months later, despite the arrival of Celtic and Derry City legend, Paddy McCourt as Head of Youth Development, Shiels says there is still an impasse.
“I’m going to make a lot of enemies but it’s not about me,” said the Derry manager. “It’s about getting the best opportunities for these young players. They’ve got to understand that.
“I don’t think any Derry City manager has come out and said this. My head’s on the block in terms of young players but the club believes in me. I’m contracted right up until the next decade.
“I’m really pleased about that and I’m going to continue the good work. I’m up for the fight! I’m putting my neck out there for people to criticise. I don’t mind that but they can’t criticise me because all I’m saying is ‘Give us your best players. We will take them to the next level’.
“I don’t want to offend people but sometimes you have to step up and tell the truth and that’s what I’m doing. I won’t walk away from any fight.”
Shiels is confident McCourt’s influence will have a positive impact but doesn’t believe the club will see the full benefit of the Shantallow man’s work until further down the line.
“It’s too early for Patrick to have had a massive impact because he’s only started on the preliminary work. He’s doing a fantastic job. They’re going to respect Paddy because of his credibility and the message it sends out to parents as he is so highly thought of.
“But he also has other skills. I don’t want to pigeonhole Paddy as being a great footballer. We’ve got to look at the other assets he brings to the table. What he’s doing now won’t impact immediately, it will take time to get the cycle going again.
“Most of the players in our U19s are from Donegal and the U17s as well so it’s going to take Paddy a bit of time to have that influence through the age groups.”
The Maghera man has worked as a youth coach with the IFA, Tranmere Rovers and as director of the Scottish FA’s Forth Valley Football Academy during his career.
And he believes Derry City offers the best structure for young players in the North West to progress to a higher level, claiming the child’s welfare should come before a coach’s ego.
“There’s integrity in what we do. It’s about trying to get a winning formula and a youth system that’s dominated by Derry players.
“Our track record tells you that the best pathway for the best young players is at Derry City. It’s not rocket science!
“I’ve been an academy director in two countries. My ethos is the right ethos. I always try to help the players get better, not to win trophies. If you’ve got a youth system that’s winning trophies, it’s an egotistical thing. Everyone wants to be a winner and I can respect that and appreciate that but the children’s welfare must come first. And their improvement has to be a priority. Winning trophies is not what youth football is about.
“We’d like to get two or three years out of them if they’re very good and then sell them on. We’re not hiding that fact but we don’t put that as a priority. Our priority is to help young players get better - nothing else matters to me but to my club, they want it to be cost effective and I can appreciate that.
“There have been clubs coming to us looking for money for players we’ve brought through and we will always look after the boys’ clubs when they give players to us.
“But the medal the youth coaches should be putting around their neck is the one that’s got the boy to Derry City Football Club or if they’ve made him better.”