NOT having his contract renewed by Ross County amid the coronavirus pandemic and football shutdown has left Richard Foster facing an uncertain future.

The 34-year-old right back, who made 27 appearances for the Ladbrokes Premiership club in the 2019/20 season, is keen to play on. But he knows, with Scottish football in a state of disarray as a result of the Covid-19 outbreak, that doing so may not be easy.

Yet, the former Aberdeen, Rangers and St Johnstone defender is far more concerned about what the months ahead hold for the 10 youngsters who were released by County along with him yesterday, as well as other hopefuls elsewhere who have suffered the same fate, than his own predicament.

He is fearful about the impact losing their jobs at such a tender age will have on them psychologically at time when they are unable to find alternative employment. He is worried they will be forced to leave the game. And he anticipates the long-term consequences of that for the sport he loves could be severe.

“We constantly hear about mental health these days and being locked in the house for so long has undoubtedly created a whole plethora of mental health issues across every person in Scotland, not just football players,” said Foster.

“Think of the mental health of these young guys who suddenly don’t have a job, don’t have an income, don’t have any prospect of getting a job in the next couple of months in the only thing they know and have no savings to fall back on. There was almost a duty of care from the clubs, certainly morally, to look after the players better.

“If I don’t get another job as a player, it isn’t going to impact my life a great deal. Yes, I will be sad and, yes, I want to keep playing as long as I’m fit enough. But I can look back and say: ‘I am happy with what I have done. I have had 19 years of professional football, playing at a good level with good teams, I am happy with that’.

“But these kids are going to have to look at different jobs to fund their lives and they could grow away from football. If they do it is difficult to get back into it. That would be the worry and that is where I think the club have maybe let themselves down.”

Foster was highly critical of County owner Roy MacGregor for refusing to offer players short-term extensions to their deals and then take advantage of the government furlough scheme. The businessman described that as “dishonest”. But the defender feels the actions of many clubs will come back to bite them.

“The furlough system was there and it should have been utilised to give clubs and players time to see what happens instead of making judgements now not fully understanding or knowing what is going to happen in future,” he said.

“I have trained with these boys. There were a lot of good players. Were some of them ready for the first team? Probably not, that’s why they’ve been let go. But some of them probably needed six months, a year and then they would have been ready to play in the first team.

“You are losing out on that, on one of the youth players coming through your system, just because you are making harsh cuts at the moment. In a year’s time, two years’ time, three years’ time, where are the players going to come from?

“The youth players are the future of all clubs and if you are getting rid of them to save money it is a short-term fix. It is like putting a plaster on a gunshot wound. It might help you for a little while, but in the long-run if you have got no kids coming through . . .

“If you get rid of your youth system, very few players at 16 are ready to go into the first team. From 16 to 20 where do you go? There is a gap there. If you’re not bringing players through, and no club is bringing players through, there is going to come a stage in three or four years’ time where there are no players. That is the issue.

“If you are asking kids of 16 or 17 to step in and play first team it is a very big jump and a lot of kids aren’t ready. They come into the team and you think: ‘That’s great! They’re 16 or 17 and they’re playing in the first team!’ But then they get so bewildered by it because it is too big a step for them. It is a sad state of affairs. It just seems we are so quick to cut the young ones off.”

The SPFL are currently weighing up how to get football restarted in this country and are hoping to get the go-ahead to resume training next month at a meeting with the Scottish government on Friday.

However, they are facing playing Premiership games behind closed doors and offering fans virtual season tickets while in the Championship reducing the season to 18 games and starting it in 2021 has even been mooted.

Foster, though, suspects that many decisions, including those to release players, are being made too hastily.

“I think we have written ourselves off too quickly,” he said. “The scientists that are looking into the vaccine have suggested that by September they will have one, but there might not be enough cases for them to test it. The virus will have gone away. Coronaviruses have a shelf life, they all follow a similar pattern. It will burn itself out. I am quite positive about the future.

“Ross County might realise they didn’t need to make the severe cuts they thought they were going to have to because the trajectory of the virus has slowed, has stopped. From October we might be able to play in stadium full of people.

“Say we get to September, there’s a vaccine, the virus has gone away, we can play as normal - and I know that is very optimistic – are the clubs going to go back and resign these players? The players are probably still going to be there, they will still need a contract, but they might have moved on to something else.

“That is my point with the furlough. It gives you at least one to two months of time. You don’t need to make these harsh decisions that impact on so many lives in so many different ways. You can make the same decision in two months if nothing has changed but at least you’ve given yourself the opportunity.”