HE played for no fewer than 10 different clubs in Scotland, England and the United States during a professional football career that lasted 16 years and weighed in with a goal or two along the way.

Yet, Allan Russell, the former Hamilton Academical, St Mirren, Partick Thistle, Airdrie United and Kilmarnock striker, can count on the fingers of one hand the number of training sessions he took part in which pertained directly to his particular position. 

“I can remember Andy Millen (his team mate at St Mirren) taking me out and going through some basic movement,” he said. “I can also recall Kenny Black (his manager at Airdrie) talking about aspects of movement. I promise you, that was it.”

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Anyone whose job was to lead the line, provide a cutting edge up front and convert the scoring opportunities their team created in the final third back in the 1990s and 2000s will have a similar story to tell.

The complete absence of specialist centre-forward coaching from youth right up to senior level in that era and those which preceded it, though, did not stop Scotland from producing exceptional marksmen. 

So why does Russell, who has worked in that field, including with Harry Kane, since retiring from playing, believe it is a major reason that no top-class strikers have emerged in his homeland in the past decade?

Walk a "myelin" the shoes of the former England attack coach, Aberdeen assistant and Norwich City set piece guru and you start to understand.

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“A great deal of it is to do with the learning of a young striker,” he said. “In the past, there would be a lot of peer-led learning when children were growing up. Kids would be in the park with their mates. They would be constantly doing stuff with the ball, they would be constantly experimenting, they would just constantly have a ball at their feet.

“The world has changed a lot from a social perspective. Now there is a lot less peer-led learning. There are a lot fewer kids with the ball at their feet at the park. It is a really basic thing to say, but it is still true.

“There is something called myelin. The more you do something, the more myelin builds up around the axons which transmit messages in your brain. The more myelin you have, the more you can execute clear, concise actions under pressure. The build-up of myelin in kids’ systems is a lot less than it used to be.

“Scotland used to produce good strikers who had spent every day in courts, in cages, on the streets, with their mates when they were growing up. They had then gone in to clubs and been given structure and guidance. But they still benefitted from what they learned when they were younger. It was relevant to how their brain functioned.”

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Russell continued: “The next issue is how players are being taught at clubs as they hone their craft. How are they being educated? And I mean in proper sessions, detailed sessions. It should all be based on the individual profile.

“The big thing is how intelligent the actual repetition and movement are and how deep the practice is in the training that the strikers are doing at their club when they are young. You can learn when you are older. But a lot of it comes down to what your habits are when you are younger.

“There is a clear problem there. Why is Scotland no longer producing iconic strikers in a dark blue jersey? For me, there are issues now with how much time kids are on their own playing football with their mates and how kids are being coached in clubs.”

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This hypothesis begs a question.

Andy Robertson, Kieran Tierney, Aaron Hickey, Billy Gilmour, Callum McGregor, John McGinn and Scott McTominay are all starring for Scotland, who are on the verge of Euro 2024 qualification after winning their first five matches, just now.

They have become proven Premiership and Premier League performers without working with centre-half, left-back, right-back, central defensive midfielder and playmaker coaches in their formative years.

So could our strikers not have scaled the same heights without one-to-one guidance as well? Not according to Russell.

“The intricacies of being a striker are so different,” he said. “It is like training a different animal altogether. They are selfish, narcissistic, individual beasts and they want all the attention. So that is what you have to give them. 

“As a striker, you are a player who is constantly making runs and almost never getting the ball. You are the player who is relied upon to be the difference between three points and no points. You are the player everyone is looking at in the changing room at the end of a match if you have missed from eight yards. Nobody is saying it, but everyone is thinking, ‘C’mon mate, you could have scored that’.

“But how many repetitions was that player allowed during the week to really master that finish? Or to master the situations he finds himself in? Or to master how he times his runs? Or to master how he controls a cross when he has reset onto his back foot? These are all the things that are so important.

“A midfielder can give the ball away and then 30 seconds later find it is at his feet again. A striker can give the ball away and might have to wait six minutes until his next touch comes. That is a lot of time in their head. The emotional side of it, the mental side of it, the psychological side of it, are so, so different as well.”

READ MOREStriking Out: Where have Scotland's top-class centre-forwards gone?

Russell added: “I have been lucky. I have worked with, and still work with, some of the top strikers in the world. We speak a lot about inner-management. If you have missed an opportunity, what are your anchors? How do you manage that error in your head so you don’t overthink the next touch, the next lay-off or the next finish? It comes from the training.

“How you structure a striker’s training is also so important. What you are exposing them to and how they deal with it should be based on what day of the week it is. The closer you get to match day, the more you want to encourage less errors around the drills. At the beginning of the week, you can work on development and errors, but less so towards the end of the week.

“People might say, ‘Anyone can put on a striker drill!’ But what is the content? What is the real, deep, meaningful content within those sessions? Yes, anyone can put a session on, but how are you actually training and improving the mind of that player during that session when it comes to errors, when it comes to the time in between each finish?

“If I am doing a group session, I am focused on the players who are finishing. But I am still giving the guys who are waiting on their next finish some technical and psychological cues. Alright, how are you managing the next 90 seconds because you have just missed a chance and you are about to get exactly the same chance again in 90 seconds? What is your thought process?

“A lot of players don’t know how to do that. A lot of players will try and fix things. They need to say, ‘Okay, I’ve missed that, but I know why I have missed it and I know what I need to do to fix it’. But a lot of players don’t know.”

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So does Russell, whose Superior Striker programme has attracted distinguished devotees around the globe since being launched in 2012, feel that an increased emphasis on specialist coaching from grassroots level up would help Scotland to reverse a concerning trend and bring through a new generation of Ally McCoists, Kevin Gallachers and Kenny Millers in the future?

“One million per cent,” he said. “Without doubt. There is a reason the wealthiest football organisation in the world (the Football Association) brought me in as a striker coach. They realised how important the specifics of being a striker are. It is not a surprise the top clubs with money bring in specialist coaches. 

“I have been an attack coach at England, I have been an assistant manager at Aberdeen, I have been a set piece coach at Norwich. It is really difficult for the head coach and his assistant to control every area of the team and make them all really fruitful. That is why specialist coaches are so important. That needs to happen at younger age groups as well, it really does.

“If Scotland grasped this, would the consequences be significant? Yeah, absolutely. This is not about bringing a striker coach in for the national team. What are the SFA doing for kids at a younger age to really, really train strikers? I know a lot of really good coaches. But I don’t know what the academies are doing.

“There is a difference between training strikers and having a real focus on producing strikers. A big, big difference.”

In Striking Out tomorrow: How a ‘c****’ centre-forward from Glasgow became ‘the world’s No 1 striker coach'

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