DONALD Gillies has been noting the subtle differences between life in the United States and Scotland . . . and the not-so small ones. The former head of girls’ and women’s development for the Scottish Football Association left these shores in August for a job with Major League Soccer’s Colorado Rapids as a technical director within the club’s youth structure and has been settling into his role ever since.

Those small differences?

“My son James came home from school the other day and he was asking his brother for an eraser. I asked him why he was calling it an eraser and he said ‘I asked for a rubber in class today and everybody laughed at me because they thought I was asking for a condom’.”

Language barriers aside, Gillies, who is living in Castle Rock, around 45 minutes drive from Denver, is relishing life 4500 miles from home but linguistic issues are not the only changes he has had to adjust to. In his role at the SFA, he was responsible for the growth and development of a girl’s and women’s game that boasted 14,000 registered playing members across Scotland.

His new club’s youth set-up has 10,000 members alone paying thousands of dollars per year to be coached in the Rapids’ system. That number swells to 15,000 if you include players enrolled in the club’s outreach programme.

Never mind a different country, those are the kind of numbers that suggest the approach to football development in the States is on another planet.

At the end of a week in which Celtic became the second team in the SWPL to become fully professional, Gillies, pictured, who spent 12 years at the SFA, offered his views on what needs to happen next if the sport in this country is to properly capitalise on the opportunity it was presented with following qualification for the World Cup last summer.

That feat brought approximately £400,000 to the association’s coffers and there have been calls within the game for the clubs to start seeing the benefit of that windfall as England and Europe’s elite clubs continue to circle for cheap talent. Last month, Jamie Lee Napier, who scored 22 goals for Hibernian last season, agreed to join FA Women’s Premier League giants Chelsea. The Edinburgh outfit received nothing in return for the Scotland Under-19 midfielder. It is a recurring theme in the women’s game.

“It was the biggest bugbear of mine,” he says. “It was difficult to sit at the SFA and watch players go south. Jamie Lee Napier is a good example of that. She has just gone down to Chelsea. On the one hand it is absolutely fantastic and the opportunity that she is going to get is incredible playing with players like Erin Cuthbert and Sam Kerr.

“But how are Hibernian being compensated for that? How are Celtic [where she also played] being compensated for that? They’re not and the English clubs are cherry-picking the best players and showing them opportunities they can provide alongside some of the best players in the world and there’s nothing coming back to Scotland.

“This squarely lies at FIFA and UEFA’s feet. I did a lot of lobbying with individuals from FIFA at the World Cup – as did [chief executive] Ian Maxwell – but the biggest fear that FIFA and UEFA have is that it stops the growth of the women’s game. They say they have been working on it for a long period of time but, for the World Cup, for example a lot of the domestic clubs got development payments (approximately £100,000 for players who featured for Scotland in France). Obviously there was a lot of money that went back to clubs like Glasgow City and Hibs but who is benefiting from the work that is being put into players like Jamie Lee?”

Gillies is careful not to sound like a cheerleader for his former employers but he also points out that a number of ongoing issues within the women’s game are well known within Hampden’s corridors and have been discussed for a number of years, including an oft-mooted strategic review of which details remain hazy.

He believes there are difficult conversations to be had, not least around what should happen with Scottish Women’s Football, the body that looks after the interests and administration of the clubs.

“There was a strategy in place for developing the game when I was in post. The difficulty for me in writing the strategy for the game in Scotland was the clubs and the leagues. I can’t write a strategy or the person in place can’t write a strategy for another organisation that sits externally. They can try to work together but, ultimately, how does the SFA hold an affiliate national association responsible for their marketing or their league?

“ I made it reasonably clear to them that the best way forward for the women’s game was to have a unified body delivering the game. I felt it would be better for the clubs both from a structural and financial perspective.

“The difficulty is that the SWF are a self-sufficient organisation. The clubs in the women’s game take their membership from them and there has been loads of conflict between the SWF and the SFA over the years from a financial perspective. It probably took the World Cup and the windfall that came from it to put that conversation back on the radar.”

The wider fear is that the chance will pass by and the women’s game will fail to take advantage of last summer’s feel-good factor. Gillies, though, remains upbeat that the relevant stakeholders will come together for the common good.

“I have no doubt – and it’s not just the party line – that by 2023 there will be a strategy in place. My biggest question mark is whether the change is going to be big enough to take the women’s game to the next level.”

The biggest losers are the clubs. Shorn of the potential to attract investment they are dependent on whatever they can raise through their own efforts but often those attempts are spread too thinly due to lack of resources. Gillies believes there is potential, pointing out the plethora of sponsorship opportunities that presented themselves to the SFA once qualification for the World Cup was secured. Meanwhile, he has his own ideas about what should happen to the £400,000 secured last summer.

“The players require a dedicated member of staff,” he says. “There are too many SWPL 1 and 2 clubs that could have done that and chose to do other things. Some of the clubs should have appointed full-time head coaches. I know there are extenuating circumstances around that but if clubs can put someone in place who says ‘I am looking after you as a player’ then they will get more out of the player. They might still lose the player, I’m not being naive about it but the player might think twice.”

It sounds as if Mount Florida’s loss is Colorado’s gain and the SFA appear to have said farewell to someone who had the right ideas about how best to solve so many of the conundrums affecting the women’s game but, while the association has opted to wait before appointing a successor, Gillies believes there is no rush.

“When I was leaving I was working to have everything that I was doing covered and in place for a period of time,” he adds. “I didn’t believe it made sense to put somebody in place at that point when they were going to go through this review. I fully expect them to appoint a head of girls’ and women’s football again. It has maybe taken longer than people would have wanted but I expect them to do it.”

Whoever takes on the role will have big shoes to fill.