Opinion: 7 academy players ready to make Spurs first-team impact in 2025/26

For a while, the Tottenham Hotspur academy would play its own brand of football, instilled with the club’s DNA, in direct contradiction to how the first team was playing under Jose, Nuno and Conte.

This was a real sign to anyone paying attention to the academy that Daniel Levy never viewed those managers as long-term projects, as there was no parity between the first team and the academy, which made the pathway for youngsters incredibly difficult.

Over the last 15 years, notable graduates can only include the likes of Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend, Oliver Skipp, Kane, and others, with those players barring Skipp earning senior England caps, which is something to be proud of, but when you compare Hotspur Way’s academy output compared to Cobham or City’s academy, it’s just not on the same level.

The biggest success is, of course, Tottenham’s all-time Premier League leading goalscorer Harry Kane, and to produce a centre forward of that immense quality is a testament to the academy; it’s just not consistent enough in producing the expected quality a top club is meant to be achieving. 

In fairness to Jose Mourinho, he was quite good with how he blooded in youth and certainly was the better of the three, although when the fan base is clamouring for Troy Parrott to get minutes in 2020 due to injuries to other first-team forwards, the academy construct wasn’t best preparing Parrott for how Jose would need him to play.

Conte believed that first-team academy players should be ready-made to step up immediately, without the need for much development input from him. While the academy was trying to play expansive, attacking football, any players called up to first-team training would be exposed to a contradictory mentality and formation.

It’s cited that Conte would often call up players from Wayne Burnett’s U21s to be used almost like static training cones in matches, whilst also sabotaging Wayne’s training plans for the day; some would even be called up on matchday, leaving the U21s light with numbers which inadvertently led to a poor season for the U21s as they tasted relegation and we’re only saved by a rule change which expanded the teams in PL2 so they we’re able to stay up.

Since Fabio Paratici’s appointment, he’s made a conscious effort to bring Spurs into the modern, big club mould by increasing the pay structure to retain top talent and bringing Spurs packages and offerings more on par with what other top clubs would be offering. 

We’re starting to see the fruits of Fabio’s labour as Spurs have been able to make a number of top signings under his leadership such as the acquisition of Jude Soonsup-bell from Chelsea and Herbie James from Manchester City.

Retaining top talent has become a priority too after Spurs lost a talent in Romain Mundle, Spurs sought to bring parity to their offers which allowed them to secure the futures of players that are highly sought after by the top clubs such as Mikey Moore and Callum Olusesi.

Despite tasting relegation last season, the Spurs academy boys actually won the U17 and U18s PL cup double last season.

I’m going to highlight 7 current academy players who should be making some form of impact in the first-team squad whether that’s through rotational integration or starting roles.

Callum Olusesi (16) –

Spurs fended off Manchester United to secure the contract extension of the highly-rated midfielder of Nigerian descent. Born in Lambeth, Olusesi has become tied with England U17s, earning an impressive 7 caps already. Yaya Toure, former Tottenham academy coach, highlighted the all-action midfielder and earmarked him for future success, dubbing him a ‘top grade’ talent for his age group.

Olusesi was also part of Spurs’ U17 and U18 Cup double-winning sides, playing an important role last term, he’s also won the Montagu Cup with England U16s.

I envisage Olusesi’s future to be fruitful, he’ll complete this season at Hotspur way with the potential to make some U21 appearances too, next year he should be more fully integrated in the U21s and by the time 2025/26 comes around, either he’ll go on a significant championship loan or gain some minutes in the cups, one to watch.

He’s magic, Olusesi, his dribbles are fast and mazy! He’s magic, Olusesi, he drives the opposition crazy!

Herbie James (16) –

Signed from Manchester City’s academy, young Herbie James hails from Macclesfield and plays on the wing to great effect. Holding a black belt in Karate, the 2006-born winger also holds citizenship in the Bahamas. Signing a significant 3-year contract, James is evident of the shift in mentality when it comes to attracting and retaining talent at the Academy after Paratici increased its wage structure. 

Spurs fought off interest from Everton and Wolves to secure the signing of James on a free transfer, making his U18s debut in a 4-0 win off the bench vs Norwich. I see James progressing well in the academy before making his debut for the first team in a cup game next season and being a serious rotational option on the wing when the 2025/26 season rolls around, due to his versatility and his driven personality.

He was even quoted saying he’s ‘looking forward to playing in the 2026 World Cup’, While that tournament might come a bit too soon for young James, I wouldn’t put it past him to be playing in the 2028 Euros on home territory when he’s a 21 year old.

Herbie James plays on either wing, he gets us on our feet and he makes the Park Lane sing!

ENFIELD, ENGLAND – MAY 07: Jamie Donley of Tottenham Hotspur during the Premier League 2 match between Tottenham Hotspur U21 and West Ham United U21 at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre on May 07, 2023 in Enfield, England. (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)

Jamie Donley (18) –

Hailing from Antrim, Northern Ireland, Donley is a left-footed, versatile attacker who grew up in Colchester and has been Tottenham through and through since he joined the academy at the age of 8. His father, also a passionate Spurs fan, has been seen to be super supportive of young Jamie and his teammates. 

Despite some appearances for the youth levels of Northern Ireland, Donley has opted to play more for the England youth set-up with two caps for the U19s. The starlet has been in fine form this season with 17 goal involvements in 11 appearances, driving the U21s forward and at the top of the table with 8 wins out of 8.

In my personal opinion, his playstyle and movement have been similar to Harry Kane’s, certainly not a bad player to emulate. The striking of the ball, particularly the cross shot as he unleashes from the edge of the box, low and hard into the corner reminds me of Kane, so much raw potential.

Young Donley also recently made the bench for Spurs against Wolves, in what should be a great experience for the lad when it comes to experiencing a proper match day, showing him just what it takes to succeed at this level.

I see Donley making his Spurs debut this season with the potential to go on loan for next season in the Championship, rounding his abilities out to be ready to make a first-team impact in the 2025/26 season.

He’s in your head, in your head. Donley! Donley! Donley! ly ly ly.

Will Lankshear (18) –

Tottenham bought Lankshear from Sheffield United for £2m in 2022, signing a 3-year contract. The Hertfordshire-born forward has been lauded for his prolific goal-scoring and natural poaching instincts, earning those merits by scoring 38 goals in 48 appearances for the Sheffield United youth teams. They were ready to offer him a new contract, with manager Paul Heckingbottom being quoted as saying that he has “a good gift to score goals”, unfortunately for Sheffield United, Spurs and Brentford came sniffing around. 

The young forward opted to take the step up with Spurs. 

Lankshear marked his U18 Spurs debut by bagging a brace off the bench to drag his team back level and even scored after just 46 seconds in the UEFA Youth League against Sporting Lisbon. His abilities are well renowned and the U21s make good use of his abilities as a pure striker with 10 goal involvements in 10 games.

Formerly of the Arsenal academy, Lankshear should see plenty of playtime for the U21s to develop as he leads the line along with Jude Soonsup-Bell and Jamie Donley. I can envisage Lankshear going on a strong League One or Championship loan next season before being used as a backup striker from 2025/26 onwards. 

Could his pathway suggest anything close to the career of Harry Kane, Spurs will certainly hope so. 

We love you Lankshear, we do, bleeding Lilywhite, you do! We love you Lankshear, we do! Oh, Lankshear we love you!

Alfie Dorrington (18) –

Local lad Dorrington was born in Enfield, joining us at the age of 13 and internationally capped at England youth levels too, representing England from the U15s at every level to the U19s. The towering centre-back currently stands tall at 6ft 4 inches, a giant for the lad’s age group, he’s currently training with the first team due to suspensions and injuries to first-team defenders, even making the bench alongside Jamie Donley at Spurs’ previous match against Wolves

The captain of Spurs U21s, Dorrington loves driving forward with the ball and making confident, striding runs to support attackers upfield. Seemingly the epitome of what Ange is looking for in his defenders, tall, fast and most importantly, confident on the ball.

Alfie should make his Spurs debut his season and I don’t think he needs to go on loan, he’ll get plenty of playtime when Eric Dier is inevitably phased out and Ben Davies goes back to playing Left-back. The partnership of Ashley Phillips and Alfie Dorrington is an exciting one, with Luka Vuskovic arriving in 2025 to provide seriously strong competition to the England youth internationals. Dorrington will be a blooded first-team player by the time 2025/26 rolls around whilst being on the cusp of an England senior cap.

We’ve got Dorrington, Alfie Dorrington, I just don’t think you understand, big at the back, tall in attack, we’ve got Dorrington!

Alfie Devine (19) –

The most high-profile player on this list, Devine is no secret. Hailing from Warrington, England, Alfie joined Spurs from Wigan in 2020 for around £300,000 and he’d go on to debut for Spurs senior team in January 2021, coming on as a substitute and scoring a goal in Spurs 5-0 FA Cup win vs Marine. 

He became the youngest player to debut for Spurs at 16 years and 163 days, as well as scoring. 

Devine was an academy player at Liverpool but joined Wigan after being released, and left Wigan when they went into administration as Spurs snapped up the youngster. An attacking midfielder with excellent two-footed close control, Jose Mourinho is quoted as saying “he [has] an instinct to appear in finishing zones to score goals”, high praise from a legendary manager.

Winning player of the tournament at the Sportschain AGS Cup with England U16s was only the start for Devine’s international youth career as he started in the 2022 UEFA Euro Under-19 championship final as England went on to beat Israel 3-1 in extra time, adding silverware to his collection. Alfie also trained with the England Senior Squad in September 2023.

Currently, Devine has a brilliant loan in League One with Port Vale, converting a penalty in stoppage time to secure the 3 points against Oxford United. He also scored the winner against Mansfield Town to send Port Vale to the quarter-finals of the league cup for the final time in the club’s history. At just 19, Alfie Devine is already making Port Vale history.

I suspect Aflie to be a first-team player when he comes home next season, as a creative understudy to James Maddison.

He looks so good, he looks so fine, Alfie Devine, you’re on my mind! 

Mikey Moore (16) –

The Southwark-born attacker is the worst-kept secret in wunderkind football. Earning plaudits from Yaya Toure and being sought out by several clubs around Europe according to Fabrizio Romano, Mikey Moore is turning heads with incredible performances for the England and Spurs youth groups.

Moore penned a new contract until 2026 in July earlier this year and since then he’s had 28 goal involvements in 14 games for club and country, including a hat-trick vs Croatia U17s. There is a serious buzz around Moore from all aspects of the academy and the outside world, even becoming one of the highest-rated potential prospects on Football Manager 2024.

He was named by The Guardian as one of the best first-year scholars in the Premier League in October 2023 and the young attacking winger, who can play on both flanks and even through the middle, was one of the youngest ever players to debut for the U21s when he was just 15. He scored a brace in the U17 PL Cup final as a schoolboy, adding the U18 PL Cup to his collection too.

I feel that Moore has something to offer the first team next season as this year is all about development with Spurs U21s and rising higher in the England Youth ranks. It’s been a long time since we were this excited about a prospect breaking through the academy, Postecoglou seems like the perfect manager to integrate him into the squad next season when he’s 17.

Nice on Mikey, nice one Moore, nice one Mikey we’ll sing as you score!

Fabio Paratici has done an excellent job reviving the academy along with John McDermott, Wayne Burnett, Richard Allen, Pat Holland and others working behind the scenes. It’s finally looking like we’ll be able to bolster more successful alumni to Hotspur Way in the near future.

Top clubs consistently have talent on the conveyor belt, whether they integrate them like Arsenal has done with Saka, City with Foden, Chelsea with James and more, or they’re sold for healthy profit like City with Palmer, Chelsea with Livramento etc. 

Spurs are developing a new dimension and are finally on parity with other top clubs to develop enticing packages to attract and retain the best talent for the future of Tottenham Hotspur.

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