Opinion: Spurs are rebuilding, starting with the youth and aiming for the future

Over the previous decades, Spurs have focused on building a squad for now rather than later. This resulted in neglect towards academy prospects and a transfer policy that focused on ready-made players who could walk into a starting line-up or feature on the bench.

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Mauricio Pochettino’s rebuild beginning in 2014 was the exception to this, with his squad being the youngest in the league for his first three years at the helm. In the 2017/18 season, the squad dropped to third, and just a season later, 11th, followed by 16th in 2019/20. The ageing squad issue was raised by Spurs fans, who notoriously criticised the board after they went 517 days without signing a single player.

With the arrival of José Mourinho, the club attempted to rebuild with a cluster of signings with an average age of 22.1 and departures with an average age of 25.3 (Transfermarkt). Nevertheless, by the end of the 2020/21 season, Spurs were the fourth-oldest squad in the league, at 27.2. Despite a small decrease in 2021/22, where the average decreased to 26.1, Spurs then returned to 27.1 and once again finished fourth in the age table and eighth in the points table.

The disappointments of the 2022/23 season were vast, as the club released a plethora of statements ranging from the appointment of two managers to the banning of a sporting director. Things had to change. This started with the appointment of Scott Munn, who joined Spurs as Chief Football Officer, thus adding another footballing cog to the Tottenham engine. This was followed by the appointment of Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou. The changes to the infrastructure didn’t end there, with Simon Davies joining as academy director and Johan Lange arriving as technical director in October.

The groundwork for a full rebuild started to begin, this time with a focus on the youth and their prospective development. However, before all of this change, Spurs had already brought in two highly touted youngsters, Pape Matar Sarr and Destiny Udogie.

Pape Matar Sarr
Credit: @shooting.practice on Instagram

Pape Matar Sarr

Spurs signed Sarr in 2021 but allowed him to continue to develop with a loan back to Metz. After a successful year there, he returned to the Spurs, but Antonio Conte was reluctant to use his talents, and he only played 212 minutes in the league. Despite this, he shone brightest in the Champions League, where he played alongside Oliver Skipp against AC Milan. Despite Spurs losing 1-0, it was Sarr who made the headlines as he dazzled under the lights at the San Siro. The youngster was calm with the ball and pressed tirelessly, proving that he was indeed ready for regular minutes. 

Sarr had to wait for these, and his arrival at Postecoglou gave him the opportunity to prove his worth. It didn’t take him long, and in the opening game against Manchester United, Sarr was given the start. In the 49th minute, a cutback ball was played into the box, and a marauding Sarr hit it on the half volley, sending the South Stand into jubilation. Since then, Sarr has come on leaps and bounds, making 34 appearances with six goal contributions, a phenomenal start to his first season of regular Premier League football at just 21 years of age.

Photo by: Sam Liam Cornish

Destiny Udogie

Spurs signed Udogie in the summer window of 2022; similarly to Sarr, he was loaned back to the club, and he completed the season for Udinese. Udogie relished this chance to develop and made 33 appearances, contributing to seven goals. Upon his arrival at N17 optimism was high, and pre-season made it evident that he was going to be the starting option. Since then, Udogie has become a mainstay for the Spurs and has been one of the standout performers in the squad. In his second game in Lilywhite, he picked up an assist against Bournemouth. The young left-back didn’t stop there and contributed five goals across the season.

His defensive contributions have been commendable; his recovery pace has allowed Spurs to play a high line, and at Old Trafford, he put in a masterful performance, limiting the threat of Alejandro Garnacho. At only 21 years old, Udogie has been one of the best left-backs in the league across the season and was awarded a new contract until 2030. Unfortunately, he picked up an injury at the end of the season and has had successful surgery to rectify the issue.

New Signings

Over the summer and January transfer windows, Spurs brought in a number of signings that could reinvigorate the team and work under the Postecoglou style of play. The focus shifted to bringing in players who showed high levels of potential in strong leagues. The vast majority of them were under the age of 24, with James Maddison, Guglielmo Vicario, and loan-signing Timo Werner being the exceptions.

Micky van de Ven

The Dutch centre-half joined Spurs in August 2023 for £34.5 million, with the potential for £8.5 million in add-ons. At the time of signing van de Ven, he was just 22 years old and, for many Spurs fans, relatively unknown. Apart from the odd clip of his blistering recovery speed, it was set to be uncovered for the fans upon his first game.

Due to his late arrival, he was thrown into the deep end and started his first game on the opening day of the Premier League against Brentford. Although Brentford’s second goal came from a Van de Ven deflection, the newcomer had a great game and had done enough to secure his spot in the squad.

After his hamstring injury against Chelsea, he was dearly missed, and his return was celebrated by all. He has quickly become a fan favourite, serenaded by the chant adopted from former Spurs player Rafael van der Vaart. (Tottenham Hotspur)

Since his arrival, the defender has become integral to the Postecoglou system due to his pace, which allows for high-line application. With the ball, he is exceptional, often driving the ball forward and firing long balls. To complement this, his feet have earned him three goals across the season, each more impressive than the next. He has broken the Premier League’s top speed record and took a clean sweep of the club’s Player of the Season awards. A truly spectacular first season.

Radu Dragusin
Credit: @shooting.practice on Instagram

Radu Drăgușin

After van de Ven’s hamstring injury and Christian Romero’s suspension, Spurs were forced to adopt a makeshift defence. Spurs lost the game in which they were forced off the pitch and the next two games, which were littered with defensive errors. In January, it was evident that Spurs needed another centre-back as a third option in case of another defensive crisis. After negotiations with both Bayern Munich and Spurs, 22-year-old Radu Drăgușin agreed to sign for Spurs. 

Unfortunately for Drăgușin, he arrived at Spurs following the return of Van de Ven and therefore warmed the bench, picking up minutes in the twilight of games. He was then given his first start against Fulham and, without substantial playtime, struggled to come to grips with the pace of the game. However, the whole squad faltered in this game, and the scoreline reflected this at 3-0. Nevertheless, in the following game against Luton, he showed remarkable improvements.

His next opportunity came weeks later, following the injury of Destiny Udogie, as Van de Ven was deployed as a left back and Drăgușin moved into the centre-back role for the games against Manchester City and Sheffield United, where he enjoyed solid performances in both games.

Ashley Phillips

Spurs were able to poach Ashley Phillips after his release clause became active, meaning they signed him for a reduced £2 million. Phillips had shown potential for Blackburn and made eight appearances for the first team, alongside representing England U19s. The 18-year-old centre-half signed a five-year contract for Spurs. He started the season on the bench for the first team and made four appearances for the U21s, but without consistent game time, it was felt that he should go on loan to further his development.

In the January window, he departed for Plymouth Argyle, where he received regular game time, making 20 appearances as a centre-back and right-back. The defender had made a sizable impression, and he was awarded Argyle’s young player of the season award. Upon his return to N17, he played in the Premier League 2 semi-final and a half against Newcastle in the Australian friendly.

Luka Vušković

Spurs signed the prospective talent in September 2023 from Hajduk Split; the deal agreed that he would join the club in 2025, when he turns 18. In January, the Croatian joined Polish side Radomiak Radom, where he made 14 appearances and contributed to four goals. The youngster has all the attributes when looking for a potential centre-back, and Spurs beat other potential suitors to get his pen to paper. However, next season he will have to go on loan to a higher standard of play so he has enough GBE points to play in the United Kingdom.

Lucas Bergvall

Since signing in February, Lucas Bergvall has built a vast amount of anticipation for his arrival on July 1st. This is largely due to what he’s done on the pitch, which is entertaining. Not only that, but he’s been effective with his easy-on-the-eye style of play, earning himself 11 goal contributions in just 18 games. His goal and assist catalogue come with the highest quality of play. Whether it’s an outside-the-box volley or a run from his own half, taking on defenders and putting it past the keeper. 

Bergvall is entertainment personified — with the ball at his feet, the cameras look to him for highlight-reel footage. He is not afraid to take a man on and often glides past them with his fast feet and immense skill and acceleration. Throughout the season, he’s floated between an advancing No. 8 and a traditional No. 10, his qualities exemplified in both roles.

With squad depth lacking in the attacking midfield department, it looks likely that Bergvall will be the replacement option for Maddison if he is lacking fitness or if Spurs could do with a lift from the bench. Alternatively, he could be deployed as the No. 8, but without a pure No. 6 currently at Spurs, this would likely be too attacking and leave the team vulnerable at times.

The future is bright for Bergvall, and Spurs fought for his signature, beating the likes of Barcelona for his commitment. Johan Lange pushed for this transfer as he felt this was a strong signing for the future. His links with Scandinavian football allowed him to negotiate in the club’s best interests. On his 18th birthday, the Swedish international signed for Spurs at a cost of £8.5 million and his contract runs until 2029. This will hopefully go down in the history books as the best 18th birthday present.

Alejo Véliz

In the summer window of 2023, Spurs signed Argentine prospect Alejo Véliz from Rosario Central for £13 million. He had made his mark for Rosario with 11 in 23 appearances in the 2023 season. At the time of signing, he was just 19 but was well-regarded, as he had made a mark in junior international football for the U20s. Upon his arrival at Spurs, he faced uncertainty in the striking department. The departure of Harry Kane and the loans of Dane Scarlett and Troy Parrot meant there was the possibility of game time as an understudy for Richarlison.

Nevertheless, captain Heung-min Son was deployed as the primary striker, with Richarlison as his understudy. During the injury crisis in November and December, Son moved back to the left flank and Richarlison to the No. 9 spot. Véliz then got his opportunity as a substitute against Brighton, where he scored a consolation goal in a 4-2 defeat. In the next match, Véliz came on as a substitute and picked up a knee injury. This marked the end of his season in Lilywhite, as he was then sent on loan to Seville, where he struggled to make his mark and made just six appearances despite being given the No. 10 shirt.

The next season will be huge for Véliz’s future. It looks likely that he will go on another loan spell in the perusal of regular game time to improve his own skill set — this time with some guarantees on his playtime.

Alejo Veliz
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Brennan Johnson

It feels strange to include Brennan Johnson in this list as the Welshman has seemingly been on our screens for some time now. Nevertheless, Spurs signed the forward at just 22. After signing him on deadline day in a move to bolster their attacking options. At Nottingham Forest, he had shone in the championship, contributing to 27 goals in the league and playoffs; in the following year, he managed 11 in his Premier League debut. 

His talents and ability to play anywhere across the front three made him a standout option for Postecoglou. A bid of upwards of £45 million was accepted by Forest, triggering the move on deadline day. After a somewhat slow start, the young forward faced criticism, but since his game has been uplifted and he contributed to 15 goals in 35 games, it’s worth noting that only 26 of these were starts. Many of Johnson’s 10 assists have come from his strong work along the goalline, in which he’s navigated passes into other attacking options.

The future is bright in Lilywhite

It’s fair to say the future is finally being accounted for, with the vast majority of Spurs’ signings being under the age of 23. After the January transfer window, the Spurs were the third-youngest team in the league, with an average age of 25.3 (GiveMeSport). With the successes of the U21s this season, it’s likely that we may see some integration of these players into the first team next season, especially with the increase in games due to Europa League qualification.

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