Youth Development: The Class of ’14?

Image: SpursWeb

So, can Tottenham beat last years league finish of 6th, get top four this year and secure Champions League football next season? It shouldn’t matter. Surely after appointing a new manager at the beginning of the season we’d do better to focus on the long term achievements of a club that boasts consistently similar league positions and anything but consistently,in regards to management loyalty, tactical familiarity and the ability to retain our best players. If Spurs are to progress then the youth academy and scouting network needs to be the focus, and in 2 to 3 years time, regardless of the manager, we can begin to speculate on short term success.

In the last 5 or so years Tottenham’s youth academy can boast an impressive return at U21 level, U18 level and in the NextGen series,but much like the national setup, varying degrees of success at youth level does not transfer up into senior level. We see current senior England internationals being touted to play for the U21 side in the European championship next summer,and while many managers wage in to the debate (and rightly so), the systems we, and the majority of the premier league is currently deploying,is not producing. On the one hand seeing youth­eligible seniors play at U21 can positively build mental toughness and provide an opportunity to gain valuable experience, the opposing side is that if a player has already made that huge step up then why shouldn’t the next in line take his place at youth level?

Domestic football doesn’t work in the same fashion but similarities do exist. Seeing youth players break into the senior squad and gain game time, regardless of the competition, should be mission accomplished, and in my eyes, always exciting to see. You only have to look at the fairytale of Ryan Mason’s cameo in the League Cup, scoring a belter, then going on to start at Arsenal 3 days later and performing head and shoulders above players with little to no Premier League experience. Credit to Pochettino for being so bold.

Mauricio Pochettino has introduced a methodical regime at Tottenham, along with the addition of academy coach Ugo Ehiogu, and set both youth and senior playing systems in parallel, making the step up between the two as seamless as possible, an approach previously ignored by former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho whilst in Spain’s capital to much criticism. The Portuguese’s current team and London rivals Chelsea feature 26 players out on loan in various leagues and countries, most of which have to been purchased into the club at a young age then farmed out like cattle. Previous Chelsea sporting director and former Spurs director of football Frank Arensen, once quoted that one ‘John Terry’ a year is Chelsea’s target in regards to player development. Ironically enough, John Terry is the only youth product to emerge since John Terry at Chelsea. Comparing this approach to our own,represents opposite ends of the spectrum (although Spurs are guilty of the odd loan and youth tappings), but there’s a sense of achievement, not to mention being financially more lucrative, when a local boy comes through to represent the Lilywhites.

Currently, the high profile ‘youth’ players on the books at Tottenham include Harry Kane, Andros Townsend, Nabil Benteleb, Tom Carroll, Ryan Mason & Alex Pritchard, an average age of just 21 years old, 6 of whom are local, academy players. Harry Kane continues to prove his worth in front of goal and with every goal he scores, he gives Pochettino more and more of a headache.  Although Andros Townsend frustrates with his blind, head­down runs he has potential, with his pace, directness and dribbling. The same can be said of Nabil Benteleb who works hard in midfield and doesn’t mind getting stuck in, also Tom Carroll who can spot a run, play intelligent forward passes.  Much like Modric before him,and Alex Pritchard and Ryan Mason who seem to be unproven at this point in time, although the former has recently signed an extension and looks to be a very exciting, dynamic winger, while the latter makes the Spurs faithful wonder why he hasn’t been included until now with every game he plays. There seems to be a close­nit group of players that have developed together, much like how the Barcelona conveyer belt tends to churns them out, they all know each other personally and professionally on the pitch, which is priceless.

In recent years, we’ve seen players come through only to be moved on, most notably Jake Livermore and Steven Caulker, plus other low profile sales of Jonathan Obika, Simon Dawkins, Adam Smith and previously Jamie O’Hara, resulting in millions of pounds coming into the club and going back out, whether it being transfer fees, wages, stadium or training facilities. This approach will be vital to compete as we have, or further up the league, during the construction of our new stadium, and is surely what Daniel Levy would have tasked Pochettino with upon hiring him in the summer. Levy will always take to the boardroom every August & January 31st and do his best to haggle players in and out of the club, and while this tactic can and will continue to infuriate the Spurs faithful, the wheeler dealer businessman has the ability to make a decent financial return like no other.

After the influx of talent brought into the club last summer, along with potential youth prospects, Tottenham boast a large squad to say the least. Not to put down the lower stages of the FA Cup, the league Cup and the Europa League, but these are competitions that our youth need to feature, and feature heavily going forward. To be fair to AVB, on occasion he included youth in the league cup and Europa League stages, while Sherwood went one better to introduce Kane, Benteleb etc in the Premier League, but Poch seems to use the tactical nouse that Sherwood lacked along with man management skills that were nonexistent under AVB and generally put faith in the prospects, although its early days as of yet.

While professional football remains a business in modern times, overinflated players’ value skyrockets and game results seems to be priority, player development is an aspect of todays game which seems to be overlooked. Current champions Man City can’t exactly brag about younger players succeeding at senior level, and current EPL leaders Chelsea overlook the little youth talent available,  and famed youth academies of Crewe and Southampton rarely provide a professional football club with the success it warrants.

Producing a group of youngsters in the same team who can compete in a top 6 side will become more and more rare as seasons tick by, and when players use the loan system to good effect and return a better player, transfer speculation will always remain and dishearten youth players, but with the 6 or seven youth prospects Tottenham currently have on their
books, only time will tell if this close knit group of players can make the grade.

What are your thoughts on the youth system at Tottenham?  Have your say below.

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