July 17, 2010

Pre-season – introducing some unfamiliar names


Pre-season is well underway, and the fixtures began last Saturday at Bournemouth, where two separate Spurs teams (one in each half) combined to win 4-0 at Dean Court.

The squad (minus World Cup participants) has now headed to the United States for a series of friendlies, beginning tonight at San Jose Earthquakes (9pm on ESPN).

According to reputable sources, our “US Tour Roster” is as follows:

GOALKEEPERS: Carlo Cudicini (ITA), David Button, Oscar Jansson (SWE)
DEFENDERS: Gareth Bale (WAL), Calum Butcher, Vedran Corluka (CRO), Alan Hutton (SCT), Younes Kaboul (FRA), Kyle Naughton, Adam Smith, Kyle Walker
MIDFIELDERS: Tom Huddlestone, Jermaine Jenas, Niko Kranjcar (CRO), Luka Modric (CRO), Andros Townsend
FORWARDS: Robbie Keane (IRE), Ryan Mason, Jonathan Obika, Roman Pavlyuchenko (RUS)

Plenty of names there that will be unfamiliar to many, so I thought it a good time to give a brief overview of the young faces that you will see cropping up during our pre-season friendlies.

Firstly, it’s worth mentioning that Dean Parrett, John Bostock and Steven Caulker are away with England U19, where Andros Townsend was also meant to be. Townsend was withdrawn at the last minute due to David Bentley’s ankle ligament injury, and should now find himself getting plenty of game time on the tour.

David Button (21)
Button, who has represented England at U19 and U20 level, had a bit of a breakthrough season in the last campaign, becoming a mainstay in the Shrewsbury Town goal.

Paul Simpson, their coach, had only good things to say after his loan spell:

“I think Dave’s a hell of a good goalkeeper,” he said. “He’s a good size, he’s a real presence in the 18 yard box and he’s an excellent kicker which is a big part of a keeper’s game now.

He’s been much more positive over the last month or two as Dave Timmins has been drumming into him the need to get on the front foot, and we’re seeing the benefit of that.

Whether or not he’s going to get in at Tottenham over the next year or two, I don’t really know, but he’s got a great chance from what I’ve seen.

He’s done himself no harm at all coming here and he’s had a run of games which has done him the world of good.

He’s grown in confidence and I would imagine there will be clubs at a higher level who will want to take him next year.”

Ben Alnwick’s failure to impress could mean that Button is third choice this year, and he may get a chance to shine both on this tour, and in the early rounds of the League Cup.

Oscar Jansson (19)
Jansson spent some time on loan at Exeter City last year but, having initially started games, he quickly found himself on the bench and then out of the squad entirely, as they frequently didn’t name a second goalkeeper.

He was a substitute for the first-team in the game against Shakhtar Donetsk in February of last year, and has also appeared in previous pre-season campaigns. He is a pro-active and vocal keeper although, with David Button having had such a strong season last year, he will almost certainly be out on loan in the coming season.

Calum Butcher (19)
Having forged a very solid partnership alongside Steven Caulker for the U18s, Butcher has found himself a little out of the limelight and, whilst his former centre-back partner has excelled at Yeovil Town, Calum struggled for games at Barnet, and ended up back in the U18s (as an “over-age” player). It could be argued that he suffered from the withdrawal of the reserve team, as he didn’t get regular football. That said, the club clearly still think that he has something, and I would echo that – I liked what I saw from him in the U18s, and it will be interesting to see how he performs in pre-season.

Adam Smith (19)
Another player that arguably suffered from the dismantling of the reserve team was right-back Adam Smith. Having represented England at virtually every age level, he was one of the stars of the U18 team, and even made the bench for two of our UEFA cup games. He had a loan spell at Torquay United in League Two last year but, having immediately impressed out of position at left-back, he was eventually resigned to the occasional appearance as a substitute as their first-choice players regained fitness.

Smith is a very attack-minded full-back, who has a habit of scoring spectacular goals from distance. He was pushed into the reserves three years ago, and has also impressed in previous first-team friendlies. I think he is another who needs to get some momentum going, and a strong pre-season could be what kick-starts a turn around in his fortunes – he will no doubt be looking for a loan move this year.

Andros Townsend (19)
I wrote about him last year (Spurs recall Andros Townsend… but who is he?) after he was recalled, and I’d highlight again how highly rated he was by MK Dons. I personally think that Townsend is “the one to watch” for the coming season. When I say that, it’s not based purely on talent, but on practical reasons:

  1. Fast, direct wingers can change a game, so are worth a place on the bench as an impact sub.
  2. He has a left foot, a rare commodity it seems.
  3. He seems to have good physical and mental strength – when he was MK Dons, Paul Ince frequently commented about him performing well in an otherwise struggling team.

He has been withdrawn from the England U19s in order to go along on this tour, so should expect to see plenty of action.

Ryan Mason (19)
Mason had a tough season at Yeovil last year, but many think that that is just what he needed. A highly technical, but very slightly-built player, there are concerns that he will struggle with the physical side of the game. He was actually brought back from Yeovil ahead of time and, whilst it wasn’t officially announced, it was strongly rumoured that he had been put on a special programme to help him gain strength.

Mason was prolific for our U18s, mainly playing just off a main striker, but he was generally played wide or in central midfield for Yeovil; he still chipped in with goals, but was not finding the net as regularly. Shortly after leaving us, Darren Bent actually highlighted Mason as one of the best prospects he had seen, so he obviously did well in first-team training sessions, and it will be up to him to prove that he can fit in with the first team squad on this tour. I would like to think that he’ll do well, as he is a player that I admire, and would like to see break through.

Jonathan Obika (19)
Obika didn’t have such a successful year last year, spending time on loan at Millwall, but finding game-time hard to come by. He is a striker who began life as a winger, and scored a hatful of goals playing for our U18s, with Mason playing just off him. They both went on loan to Yeovil Town for the latter half of season 2008/9, where they had some success.

Many have written off Obika but, whilst he is certainly a diamond in the rough, I still think there is something to work with, and I’ll be intrigued to see how he performs on this tour.

At this point, I’d like to highlight a great article by Ben Pearce in the Hampstead and Highgate Express, regarding Steven Caulker: Tottenham teen Caulker catches Redknapp’s eye in Bournemouth.

IT IS rare for teenagers to be caught up in a row between club and country, and Spurs fans could have been forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about last week as Tottenham and England’s Under-19s bickered over their need for four of the Lilywhites’ youngest stars.

Those who were in Bournemouth on Saturday may have a better idea now.

John Bostock, Dean Parrett, Andros Townsend and Steven Caulker were all on show at Dean Court, and three of them will now fly out to France to spearhead England’s challenge at the European Under-19 Championships.

Spurs were initially loathe to lose their up-and-coming talents from the tour of America and now, after tantalising glimpses on the south coast, Tottenham supporters may understand why.

Townsend will be joining the Lilywhites in the US after Spurs pulled the winger out of the England squad at the 11th hour, following the news that David Bentley will be sidelined for the next three months.

Eighteen-year-old Townsend had the travelling fans on their feet on a few occasions in Bournemouth – not least when he burst out of his own half, scythed through the midfield and saw a low shot cannon back off the post.

However, the quiet confidence of centre-back Caulker was just as impressive and exciting – particularly for those who are tipping him as a potential star for both club and country.

Such claims are, of course, exceedingly premature, particularly after a solid 45 minutes against a League One team in a friendly run-out.

Spurs’ dominance was such that the rearguard was rarely tested, and Carlo Cudicini was only forced into one save on his return to action in the first half.

However, it was hard to ignore the patent potential of Caulker and, after the game, Harry Redknapp singled the 6ft 3ins 18-year-old out for special praise: “The kid we had at the back, Caulker, if he doesn’t make a player there is something wrong,” he said.

All the attributes appear to be there. The giant teenager’s size belies his age and he is also blessed with pace – as a schoolboy in west London he won the 400m borough title four years in a row.

An uncompromising tackle near the halfway line at Dean Court was the highlight of an impressive first half.

But then, no-one should be surprised. Yeovil fans certainly wouldn’t be. Bournemouth will ply their trade in League One next season, and Caulker spent 44 games shutting out League One strikers last season.

He spent the last campaign on loan with Yeovil, a move which he admits came as a surprise as he had only just signed his first professional contract the previous month, in July 2009.

“I was very happy with my progress over the last season,” Caulker told Spurs TV Online. “I wasn’t expecting to do so much and to do so well, but you always look to improve. I think there’s bits of my game that I could improve, but I’ll look to add those to my game in pre-season.

“I wasn’t expecting to go out on loan so early. I was looking at the back end of the season, the last two or three months, so I was pleased to get through it.”

At 17 years old, Caulker found himself in Somerset and, before long, he was a central figure in a nine-month battle against relegation.

The Londoner started 44 of Yeovil’s 46 league games, missing one match because of England Under-19 duty and then returning to Spurs one game early at the end of the campaign – having just secured League One safety with a 3-0 win over Oldham.

Caulker’s importance was officially recognised as he scooped Yeovil’s player of the season award, and he feels that his loan spell in the West Country taught him valuable lessons.

“It was a step up – mainly physically but also mentally. In youth football there’s a certain amount of pressure on you but it’s not the same as playing for your mortage and kids,” he said.

“You need to get into the club’s mentality pretty quickly. It’s not just ‘if you make a mistake, you make a mistake’. Obviously you need to move on from that but you also have to realise the consequences for people who lose their win bonuses and things like that.

“If you don’t stay up then it’s a problem for a lot of the players who will be out of contract. But it’s a nice pressure I think.

“It was quite a young team at Yeovil but we did have some older, more experienced players and they taught me some tricks.

“It definitely helps, they talked me through a lot of it and they definitely helped my game – I started to talk to them a lot more as well.

“You see a lot of the picture at the back and you start to realise the importance of communication. If there’s a man on your team-mate’s shoulder and you don’t tell them and they score, it’s just as much your fault as it is theirs.

“I managed to get the player of the season award, which I really wanted, and when I won that it was a proud moment. I thought that I’d come quite far. I thanked the manager and the players for their support.”

As the new season approaches, Redknapp will continue with his policy of sending his young prospects out on loan, and all the signs suggest that, having conquered League One last season, Caulker will be promoted to the Championship.

The young defender will doubtless be anxious for news of his next adopted club but, for now, he is focused on England Under-19s’ European campaign, which kicks off with a group match against Austria on Sunday night.

“It’s definitely a good experience, seeing other players and playing against them,” Caulker finished.

“There are no misfits. Everyone there is of a high quality and I enjoy it. Again it’s a pressure but a nice pressure, and playing for your country is an honour.

You will find more information on all of the players mentioned in my previous articles.

Follow me on Twitter (@WindyCOYS) for updates during this evening’s game.

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  • Anonymous says:

    This is good stuff. Comments on up-and-coming players are useful if the commentator’s seen them play. We sucker ourselves into hoping that we’ve got some stars coming though but it’s almost always wishful thinking – Ledley King’s the only real success in the past 15 years. Take a look at the FA Youth Cup winning teams over the past 20 years – apart from the Man U crop in the early 90s, very few clubs manage to develop young players, so the premiership knicks the ones and twos that do come through [Bale, Ramsey]. Some of this is down to their physical attributes – reaching 6 feet at 14 and bulking up gives some kids a head start, then it all disappears [Darren Caskey is a great Spurs example, David Leworthy as well]. Redknapp has talked up Parrett; Bostock was a big signing – but Harry’s got Giovanni and can’t do anything with him. It would be brilliant to think that we’ve got half a great team in reserve and I’d love to see a Caulker, Parrett, Townsend, Bostock, Smith team in years to come, but it’s more likely than not to go ‘pop’, and they all end up at Barnet.

  • Anonymous says:

    Having seen Caulker and Townsend a couple of times, I think they have a real chance of making the step up, and having heard good reports about Parrett maybe we are going to finaly start producing home grown players, we will need a few to help us through the early financial strains of the new stadium.

  • Windy says:

    First commenter – some excellent points, and I totally agree on physically strong kids getting an initial push. I’d say this is one reason why I’d love to see Mason succeed – he has come through having been one of the smallest around. Same can be said for another of our youngsters, Tom Carroll. Being physically small means you really have to be a good footballer to give yourself a chance, and these two both have great technical ability.

    Second commenter – interesting point about the finance aspect. Would be great to see a few come through, and I’d say this is a good season to give a few youngsters a chance, as we’re playing in so many competitions.

  • Anonymous says:

    I am lucky enough to be going to the two Spurs games in New York and this summary will be going with me – great to have some insight on the up and coming youngsters which will add a lot of interest. Thanks for a great article.

  • Windy says:

    I hope you enjoy the games! It would be great if you could come back and post your thoughts afterwards. Come On You Spurs!

  • Anonymous says:

    Great stuff: thanks for taking trouble to give us info on the up & coming stars- I hope Ryan Mason can learn from Citeh’s Adam Johnson who’s slight of built but his technical nouse compensates for this & I’d say he’s best England prospect for ages with unfortunately another Citeh prospect Joe Hart. Our boys need to be knocking on Arry’s door- constantly and letting their football do the talking. If we can bring 1 into the team over next few years from our youth that would be success- the future is our kids- and I for one am hoping Arry will make a big difference in this department!

  • Anonymous says:

    Well done windy i share your sentiments about these young lads . I have also bean shouting about these lads all season and Caulker showed against Leeds when he went upfront to try and snatch a goal he has a fair bit of skill in that department also. Mason Bostock Parrett Rose Walker Smith Naughton Townsend the emerging Kane Mpoku Fredericks and the other striker begging with Oneyengnu i cant spell his name and this sounds like it .This makes it exciting times both on and off the field with our plans for a stadium and training complex lets hope Conner Wickham joins these English lads.DAVSPURS

  • JimmyG2 says:

    Good stuff.
    This is what the modern game is lacking with its emphasis on foreign stars and ready made players being bought in.

    Most fans want to see home grown and raised players coming through even while they are drooling over You Tube clips of the Worlds exotica.

    It gives us more stake in the team and a two way loyalty that was the essence of being a supporter in the old days.

    Reports from eye witnesses out in US would be great though all the matches are on ESPN.

    Quite a lot of youngsters made the pitch last night but only Townsend caught the eye.He shot when he should have passed and passed when he should have shot but that will come. Remember the early Lennon.

    Obika looked lost and should have scored with a header.

  • I stumbled upon this piece when compiling a post on Obika, Townsend, and Walker for my blog (http://defensivemidfielder.wordpress.com/2010/07/20/three-tottenham-youngsters/). No affiliations to Spurs or the Premier League, but I like what I see here and will continue to visit. Keep up the good work!

  • Windy says:

    Jimmy – agree with your comments on Townsend, very hit and miss game for him, but he’s a bit like that. He’ll have a great game next time out if previous form is anything to go by… And as you say, it look Lennon long enough to “get it”.

    Obika had a poor game, but he has more to offer than he showed. He seemed very timid, and still needs to add some aggression to his game.

    I still stand by previous comments that Caulker, Mason, Townsend and Parrett are the ones to watch.

  • Anonymous says:

    Any thoughts on the Spurs match against Sporting last Sunday in NYC?

  • Windy says:

    It was an excellent game for a pre-season friendly.

    The team shape is starting to come together, and the passing was much more crisp, and often first time.

    Poor defending for the goals – particularly the first, from two or three individuals, but errors will occur in a makeshift back four.

    Keane and Kranjcar were bright and inventive, Huddlestone used the ball well, Walker was very useful again, and Obika made a real difference.

    Hutton and Taarabt the main weak links.

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