Overview of a good article on youth development, plus my thoughts on Ryan Mason vs New York Red Bulls

There was an interesting article about youth development in ‘Sky Sports Magazine’ (included in yesterday’s Times).

Some snippets:

  • Huw Jennings, head of Fulham’s Academy and former Head of Development at the Premier League, has pointed out that young players in Europe tend to make their first team debuts aged between 21 and 22, when they are physically mature. In England, players debut at an average age of 18 years and four months, and are often judged critically.
  • “Is there a need for much more competitive reserve team football?” asks Gordon Taylor. “You have lads on the bench who don’t get used and then when they are, they’re not match fit.”
  • “I [Taylor] had a long chat with Rafa Benitez soon after Liverpool won the FA Youth Cup. We talked about why these youngsters, who were the best team in the country for their age, were not getting first team opportunities. He said that you need a manager who’s strong in his tenure because it’s almost like taking orchids out of the greenhouse – you take them out then you put them back in for a while before you bring them back out again. You can’t thrust youngsters into a first team, particularly when you’ve got top class foreign internationals. Managers have short reigns and may not risk blooding young talent.”
  • As John McDermott, academy head at Spurs, said last year: “You once had to be among the best players in Britain to make it here. Now you have to be among the best in the world.”

The article also includes a list of “How many current pros started out at your team?”. Spurs are third with 50. United have 63, and Arsenal 52. It’s about quality not quantity though, I guess.

If anyone is interested in where McDermott’s quote came from, it’s here: Football academies: kicking and screaming by Sally Williams of the Telegraph. It’s over a year old, but some may find this interesting:

‘Opportunities [at the top level] are very tight,’ agrees John McDermott, the academy head at Tottenham. ‘Boys have to realise the path is not what it was 10 years ago.’ You once had to be among the best players in Britain, now you have to be among the best in the world to make it here. Three of the 23 scholars at Tottenham are European (a Swede, an Italian and a Belgian).

At age 16 the 90-minute rule goes out of the window and clubs start to bring in boys and their families from all over the world. ‘It must be hugely frustrating for kids at English clubs to be told they’re not good enough at 16 because of the number of overseas youngsters filling academies,’ commented Trevor Brooking, the Football Association’s director of football development, in a recent attack on youth football. ‘When we set up the academy system, I don’t think anyone envisaged it would be filled with anything other than Brits.’

McDermott, a former FA national coach, takes a Darwinist line. ‘My belief is that talent will get you through. Cream will rise to the top.’ But not necessarily the very top. ‘If God has given you the ability to play in the second division and you achieve that, then that is a success. (Jim White told me that non-league football, which used to be filled with butchers, bakers and lorry drivers, is now full of kids who have gone through the academy system, but haven’t quite made it.) Plus, McDermott urges, give academies a chance. They’re only 10 years old. It’s only now and over the next year or two that you will see the real worth of the system, and he has several players who are ‘very interesting’.

He is keen for me to meet one of them, Ryan Mason, 17, a Tottenham scholar who is tipped to be a potent force. I find this hard to believe because the figure who emerges is unequivocally unathletic: pale, nervous, gangly, shuffling into the meeting room at the academy HQ at Spurs Lodge, Chigwell, with none of that high-testosterone swagger of pro footballers. ‘Physically he is very underdeveloped,’ admits Allen, who remembers him being so scrawny at 12 that he couldn’t even kick the ball across the pitch. But this doesn’t matter – everyone agrees he is brilliant and scores loads of goals and in fact recently played with the first team in the Uefa Cup game against Dinamo Zagreb.

Everyone is looking to Mason as evidence that the academy system works. He joined Tottenham’s academy soon after it launched in 1998, when he was seven. His father, a BT engineer, got him playing aged six for a Sunday league team near his home in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire. Mason says he’s thrilled to be here. It’s fun, but also very hard. ‘I’ve seen around 100 boys released,’ he says. One was a good friend. ‘We’d been close for about six years, our families too. My dad would drive us [to training] on a Monday and his dad would do Wednesday, and then he got released.’ He shrugs. ‘But that’s football isn’t it? Technically he was fine, but mentally he wasn’t there. He would go out with his mates,’ he explains in a tone that says, ‘Need I say more?’

So what has Mason got that the others haven’t? Mono vision, says McDermott, who believes talent alone will take you to the age of 16, no further. ‘He’s incredibly dedicated, verging on obsessed.’ When Mason’s not playing football, he’s thinking about it or watching it and spent last night analysing the Arsenal game on Sky – he has a TV in his bedroom. Everything in his life is football and he never loses focus. He may be 17 and have left home – he lodges with a landlady – but he looks at me as if I’m deranged when I ask if he ever goes to clubs or gigs. ‘Nah! Nothing like that! I don’t do anything [that’s not related to football]. I’m pretty boring to be honest.’ So, what will he do with his four GCSEs should it not work out? ‘I’ve not thought about that,’ he replies. ‘I’d rather not.’

And while I’m on the subject of Ryan Mason, I was encouraged by his cameo against New York Red Bulls – he only had a few touches of the ball, but he caught my eye, so I thought I’d look closely at his moments on the ball.

– Frustrating moment for him just after he’d come on – he made a clever run in behind the full-back, Taarabt just needed to slide him in for a one-on-one, but Taarabt waited too long and lost the ball – see below.

– He filled in intelligently at left back and helped defend a chance (and cleared the ball up the line – the only time he surrendered possession).

– He won the ball back in our half, before receiving it back, and keeping it well.

– He received it on half-way and kept possession (pass to Rose, before Taarabt lost it).

– He received the ball in our half, and kept possession when nothing else was on (pass to Bale).

– He intelligently intercepted in the NY half, fed Taarabt, who passed to Keane. Mason ran off Keane and could have been one-on-one, but Keane wasn’t aware of his movement, and the move eventually broke down after an over-hit Jenas pass – see below.

– He received the ball from Bale in our half, looked around, played back inside to Rose as nothing else was on.

– He received the ball from Rose deep in NY half, tried to look for a one-two with Bale (played a short angled pass, first time), but didn’t get it back.

It’s only pre-season, and he came on against tired legs, so no point making snap judgements, but his defensive awareness impressed me – that’s something that has developed on loan at Yeovil IMO.
The other thing I would say is that, although he didn’t see much of the ball, he didn’t lose it once (aside from a clearance). Interesting to compare that with Taarabt, who played (plays) a constantly (and often unnecessarily) high-risk game, and lost the ball more often than not.

I’d like to see him get more game-time this evening, perhaps starting up front with Obika, as they have an understanding.

Join the conversation

  1. An enjoyable read - watching the latest friendly against the Red Bulls i had been equally impressed with Masons performance for all the reasons you've highlighted so well.

    I also liked Walker,while i'm not so sure on Townsend and to a lesser extent,Naughton.
  2. I really like all of the current youngsters we have coming through. Mason is definitely one of the bright sparks. I remember seeing flashes of Dean Parrett in Europe last season too and he looks to be of similar ability, and plays the 'simple' game as mentioned above. Adam Smith also looks calm, composed and equally dedicated.
    Obika is crying out for a few sub appearances - I thought he was going to score on his debut Vs Shaktar Donetsk in Harry's first half-season.
    I'm glad Harry's at the helm, as I feel our youth players are in good hands.
    I do feel that if we can hold onto O'Hara he could yet be an asset too - it's just that he is desperate to play and feel he won't get the amount of football he wants.
    It should be a good season again!
  3. Loving the new blog design Windy,I also have to comment on the professional way that you put together your articles very impressive,keep it up and we'll be seeing you on Sky or Match of the Day soon.

    Anyway praising aside it's great to hear our youth set up is working well,and with the recent movment of Tim Sherwood to his overseers post we should see more of them getting through to gain first team action.

  4. Yes, Walker had an excellent game, and showed a good willingness to come forward - confident boy.
    I think Townsend is promising but, like you, am not sure about Naughton at all.
  5. Dazjim - agree re: Parrett. Having not been overly impressed the first time I saw him, he has now convinced me. Very impressed with him for England U19s in a side that is lacking a system/manager with tactical awareness.

    Foggy - thanks for the kind comments, very much appreciated. Sounds as though Sherwood is a big player at the club, and has a positive influence on the young players. Long may it continue.
  6. I agree entirely. Ive been aware of Masons achievements through the ranks at spurs and i do believe that with a bit more development (and some maximuscle perhaps) he could be a top quality premiership player and a real asset to spurs. yeovil were singing his praises after his loan spell (he scored 6, one a goal of the season contender). hes a nice bloke too, ive spoken to him on facebook chat! lets hope he plays this afternoon and can show people what hes capable of. rather him than jenas anyday!
  7. Good post, and an enjoyable, thoughtful read. Lets hope Mason makes it along with Caulker et al.
  8. Windy, do you still see Mason as a second striker or is he being developed as a CM now?
  9. Windy....in a side that is lacking a system/manager with tactical awareness...hahaha. Briliant. You know the man aswell then.
  10. TheWaddler - definitely a second striker for me.Having said that, he'll probably end up playing as a narrow wide-man as a lot of creative players do (see Kranjcar, Modric), and that was where he came on against NY.

    Anonymous - I have no problem with Noel Blake, and he seems like a nice, genuine guy. However, watching that side, and knowing the ability in the squad, we can surely get a better standard of football out of our players? It reminds me of the Stuart Pearce situation at U21 level.
  11. Well done Windy excellent Blog and i was also impressed by Mason Spurs have bean doing a bit of Gym work to improve is Physical size . He looked a bit bigger to me or it was the stream i was watching . The lad Townsend is going to be a great player and the Anonymous fan should have judged him on his first game him and Bale where outstanding . Like all youngsters there final ball is the one area to develop last and when it does he will be a massive threat down our left with bale our very own BT BreathTaking pairing . The others to look out for is Bostock Parrett Caulker i expect these to make it also. DAVSPURS
  12. more of this kind of thing! beats the hell out of the speculative crap we're flooded with at the moment.

    on this note; there seems to be a head of steam developing with our young talent now, and if we consolidate this with champions league football, they will be an intrinsic part of our top level maintainance.

    the new training ground and stadium will probably be a large part of this too, but it's great to see all the puzzle pieces falling into place.
  13. Davspurs - with all due respect i saw the first game as well and i actually thought Townsend was worse in that on the left - almost a headless chicken a la Walcott - whereas he seemed better to me when cutting in from the right tbh (better as in he didn't rely on his pace and picked out more intelligent passes and linked better).We shall see and it's certainly too early to be making any hard and fast judgements on any youngsters but i'd actually be surprised if Obika had a future at WHL,and on limited evidence i'd worry about Townsend as well.I also can't see how Bostock can get anywhere near a first team slot considering we are now a top 4 club.On the plus side Walker looked good along with the subject of this artice,Ryan Mason,and Danny Rose looks a bit further along the development ladder as well,i'd expect him to be a squad player this season and get game time,albeit limited.

    All the youngsters that we currently are using would have all got into our first team squad 10 years ago (maybe less) but we are a different club now and it'll only be the absolute cream of the crop that can get starts in the PL for us now.They just aren't up to the level of our current quality players (understandably),and there is just too much at stake to try to bring them along steadily like you could have done a few years ago.I expect us to do an Arsenal should we qualify proper for the CL and play a very young team in the Carling Cup but ultimately i can't see many of the current youngsters becoming first team regulars.
  14. I think your criticism of Taarabt is harsh. While he dallied occasionally, he also played two of the passes of the match - the ball to Keane that you've mentioned, and (I think) the ball out to Hutton before Hutton crossed it in for Kranjcar's volley. I realise it's become a bit of a cliché amongst certain circles to speak out in his defence, and his game may be 'high risk', but when it pays off, it doesn't just look nice, it makes things happen.

    He may have significant - mainly mental - flaws to his game, and he may be incredibly frustrating at times, but in my opinion, when he came on against the Red Bulls, he gave one of the most encouraging performances on the pitch. And if you're going to take into account that it's pre-season, as you have done, then surely allowances should me made for players being slightly slow on the ball. Credit where it's due.
  15. That's the problem with English game- the Ryan Mason's are squeezed out- Keano has great brain but often others are not on his level- Mason sadly would do better playing for Arsenal- they appear to coach intelligence & football acumen @ a premium than other clubs. I just hope don't worry too much on size with Mason- look @ Johnson for City or Iniesta or Xavi they are slight but you must give them opportunity- it looked like Modders was going to be swamped by the so called powerhouses in PL but his class is begining to tell& I expect him to be as important for us as Cesc is for Arsenal. Talent must come through & we need footballers with Brains!!
  16. Adam - thanks for your comment. I don't think I was overly critical of Taarabt. He does play a high-risk game, and he did lose the ball more often than not against NYRB - would you disagree? I could go through and analyse but I don't think it's necessary.

    Agree that allowances should be made, but I'd personally make allowances on fitness/speed/strength/touch issues, rather than decision-making (which he lacks generally).

    FWIW, I think Taarabt could be a useful impact sub in tight away games, but I can't see him settling for that at this point in his career.
  17. Adam - Taraabt always brings a smile to my face but i can guarantee you that he has absolutely zero chance of making a career at Spurs i'm afraid.

    While he looked good on the ball in the friendly did you keep your eye on him when he didn't have it ?.He just doesn't do enough off the ball,doesn't look like an athlete and hasn't really learn't what to do off the ball despite playing for QPR for a season and pressumably being coached by our staff and the QPR manager/s.

    Talentwise he's got enough to make a decent career for himself but not in the top flight of English football.
  18. Great article, especially enjoyed reading the Telegraph article you linked. This is the most thoughtful blog I've found about football. Thanks for posting :)

    Mason does look a good prospect- lets hope it all works out for him...
  19. Great read Windy. What do you think Obika's chances are this season? He seems to be the 5th forward now that Eidur has gone, will he see some game time in the Premier League and can he score at that level?
  20. Nice analysis. I hadn't seen or even heard anything of Ryan Mason before the Red Bulls game. Being 4 thousand miles and many years away from WHL tends to make it difficult to keep up with player development. I was surprised and impressed by Ryan's cool, skillful performance and I am glad to read that I was not the only one to think this young man has a bright future.
  21. I can't honestly say that I noticed how frequently he gave the ball away compared to how often he didn't. He may well have been wasteful more often than not, but as I've already suggested, if he's nonetheless going to create our best chances, I think that's acceptable, especially if he's going to only be giving the ball away in the opposition third, which he invariably will be.

    As for the effect only being in pre-season should have on his performances, I have to disagree with you. While all of our players are no doubt some way off peak fitness at this moment in time, that can be - and surely has been - worked on in training. Getting up to speed mentally, though, is something that can only be done by playing in games. It's not so much the decisions themselves that I'd expect to be affected, but more the speed at which they're made. Of course, that doesn't account for his tendency during the rest of his career to far to hold on to the ball too long and attempt to beat every man 3 times over, but I think, on this specific occasion, it's only fair to take it into consideration.

    I wouldn't say you were overly critical of him, no, but you did seem to want to mention him, and what he did wrong, at every possible moment! And mentioning "this point at his career" - he's only just turned 21. I realise he seems to be incredibly arrogant, and has given every indication that he already wants to be playing regularly for a top-flight club, but you say say it like "Well, that's fair enough". I don't think it is fair enough. I think he's at a point in his career where he should still be trusting the club with his development. If in a year or so, he's either decided of his own volition or the club have told him he has no future at the club, then fine, but I think to make that decision now would be premature, and that goes for both club and player.

    And that ties into the point I was planning to make when I started on this: for a player who's just turned 21 to have not yet fully developed his reading of the game or his decision making is also something that's perfectly acceptable. I seem to remember similar criticisms being levelled at Cristiano Ronaldo at a similar age (not that I wish to get into comparing the two), and only a year ago, Harry was talking about Aaron Lennon's inability to make intelligent runs, and he was a year older than Taarabt is now. Even now, there are still valid criticisms to be made of Lennon's decision making, yet I don't see anyone suggesting he should be cut loose. Again, I don't want to get into discussing the nuances of Aaron Lennon's decisions versus Adel Taarabt's decisions, and how one's has less impact on his game than the other's, I'm just making the general point: these players are young, and it should be both expected and accepted that the mental side of their game will need some development.

    With regard to him not having a future at the club, that's a maybe. I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he left before the transfer window closes - in fact, when I saw him missing from the squad to play San Jose, I thought that was already in motion - but I do think it would be a mistake, for reasons I've already given, and would be very disappointed.
  22. I'm sorry Windy,i don't want to hijack this very good article with loads of my views but as i've mentioned above,i can't see how many of our youngsters can get game time at present.

    How can you possibly play Obika if any of Defoe,Pav,Crouch and Keane are fit ?.Imo he has no chance of league action.

    Similarly how can Townsend,Bostock or even the classier Mason figure,when in our midfield we've got two of Croatias best players,a potential star in Bale,two players who were at the WC (Lennon and Palacios),two up and coming fringe Internationals (Huddlestone and Sandro) and two England 'also rans' (Jenas,Bentley,both not that old but with huge experience).

    Throw in Goal of the season winner Rose and the possibilty of other midfield signings and it's almost impossible these guys will get any game time for the forseeable future (personally i think Mason will force his way into contention due to his ability but not for a little while yet).

    Thats not being harsh on them,just realistic.

    We will be aiming to win the league and/or getting a top 4 spot at the very least this season,so there is no way i'd want to risk playing one of these youngsters in the PL (bar the odd 10 mins at home we are 3-0 up).

    On one hand it's a shame as there is nothing better than seeing a home grown talent come through but on the other hand i'd rather we were so good that it was extremely hard for talented youngsters to get a game than so average that we were relying on youngsters to improve a mediocre league position.

    Pretty confident Mason will make it at WHL and possibly Walker but i wouldn't be shocked if none of the others did,although i'd expect all to have decent futures in the Championship at worse.
  23. Great post Windy!!! Excited the season is upon us so we can get pampered with your analyses.

  24. Another excellent perspective Windy.

    IMO, the key point about 'making it' has to be the application and decication, the technical ability isn;t enough if your attitude is misguided.

    The tender years of 17-21 are fraught with dangers and threats to immature minds. It's only natural that with great power comes great responsibility, but can you resist the pull of a girl or your friends, or the promise of a great night out especially when you've already earned more money in a couple of months than your dad made all last year?

    From the report, young Ryan seems to have a good focus and will develop into an excellent professional for Spurs. Talent and skill and training is one thing, but for my money the real battle is psychological and all part of the growing up process.

  25. Adam, I really appreciate you taking the time to explain your views, and I largely agree with you.

    For me, Taarabt doesn’t create enough (at this stage) to justify the amount that he tries – same with Giovani. I’d personally rather see them both do the simple thing more regularly (like Mason) in order to bed themselves in, and once they have mastered that, then try to inject a bit more creativity. I don’t think either has (yet) shown the ability to fit into a team, and if we were to play either of them at the moment, it would need to be in a free role - they don’t have the defensive discipline to play as wingers in a 4-4-2.

    By “at this point in his career”, I was mainly going by his previous comments. For the last two years he has commented that he wouldn’t be coming back to Spurs, and that he needs to play regularly:

    May 2009:

    “I'm going to leave Tottenham during the summer no matter what. They can't give me what I want, so my departure is inevitable.
    I need time on the pitch. At my age I can't wait any longer - I just want to play - and that is why I agreed to join QPR in March.
    They want to buy me, and have made Spurs an offer for me. My agent has a meeting with Spurs' management in a week's time.
    Several English and French clubs are after me, as well as others in Spain and Germany. I will make a decision once I see what offers I've got.”

    March 2010:

    “Harry Redknapp told me I was a fantastic player with a big talent but he wanted me to go to the Championship, play some games and then come back to play for him. But I don't want to go back to Tottenham.
    “I have one more year on my contract this season and I hope that Tottenham make a deal in the summer. If not, I will go for free next summer.”
    “I hope to be playing for one of the top four in Spain next season — Real Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia or Sevilla. I have contact with good teams and I know that they want me. Now I just have to hope they can agree a deal with Tottenham.”

    You’re right, he should still be trusting the club – however, he seems to hold himself in higher regard than anyone else does – I’ve garnered that from his comments, and also from the way he plays. I do quite agree that a 21 year old footballer shouldn’t necessarily be judged – I know from interviewing John McDermott that they absolutely see the apprenticeship as 16-21, and that players are expected to develop later and later. However, I would expect to see some evidence of progression in that time, and I don’t see that in Taarabt.
  26. Set Vuvuzelas to Stun - thanks for your comments. I'd fully expect Obika to be out on loan, at least for a part of he season. He may well get a chance in the Carling Cup, but I don't think he'll appear in any Premier League games (I could be wrong).

    In my opinion he will become the kind of player - a bit like Darren Bent - who will always have a reasonable scoring rcord, but will not necessarily contribute a great deal else.
  27. More sensible analyses on here than on any other blog I've come across (and that includes my own.
    Shows that there is a market for rational and knowledgeable discussion and I include the posters as well as you Windy.

    Another difference between now and the start of the Premiership is the lessening of opportunities due to the influx of foreign players( which on the whole has been a good thing)

    Only 38% of players in the Premiership are English.
    In Spain its 70%.
    Who won the World Cup?
  28. Adam - Adel is starting tonight, will be fascinating to see him, whilst remembering that it IS only pre-season, and he IS playing off a striker that doesn't "lead the line" particularly well (at least nowadays).

    Hope he has a great game. COME ON YOU SPURS!

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