Sign him up

Last night I watched a 20-year old midfielder come off the bench and totally change the game in a Premier League 2 match. Until his introduction, his team had struggled to put more than five passes together, had offered no threat, and had no assuredness in midfield.

He made an instant impact, being heavily involved in two chances within minutes of coming on. He then scored two goals to totally turn the match around, winning it for his team; the second was an outrageous finish (albeit from close range). These were his ninth and tenth goals of the season. He also has six assists. From midfield!

Spurs should be trying to steal a march on other clubs to sign this player as he has that intangible quality that very few players have of always being in the right place at the right time. It’s a trait that I associate with Dele, and before him I associated with Thomas Müller.

The player was Jack Roles. He’s a Spurs fan who went to Enfield Grammar School and has been at the club since he was six years old. He is out of contract at the end of the season and looks set to leave on a free transfer.

Watch Roles’ goals here, and pay particular attention to the second:

Jack Roles’ goals vs Leicester City


Before I go any further I just want to outline that I feel a little subconscious in writing this blog article. I can almost hear the groans and cries of ‘oh, Windy’s banging on about young players again’ or ‘another agenda-driven article about lack of opportunity’. That’s because I regularly get the @s on Twitter telling me that this is the case (woe is me, etc etc).

So, to clarify, I totally understand that Spurs are operating incredibly successfully. I also understand that it’s difficult to integrate youth players when you are competing for titles. I also understand that the development of youth players can be seen as a ‘nice to have’ by fans and that that is a legitimate view. I am not suggesting for a second that I know better than Pochettino and his team and if their method is their chosen solution having analysed all other possible solutions, then so be it: in Pochettino we trust, ad nauseam. I am also not suggesting that all youth players should get first team minutes. There are many of our Academy players who I feel will ultimately not be good enough for the Premier League, let alone Spurs.

I am a Spurs fan above all else, and being a watcher of academy football, appreciator of clubs that develop their young players, and England fan all sit beneath that. What I will go on to suggest, though, is that — from an outsider’s perspective — it seems to me as that we could make small tweaks which could have a positive impact on all aspects of the club from squad development to financial sustainability to ethos-nurturing.

Talent drain

Premier League clubs are developing a reputation for losing young English (or English-Cypriot in Roles’s case, he qualifies to play for both England and Cyprus) talent and Spurs are no different. We have already seen Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts and Noni Madeuke move abroad (as I mentioned here, along with Miloš Veljković). Should Marcus Edwards not get an opportunity on the first team’s pre-season tour next year I expect he won’t be far behind given the reputation he is building in the Eredivisie. Perhaps Roles will also be considering a move to a European club this summer.

For more information on the talent drain, I suggest reading Miguel Delaney’s excellent article ‘How the Bundesliga is attracting the Premier League’s best young players and why it’s just the beginning‘ which includes one killer quote from the director of football at a Ligue 1: “English clubs seem to give the least amount of respect to the same players they’ve spent years developing.”

Lilywhite Rose’s tweet on Roles contract situation

The well-known and reliable COYS Twitter account Lilywhite Rose has stated that Roles is yet to be offered a contract extension, which (assuming it is true) can only really mean three things:

  1. That the club are waiting until the summer to discuss contracts with young players. A high-risk strategy if true.
  2. That the club do not rate Roles as highly as I do. This is plausible, particularly as he has rarely — if ever — been seen training with the first team.
  3. That there is a stand-off between the club and Roles (most likely around a pathway to the first team).

Re: the third suggestion, which I believe to be the most likely: we’ve been here before with Veljković and with Griffiths. In each case, the player would not sign a contract until they were given assurances about game-time, and they would not be given game-time until they had signed contracts. You can see the logic from both sides. Players will have seen Kyle Walker-Peters sign a contract, train with the first team squad and ultimately waste the best part of three years playing little football at any level; they will understandably be nervous about committing. As an aside, Walker-Peters has staggeringly played nearly as many minutes for the England Under-21s as he has at any level for Spurs since August 2017.

Mauricio Pochettino this week laid it on thick about how much he has done for English football. These comments were in response to his two-match touchline ban.

“When we were talking about the suspension about the FA, I remember we started to provide the belief at Southampton with young players, we provide English football and U-16, U-18, U-21 the possibility to grow.

When we start seven years ago there was a massive mentality change in this country. People talk about the young players through the Southampton academy and then here at Tottenham. It’s a massive thing. Your identity is through young players.

It was fantastic to see Manchester United players come on for their debuts [in the Champions League on Wednesday]. It is amazing. That is the identity of English football. I am in England. I have double nationality but my responsibility as a manager here its to provide the best thing for English football to build players and provide talent. That responsibility was one of my priorities to provide back the opportunity English football gave to me.”

Mauricio Pochettino ‘in shock’ over touchline ban as Tottenham ask FA for answers‘, Dan Kilpatrick for the Evening Standard

This season Pochettino has given 418 minutes to four players aged under 21; 373 of these minutes have gone to the youngest, Oliver Skipp (and credit to Pochettino for that). Timothy Eyoma, the latest debutant from the Academy, was the fifteenth Spurs academy player to debut under Pochettino, but that impressive figure perhaps doesn’t tell the full story. The list below includes each of those 15, the number of minutes each has played and is ordered by when the players made their debut.

  • TJ Eyoma: 11 (January 2019)
  • George Marsh: 25 (January 2019)
  • Oliver Skipp: 373 (October 2018)
  • Luke Amos: 2 (August 2018)
  • Kazaiah Sterling: 9 (December 2017)
  • Anthony Georgiou: 6 (September 2017)
  • Tashan Oakley-Boothe: 0, added time sub (September 2017)
  • Kyle Walker-Peters: 880 (August 2017)
  • Filip Lesniak: 4 (May 2017)
  • Shayon Harrison: 7 (October 2016)
  • Anton Walkes: 10 (September 2016)
  • Marcus Edwards: 15 (September 2016)
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers: 360 (September 2016)
  • Josh Onomah: 807 (January 2015)
  • Harry Winks: 5366 (November 2014)

The total number of minutes for Academy players who were given debuts under Pochettino is 7,875. According to Transfermarkt, since Pochettino has been at Spurs we have played 262 matches. That’s 259,380 minutes available. Thus we can say that 3% of available minutes have gone to Academy players given their debut under Pochettino*. If you take Winks out of the equation that comes down to under 1%.

*NB: if you add in Ryan Mason, who Pochettino arguably ‘trusted’ first then it goes up to 4.5%, though as we know Mason was 23 by this point and had clocked up nearly 5,000 minutes of football league action prior to his opportunity.

There are, of course, reasons for this. Some rebuttals may be:

  • The young players that our Academy produces are not good enough.
  • We can’t take risks, we’re challenging for the title.
  • We have too many older pros needing minutes.
  • Developing young players is not our priority.

Some of these are legitimate rebuttals. Some of them are legitimate in relation to certain players/contexts.

Again, to clarify, I am not here to criticise Pochettino’s overall management of the club. He is the greatest manager we have had in my lifetime. I love this man and what he has done for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. Indeed, one could argue that the success of the first team should come as a priority over all other aspects of running the club. But Pochettino himself doesn’t argue that: he says (*scrolls up to check quote again*) ‘your identity is through young players.’

In the context of developing young players he doesn’t practice what he preaches and, as a result, more young talent will continue to leave. Whether you believe that to be a problem or not depends on your perspective but, at the very least, it can and should be seen as a waste of resource in terms of time, effort, money and an opportunity cost in terms of not playing them.

For example, we can look at the £11m and 590 minutes wasted on Georges-Kévin Nkoudou and the £10m and 386 minutes wasted on Clinton Njié as a case study. If we had given those 976 minutes to an Academy player, we could likely have created a selling value for that player of £5m+. It would be difficult to argue that that player would have done any worse than either of the two players mentioned. Best-case scenario, they become another Harry Kane or Winks. Worst case scenario, they are the cause of us losing a match or two and are never seen again. Even if you assume, conservatively, that a thousand first team minutes would lead to an academy player having a value of just £1m, that’s still a swing of £22m (and that’s ignoring wages). The value would more likely be higher, though: I’d argue that Kyle Walker-Peters’ market value is at least £8m (probably more as an England-U21 international with five Premier League assists in just 292 minutes), and that’s after just 880 first team minutes.

There is another point worth making that is specific to Pochettino and to the list of players given debuts. There’s a common trait amongst many of the players: they’re mostly worker bees. There’s a feeling that under Pochettino if young players ‘work hard’ then they will get their chances. What characterises ‘working hard’ is different depending on the type of player, though and, as such, I have a theory that Pochettino is pretty good at giving opportunities to hard-working midfielders (Winks, Skipp, Amos, Marsh, Lesniak, Walkes) but that he struggles to bring through the more mercurial players, of which Roles is certainly one.

My theory is that combative midfielders find it easier to ‘show character’ since that is one of the traits that they have been led to develop over the course of their fledgling careers. Indeed, these are traits that could come naturally to them and have led to them becoming central midfielders in the first place. So if George Marsh — a bloody hard-working, tenacious but ultimately limited player — charges around in training putting tackles in, doing the hard yards, catches the eye and gets minutes for the first team ahead of, say, Sam Shashoua, a technically-gifted, creative, door-unlocking but undoubtedly mercurial player, then in my opinion something has gone wrong. This is not meant to be disrespectful to Marsh who I hope will go on to have a good career himself (and who is clearly a good lad, and a proper ‘team man’), but Shashoua’s ceiling in terms of technique and overall ability is far higher. Lesniak, who Pochettino used, now plays for AaB in the Danish Superliga. Walkes for Portsmouth in League One. These are not elite-level players but they were prioritised over others.

Some people will point towards attitude. Perhaps Lesniak and Walkes ‘had the right attitude’. Perhaps they were better professionals than others. And that could be true (though I suspect attitude is in the eye of the beholder), but then it is up to the club to develop these professional behaviours better through their Academy structures: after all, they have them from when they are children in many cases.

If Jack Roles leaves this summer he may go on to have a mediocre career at a League Two club, scoring the odd FA Cup goal and Spurs may not regret a thing. But the development of young players is not linear, is not straightforward, and key choices at key times can change everything. For example, Connor Ogilvie was an outstanding left-back as an Under-18 at Spurs and was regularly in England squads as a result. He subsequently slumped — as so many do — when caught between the Under-18s and the first team. Had he been given a few minutes for Spurs or out on loan at 18 he may now be a very good left-back at this point. As it is, he’s 23 and is on-loan at Gillingham in League One (admittedly producing a League One player is not to be sniffed at). The point is that ability needs to be harnessed, we need to take advantage of the crests of these waves. Opportunities need to be dangled, loans found, work done to stop players taking their scholarship and moving on.

There’s a wider piece here about the cesspit that is the Premier League 2 and post-scholarship life which I’ll probably write soon, but for now my point is this: if we do not give opportunities either in our first team, or by utilising the loan system, we will continue to lose our best talent and then need to buy similar talents back for a lot of money years later. In fact, we’ll end up buying lesser talents in some cases — Njié was never a youth player for the Cameroon national team, he just happened to get an opportunity and suddenly was ‘worth’ £10m and ‘worth’ prioritising over an Academy player.

I personally hope that Pochettino has a change in approach next season, and either appoints someone to fix up some loan deals (I’d like a Sporting Director/Director of Football as discussed here) or gives young players the odd bench place based upon in-game meritocracy: if you play well for the Under-18s you get to play for the Under-23s; if you play well for the Under-23s you get on the bench in a League Cup match against Grimsby; and so on. This subtle change would lead to a burgeoning culture of opportunity and would totally change the perception around young talent being wasted at Spurs. And, who knows, we might end up with another Kane or Winks on our hands.

To finish on a high, there were other promising performances from some of our youngsters in last night’s victory over Leicester. The team list with the year of their birth is below; I think this illustrates nicely how young a lot of these players are — Dennis Cirkin is not 17 for another month, as an example.

Starting XI, 4-2-3-1: Austin (1999); Hinds (2000), Lyons-Foster (2000), Dinzeyi (1999), Cirkin (2002); White (2001), Marsh (1998); Oakley-Boothe (2000), Maghoma (2001), Bennett (2001); Tracey (1998). Substitutes: Roles (1999), Duncan (1999), Walcott (2002), De Bie (2000), Markanday (2001).

The best players on the night other than MOTM Roles were J’Neill Bennett, Dennis Cirkin, Tariq Hinds and Harvey White.


Each time I begin to believe that I’ve seen it all from Mauricio Pochettino, he performs one last trick that The Magic Circle should send their Chief Investigators out to … er, investigate.

When we played top-of-the-Bundesliga Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of our tie, they had the excuse that key players were missing (as if we didn’t). Well with the majority of their key men back, we beat them again. We didn’t just beat them again, though. We first frustrated them like I’ve rarely, if ever, seen a Spurs team frustrate anyone, before hitting them on the counter. And we arguably should have had a penalty too. And we had Moussa Sissoko in midfield!!!

And we din’t just have Moussa Sissoko in midfield — we had Moussa Sissoko, having undergone one of the greatest transformations I’ve ever witnessed — instrumental in our midfield, and getting the vital assist. A magician, I tell you.

Pochettino made a slight tweak for this match, switching from a back three to a genuine back five. Ahead of them, we started with the 3-2 shape, but this was quickly switched to a 4-1 shape. Marco Reus was finding pockets of space behind Sissoko and was looking like he was building up to a goal. Time after time I’ve seen Pochettino do nothing, believing that his tactical set-up will ultimately come through (more often than not to positive effect). This time he made a bold decision and he made it early and it worked a treat. Son moved to play narrow on the left, Eriksen played narrow on the right, and Sissoko joined Winks in the middle of midfield. Reus stopped finding those pockets.

Spurs saw out a flurry of early attacks, with crucial interventions from various players, but particularly Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris, and gained a foothold in the match, ultimately restricting Dortmund to what pundits might refer to as ‘half-chances’ and what analysts may refer to as ‘low-xG chances’.

xG for Borussia Dortmund vs Spurs

I’ll stop talking tactics as this match went beyond that and into the intangibles that Pochettino has made tangible. I have rarely witnessed, in my time watching Spurs, such drive, determination and sheer will to win in a Spurs side as was present in this match. It reminded me of Juventus’ performance at Wembley last season.

There were bodies flying at the ball, last ditch slide tackles, 10 outfield players supremely focussed on getting back into their position any time they vacated it, and a goalkeeper with the most stunning reflexes.

Pochettino’s Spurs are generally known for their attacking swagger, their incessant press (though less so in recent times), and for goalscoring pin-ups like Harry Kane, Dele and Son Heung-min. This was the defence’s time to shine (though Kane still stole some of the headlines, as ever *heart eyes emoji*).

Despite a terrible run of recent form, preceded by a terrible run of luck with injuries, Spurs progress into the Quarter-finals of the Champions League, are still clinging onto third place in the table, and are making noises about moving ‘home’ in the not too distant future.

Our glasses are half full again, and Pochettino’s handkerchiefs are back up his sleeve… until next time.


Spurs’ squad is in a real mess.

I’m not normally one to catastrophise or get hysterical but the failures of the recent transfer windows have arguably had less of an effect this season than they will in future seasons. Spurs have major squad surgery to do over the coming year which could significantly set us back if it is not managed carefully. This will be Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest challenge yet.

Our squad has all of a sudden become remarkably middle-aged to old (in football terms). At the top end of the age spectrum are the following:

  • Michel Vorm (35)
  • Fernando Llorente (34)
  • Hugo Lloris (31)
  • Jan Vertonghen (31, turns 32 in April)
  • Toby Alderweireld (30)
  • Moussa Sissoko (29)
  • Danny Rose (28, turns 29 in July)
  • Kieran Trippier (28)
  • Victor Wanyama (27, turns 28 in June)

We had become so used to Pochettino using young players and having a young squad but this has crept up rather suddenly. At this point, the only squad players (that we use) under 22 are Foyth (21) & Skipp (18).

The excellent Daniel Storey pointed out that this season we’ve tended to use older players more than younger players:

League starts this season by players currently 24 and under: 57

League starts this season by players currently 30 and above: 72

Ignoring the fact that Pochettino historically prefers working with younger players, this shift in age within the squad brings with it other issues too, such as: a higher wage bill; more tired/injury-prone bodies; less certainty, as players start looking for ‘one last payday’ towards the end of their career; and less motivation for other young players if they cannot see an obvious route through to the first team.

From the list at the start of this piece, I would argue that only Lloris, Vertonghen and Sissoko are all-but-guaranteed to be at the club for the start of the 2019/20 campaign, and so this issue of having a squad tipped towards older players may become less of a problem. But that turnover in itself is a major issue.

I wrote a Twitter thread about this earlier (@WindyCOYS)

Squad surgery is very achievable when it’s properly planned and undertaken at regular intervals. We are left, however, with a summer where we have three windows of surgery to do in one. Not only is that hugely challenging practically in terms of actually getting the deals done, but it brings with it the knock-on effect of having multiple players to acclimatise at one time.

It also means that you cannot be so opportunistic. For example, I cannot imagine that the club are overly concerned about keeping Lucas Moura, who we could probably sell for £20m+. But presumably we would think twice about selling him simply because we would be at risk of running out of players given all of the other outgoings that we can expect.

If you begin to start looking at the players likely to leave in the summer, it becomes clear that our squad is going to be left remarkably thin without significant re-investment.

  • Toby Alderweireld (contract allows him to leave for a set fee this summer)
  • Christian Eriksen (only a year left on his contract with rumblings that he’ll look to move on)
  • Vincent Janssen (assuming we can find a taker)
  • Michel Vorm (contract expiring)
  • Fernando Llorente (contract expiring)
  • Georges-Kévin N’Koudou (…)
  • Victor Wanyama (unable to play at the highest level after a series of injuries).

If you start to consider other areas where we need upgrades, this widens out from seven outgoings to potentially 11:

  • Kieran Trippier (a possibility to cash in whilst his stock is still high-ish)
  • Serge Aurier (not progressing as hoped, opportunity to recoup £20m)
  • Danny Rose (unable to play more than once a week and struggling to put together consistent performances)
  • Ben Davies (more likely to be kept as a squad player, but ultimately shouldn’t be troubling the first team of a team with aspirations of winning the league).

And then we have a series of young players who at this point seem likely to move on:

  • Josh Onomah (22 in April and needs to leave in search of regular first-team football)
  • Kyle Walker-Peters (as per Onomah; ultimately he’s now wasted three years of his career waiting for opportunities)
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (a little below the required standard for Spurs, though should have no problems finding a decent club)
  • Luke Amos (perhaps he’ll get another year after being so unfortunate with his injury, but he would need assurances)
  • Marcus Edwards (building quite a reputation in the Eredivisie but one may assume his bridges have been burned at Spurs and Pochettino does struggle to integrate more mercurial young players)
  • Anthony Georgiou (22 now and it’s time to find a permanent home)
  • Connor Ogilvie (23 and a constant loanee – time to make that permanent switch)
  • Shayon Harrison (perhaps that Melbourne City loan will become permanent)
  • George Marsh (unlikely to ever make the grade)
  • Jack Roles (having another prolific season from midfield but out of contract in the summer – why would he stay?).

11 becomes 21 and that is without mentioning other young players who could also leave (Japhet Tanganga, Dylan Duncan, Jon Dinzeyi). That is a hell of a lot of work to do, and that’s without even considering how many incomings we may need to repair/bolster the squad.

As we have not been consistently giving even our best academy players chances (let alone others), academy players are starting to get to the end of their first professional contract (or end of scholarship) and are looking at leaving. This means that where we had previously hoped to reap the rewards of our investment in the training centre with a conveyor belt of talent, that conveyor belt will begin to head the way of Germany, France or The Netherlands, countries who have recognised that there is huge value to be found amongst young, English players. It’s important to note that this is not an issue just at Spurs, but across the Premier League as a whole, but Spurs are suffering as much as any, with Miloš Veljković, Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts and Noni Madeuke already having moved abroad in recent seasons and others likely to follow this summer.

One would like to imagine that a lot of pre-summer work to line up outgoing and incoming deals can take place, but with Daniel Levy’s energy targeted towards the new stadium for so long, perhaps some of this focus has been lost. I mean, we’d have hoped for the past two transfer windows that deals would be in place, and yet nothing has materialised. The obvious solution would be to bring in a Sporting Director/Director of Football to manage our squad restructuring process, but I fear Spurs have left that too late too. Besides, is Levy trusting enough to leave these decisions in the hands of someone else? Would Pochettino be comfortable with this extra layer of management?

Instead, Pochettino will be left to prioritise which positions he wants to focus on. Central midfield and the full-backs are the most obvious areas for improvement, but replacing both Eriksen and Alderweireld would undoubtedly have an impact on those priorities, particularly if Pochettino intends to continue playing with a back three.

The club has some major decisions to take in the summer: what kind of buyer do we want to be? Do we want to simply sign ‘proven’ Premier League players (James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, David Brooks), who will cost a fortune due to their homegrown premium? Do we want to dig deeper into the football league (Max Aarons, Jack Clarke, Tom Bayliss) to try to find value? Or do we want to use analytics-based scouting to try to find similar value from across Europe (Sander Berge, Denis Zakaria, Marko Rog, Soualiho Meïté)?

Of course, some of these issues could be fixed with a simple change in approach. We can fix some of the problems right now. Offer Eriksen and Alderweireld huge contracts. Fully integrate the likes of Walker-Peters, Onomah and Edwards. Give Skipp and his 18/19-year old peers significant minutes. Suddenly the situation would look more rosy. We could play Walker-Peters between now and the end of the season and potentially fix our right-back problem. But there is a stubbornness within Spurs’ ranks (and I include Pochettino in that just as much as Levy) that makes me think we’re beyond that point. Besides, we may have left it too late; the time to fully integrate some of these young players was two to three seasons ago. The time to tie Eriksen down was last season.

What we must ensure is that Pochettino is appropriately backed because (Kane-aside) losing him would be worse than losing any player.

We go again

Honestly, I didn’t see this coming. I am not someone to get too excited or angry about transfer windows; there’s so much conjecture, so many assumptions, so many reasons why sources would have information aside from that information actually being the reality of a situation.

But after Spurs didn’t sign anyone in the summer window, I felt sure that we’d have something in mind for January. Perhaps, I thought, we’d missed our target in the summer but we have faith that we can get it over the line in January. Or maybe we’ll ‘do a Lucas’ and sign someone for next year but give them the next few months to bed in. Alternatively, we’ll snap up a couple of young lower league talents and send them out on loan to continue their development, ready for a run in pre-season.

The recent injury crisis didn’t change anything in my mind — it would be lunacy for a club that has already got itself into a pickle by bloating its squad with poor signings to make short-termist moves, designed to fix issues that will fix themselves within weeks or months. But there were and are long-term problems that need addressing in our squad. Not only that, we have two key players seemingly on their way out in the summer, in Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen. That will require some serious scouting and some serious investment. In leaving all of our business to the summer, we are putting a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to fix multiple problems at the same time.

Mauricio Pochettino had repeatedly argued that he wouldn’t sign just anyone — that potential incomings had to improve the squad. I think that’s an intention we can all get behind. It pre-supposes, though, that there aren’t players available who are attainable and who wouldn’t improve our squad. I struggle to see how that can be the case.

Part of me is kind of bullish about this; the stubbornness of our transfer committee is admirable in many ways. ‘We have a good squad, any additions are just gravy’. I still believe that we have a squad capable of finishing in the top four this season, but I also believe that we have put a huge amount of pressure on key players to keep turning out — straight after a World Cup, and with limited rotation for the Champions League. This causes weaknesses in muscles, it creates greater risk of injury and that has been borne out.

When the Champions League starts up again we are going to have to hope that our injury woes behind us if we want to progress any further, and we are really going to need key players to step back in and hit the ground running immediately if we are going to secure another top 4 finish.

One things for sure, you’re hella ballsy, Spurs.


I’ve read two really interesting articles this week that I’d like to share and comment on:

Both are excellent pieces that raise interesting questions.

There is one line in Dan’s piece that I took issue with and rather than try to articulate a point in 280 characters on Twitter, I thought I’d write a response which I hope can be read alongside Dan’s article rather than seen as an antagonistic repost. That line: ‘There is not a single youngster who has left Spurs under the Argentine which the club have lived to regret.’

Before I come to my main point, I personally believe that Miloš Veljković, sold to Werder Bremen for €300,000 two years ago, would have been a very useful asset this season (and last). He’s a starting centre-back in a mid-table Bundesliga team. And also, we could come to regret letting Keanan Bennetts, Reo Griffiths and Noni Madueke leave.

But more importantly, this comment on Pochettino having no regrets assumes that players would not have continued an upward trajectory had they been given an opportunity, rather than stagnating or even beginning a decline, which we have seen in a number of young players. For example, it assumes that Nathan Oduwa, currently without a club having been at Olimpija Ljubljana and Vejle Boldklub (thus many will scoff at my suggestion), could never have made it under any circumstance. Personally, I believe that if the stars had aligned he could have. I would say the same for Connor Ogilvie, now on loan at Gillingham, and others would say the same for Alex Pritchard, now at Huddersfield. In the same way that we maxed out the abilities of the likes of Anton Walkes and Grant Ward and ultimately got them to a level that many youth-watchers would not have anticipated, we failed to max out those of Oduwa, Ogilvie and many others. That’s not to say that I believe that every youth player has a chance of making it at Spurs; there are and have been many, many players in Spurs’ Academy system for whom it clearly is not feasible to be a Premier League footballer (though they might develop or go backwards, of course). Despite huge investment in the Academy over the past decade it is clear that the vast majority of players will not have the credentials post-scholarship; that’s normal.

Josh Onomah, referenced in Dan’s article and who I mentioned in this recent article, is in danger of becoming the next in line to leave Spurs; I would imagine that he will move on over the course of the next 12 months. Onomah is a natural talent that — in my opinion — the club have allowed to stagnate. Myself and others felt he was better than Winks (who was also excellent) in U18/U19/U21/U23 football and if he had had the same opportunities in the same position I believe he would be where Winks is now or perhaps even ahead of where he is now. Others disagree, but I am certainly not alone in my thinking. Perhaps — as Dan alludes to — he did not show the same ‘character’ as Winks in training and so did not get the same opportunities. And so we are back to the age old youth development question: what comes first, the opportunity or the taking of the opportunity? There has to be a balance between carrot and stick.

If Onomah now goes on to play for, say, Bristol City, casual onlookers will say ‘clearly he wasn’t good enough for Spurs’, which I personally believe misses the point that player development is not linear, as the brilliant article from Chelsea Youth explains so neatly.

Various managers/coaches across the Tottenham and England age groups all assessed Onomah’s technical ability and mental attributes and decided that he was worth investing time and energy into; would they have done that if he were not up to it, or a player with a poor mentality? Would Mauricio Pochettino himself have said in 2015 ”He is a special boy, a special player, because of his talent, his potential and his body’ if he ultimately thought that Onomah had an attitude problem and would end up being sold to a Championship team? Pochettino thought Onomah was ‘special’, destined to be a top quality player.

Onomah has been with Spurs since playing in the Under-9s. Taking into account his ability and personality, which he had demonstrated to the club for over a decade, Pochettino and his staff gave Onomah multiple new contracts and felt that he was ‘special’.

If he leaves, and onlookers decide that that must be because he was never good enough, then do they question Pochettino’s judgement? He’s the one that deemed Josh special. Or, more sensibly, do they question how that player (because this isn’t really about Josh Onomah specifically) has been developed? Onomah hasn’t suddenly become a different person after ten years, so knowing his personality, his character through years of working with him, developing him as a player and a person, what did the club/coaches do to continue his development to ensure that a decade of time and resources were not wasted? The point I’m making is that something’s gone wrong, and it’s too easy to always blame the player.

In many ways, keeping players’ development moving in an upward trajectory — with no downward turns or levelling out — is the biggest problem Spurs and other English clubs have faced in post-Under-18 football. We have a failing Under-23 structure (in my admittedly-only-partially-informed opinion) and Spurs specifically have not got anyone overseeing a loan system as we once had under Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand (for all their failings, they did that well). We’ve seen the same stagnation with Marcus Edwards, Kazaiah Sterling, Japhet Tanganga, Luke Amos, even Kyle Walker-Peters. I hope the same does not happen with others: Sam Shashoua apparently arranged a loan off his own back and is excelling in Spain, which I hope kick-starts his progression. I could go on and on listing players who have flat-lined. These players have one thing in common: they came out of Under-18 football very highly rated, being selected in England youth squads, and they have ultimately stopped progressing.

It’s so easy for fans who want to believe that the club is doing everything right to put the blame for that on the player: they didn’t stand out in training, they didn’t stand out in that cup match they played in once, they had the wrong attitude, they thought they’d made it, too much too young, money is ruining the game. But young players going abroad and showing their quality tells us that the clubs are failing to adapt. Something has to change within the structure to allow opportunity, to allow growth, to forgive the failings of youth players like we do with more experienced professionals who have cost clubs multiple millions.

Clubs and coaches have to remember that each player is different and each needs a different strategy. Trying to develop Marcus Edwards — a natural technician who needs extra challenges, extra incentives, extra pushes — in the same way that you treat Harry Winks — who is a little more limited and so who obviously has to work his backside off to maximise his abilities, thus shows ‘character’ — is a recipe for failure.

Ultimately, I think if Onomah moves on, he’ll eventually find his way back to the top half of the Premier League because he’s a very good footballer. But with the odds stacked against young players, nobody can really know how this will end.

Pochettino has rightly earned praise for developing a whole host of players at Spurs and for bringing through Harry Winks. He now seems to want to integrate Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters, which is fantastic. But English clubs in general have a long way to go in terms of maximising the huge potential within its Academy system. And in order to do that, they and we need to start looking within club structures and strategies, and stop always looking to blame the players.