Guest Blog: Youth Special
A special guest blog from @CarlItAsISeeIt who you may know from podcasts about our youth team that we’ve recorded together in the past. Carl has encyclopaedic knowledge of our youth teams and big opinions on where it’s going wrong at the moment in terms of the academy feeding our first team. So without further ado…
In my opinion there is a lot of misplaced negativity about Spurs’ academy at the moment; people talk about it as though it is not doing its job. Fans are looking over at Arsenal and Chelsea, seeing the players they are bringing through, and are starting to feel envious, placing the blame at the door of our academy. But, for my money, the players and staff in the actual ‘academy’ are doing everything right and have not really let up over the past few years.
Instead, our youth development is suffering for having a system that does not allow our players to develop post-19; other clubs take our players, and the academy faces criticism when the academy has actually completed its role in the development process (i.e. it ends at 18).
The main issue rests with whomever controls the loans and first team integration. We are feeling the effects of not developing our best talents, as we are now starting to lose players or are unable to recruit at Under-14/Under-15 level; the result of which is that we lack depth in some age groups.
Take as an example England’s golden age group: the 2000-borns. England got to the semi-finals of the European Championships at Under-17 level and then won the World Cup. In that age group alone Spurs had multiple call-ups along the way. That group of players was one of the best England has ever produced and, therefore, it feels reasonable to say — given the fact that we are an elite academic and had so many players involved — that it was also one of the best groups that Spurs had produced. When our 2000-borns were 17/18, we had as many talented players as Manchester City, as Chelsea and arguably more talented players than Arsenal. But if we look at the players from that age group we will see where the development fell away.
Oakley-Boothe was one of the biggest talents from that age group at 16. Many youth watchers who know English youth football, myself included, were really looking forward to watching him come through. A lot cited his injury as one of the reasons England did not win the European Championships, and saw him as one of the best or most important players in a group which included Callum Hudson-Odoi, Phil Foden and Jadon Sancho. Oakley-Boothe was taken under Mauricio Pochettino’s wing, promoted to the first team squad early, and ultimately become a shell of the player he once was. He had no loans, was restricted to Under-23 football, and stagnated. Stagnated to the point that he ended up being a bench player for the Under-23s. Why was he on the bench? Because he was eventually overtaken by…
Skipp was another massive talent from that year group; arguably only pipped by Oakley-Boothe and one other, who I will come onto. The fact that he was probably (slightly) less technically able/eye-catching and more industrious, meant that he was allowed to play youth football whilst Oakley-Boothe was promoted to the first team squad. He, therefore, continued to develop and look the part, eventually overtaking Oakley-Boothe and gaining sparse minutes with the first team. He became the ‘next big thing’, which was probably the worst thing that could have happened to him. There is a possibility that we will not see Skipp again this season — at any level. By the end of next season there is a risk that he will become the next player who, in the eyes of the fans, ‘is not good enough’. As I was saying, Skipp was only slightly behind…
Another regular in that age group, we lost Kirby as he wanted to join Chelsea. This seemed like a great career choice for him but, owing to the deal going awry, he ended up at Crystal Palace. As almost happened with Aaron Wan-Bissaka (until injury struck and he got his chance), Kirby is now struggling to get any first team minutes. A former Chelsea and Spurs youth coach stated that Kirby and Oakley-Boothe were two of the best players he had ever worked with; the same coach would have worked with Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount, Fikayo Tomori, etc. Kirby wanted to leave — presumably for money and for developmental opportunities that he would not get at Spurs.
Our final regular in that age group was Eyoma. A player who excelled at bringing the ball out from the back. He was one of the primary centre-backs, along with Marc Guehi and Jonathan Panzo. Eyoma was an excellent centre-back who was a mainstay in that team… who has not developed. No loans, nothing.
Less of a regular, but Reo Griffiths was also called up to that age group. He would have been competing with Rhian Brewster, Danny Loader, and Hudson-Odoi (who was a striker initially). Whilst not the most naturally gifted, Griffiths scored a lot of goals and earned a call-up before leaving Spurs for more opportunities.
Lyons-Foster played quite a few games across different age groups at full-back. Any player getting called up to that age group had talent and watchers were excited about how good he had played for Spurs at centre-back. What we see now is another who has gone backwards.
Hinds was called up to a tournament but missed out due to injuries, which prevented him getting his chance again. But it is worth pointing out that at the point of his call-up he was ahead of Max Aarons, Jayden Bogle and Tariq Lamptey (another impressive Chelsea right-back). Anyone who has seen Hinds will know he is a technically excellent player, but if Kyle Walker-Peters cannot forge a pathway then it is almost impossible to see how Hinds might.
We could look at the 1999-borns: we had Keanan Bennetts, Sam Shashoua, Jaden Brown, Jon Dinzeyi and Japhet Tanganga playing for England in the same age group that had Mount, Joe Willock, Eddie Nketiah and Reiss Nelson. We look over at other clubs and wonder why we cannot match their talent: the answers are all there in front of us. Mount and Nelson were out on good loans while the other two were getting League Cup minutes. Meanwhile, three of ours have now left the club, just to find some sort of game time; Shashoua even personally organised a loan before leaving permanently. Tanganga was arguably the biggest talent of these players, and he dropped behind Dinzeyi in our manager’s eyes only to pop up this pre-season due to injuries. Unfortunately for him, he played so well that he missed an opportunity to get himself a loan or some development. I could go into some depth on Marcus Edwards, Josh Onomah and Kyle Walker-Peters — all England regulars from very young age groups, and some of the biggest talents we have produced — but I would only be repeating myself.
So I am left wondering ‘what more can our academy do when it comes to producing players?’ Onlookers will say that we are not doing a good job compared to other clubs, but the talent is there if you look hard enough.
When comparing the output of our academy with other clubs, we need to start focussing on what is happening between the ages of 19-23. After all, our players have been regularly featured in England squads, and yet everyone can see we cannot get any of them into our first team; we need to change perceptions that this is a fault with the players, and the ‘academy’. Did they all develop a collective bad attitude and give up, while the ‘overpaid, spoilt’ Chelsea stars continued to work? Or, is it simply that an opportunity arose?
Chelsea is perhaps a poor comparison, because their academy is truly exceptional. But they have had a similar problem until this season.
Chelsea won five FA Youth Cups in a row, and seven out of nine. They also won the UEFA Youth League twice and finished as runners-up twice. What is happening now is not just a golden era, they have had top quality players every single year for a long period of time. The key difference is that this year they have a manager that wants to play them.
Players like Kasey Palmer, Charlie Colkett, Jeremie Boga, Dominic Solanke, Charly Musonda, Ola Aina and Jay Dasilva missed out on opportunities previously. The logical conclusion from those not closely watching was that clearly those age groups were not producing players. If Lampard — who also managed Mount and Tomori last year — was not there, how many of these academy players would be getting chances now? Abraham was ridiculed when team selections were announced a matter of weeks ago, based on the impression that Chelsea fans had of him.
I have always said that we could bring through one player a year. Chelsea are not doing anything in cycles, they are doing just that — one or two a year:
1996 – Loftus-Cheek, Christensen
1997 – Abraham, Tomori
1998 – James
1999 – Mount
2000 – Hudson-Odoi
These players have not coincidentally become ready for first team football at the same time; they have been steadily developed through strategic loans and, crucially, they have a manager in place who trusts them.
Chelsea are the pinnacle of academy football; they have a better academy than us. But you can have the greatest academy in the world and will not see its value unless the manager plays the best of the players. The only thing we could hold over them over the past few years was that we gave our academy players a chance, yet we only have Harry Winks to show for it. I am confident that by the end of this season, Reece James (the player I believe will have the fewest minutes of those listed above) will have played more football than Skipp and Walker-Peters combined. So we either praise Chelsea and Frank Lampard or accept the criticism that we are underperforming in this particular area. Given that they currently sit above us in the league and are performing better in the Champions League, comments about rightly not trusting youth players in pressure games feel unwarranted.
The academy is absolutely not failing at producing players. But the club is failing at bringing academy players into the first team. What has happened to Walker-Peters is one of the saddest things I have seen at this club given the amount of trust and faith he has put in the club to manage his career. So many England youth fans were looking forward to seeing what he would become, but he never got the chance. Nothing will change if we do not change what we are doing at the business end. It is a bit like when Chelsea won their string of youth trophies and did not bring through players; everyone assumed that they were not good enough.
Moving forward, there is still a huge amount of talent in the Spurs academy. The only reason that myself and others are not as vocal about it anymore is that it all feels a bit pointless. But there is enough talent to aim to bring one player through per season. Our Under-18s last year put in some of the best displays I have ever seen at that level. We continue to lose players, like Noni Madueke (who is looking good at PSV) but we still have talent below: the likes of Nile John, Roshaun Mathurin, Dane Scarlett, Jordan Hackett, Brandon Bryan-Waugh (and others) are seriously talented players. The future is bright if the pathway is there.
Many thanks to Carl for his insight here — a fascinating read, I’m sure you’ll agree.