Ange – Small C Conservative?

Nathan put together this really excellent video about why we struggle against the narrow low block and some potential solutions. If you listen to our podcast, The Extra Inch (Spurs Podcast), you’ll know that Nathan is convinced that we are a dribbly winger (or two) away from being a hell of a team. I’m struggling to convince myself that Ange agrees.

Firstly: Brennan Johnson and Timo Werner. He sanctioned the signings of these two fairly non-dribbly wingers. I also do think, in Yago Santiago, we have the dribbly winger profile in the squad but, aside from a few bench appearances when we were down to The Bare Bones™, he has not had a look-in.

Recently I’ve been saying that I think that Ange, whilst being a (somewhat) radical and extremely ideological coach, is somewhat conservative with team selection and substitutions. I think there’s a case that he could be *more* radical and *more* ideological.

What I mean by that is that he could stick more rigidly to the profiles for the roles that he needs rather than selecting from his most experienced players despite them not having the right tactical profile. For example, he could do that by thinking outside the box in terms of using a central midfielder as an inverted full-back. I say this since those roles are more closely aligned than the inverted full-back and more traditional full-back in some aspects, specifically how much they are asked to receive the ball with their back to play.

Or he could use the Academy. Yes, yes, Windy, we get it, you are obsessed with the Academy.

On the former, as a long-term transformation, it would of course require re-training, re-shaping, re-thinking, video analysis, and one-to-one sessions to convert, say, Oliver Skipp into a long-term back-up for Porro. It’s radical. And, even then, who’s to say it would work? I mean I actually don’t think Skipp has the creative passing (like Porro) or carrying (like Destiny Udogie) to be an Ange-ball full-back, and I think having one of those is a necessity. So I’m not sure why I chose Skipp as an example, but whatever, stick with me anyway here. As a one time shot, a 45 minute ‘just get on the ball and progress it’ thing, I don’t see why that’s any more risky than just leaving Emerson Royal on there to struggle as he did against Wolves. And that’s not meant to be a brutal slight on Emerson Royal, who I think is a competent traditional full-back… but one that is totally unsuited to the inverted role.

On the latter — using the Academy — I believe we have had three key occasions this season to utilise young players that are arguably better profile fits than the alternative ‘experienced’ player.

  • The centre-back crisis. We could have picked Alfie Dorrington (18) over Emerson Royal.
  • The injuries to James Maddison and Giovani Lo Celso. We could have picked Jamie Donley (19) over, for example, Oliver Skipp.
  • The lack of dribbly wingers. We could have picked Yago Santiago (20) over *points at all the non-dribbly wingers*.

I’m not going as far as saying I’d be involving brilliant Under-18s inverted right-back Leo Black (18), because I think there’s a strong argument that he’s not physically ready — he hasn’t played Under-21 football yet. And I’m not suggesting we play our other outstanding young players, Tyrese Hall (18, incredibly press-resistant midfielder) or Mikey Moore (16, dribbly winger!) because I think they probably do need more experience at Under-21 level. And, to be clear, I’m not even saying I’d start our young players — I’d have eased them in gradually with a view to testing how they cope with the environment and then starting them if they do okay. Aside from a tiny handful of minutes for Donley, we’ve been so painfully conservative on this.

Whenever I suggest this kind of thing I gets lots of push-back. We’re fighting for the Champions League, we can’t take ‘risks’ with young players. Well, there are plenty of recent Premier League examples to cite. Eddie Howe has used Lewis Miley, 17. Roberto De Zerbi has used Jack Hinshelwood, 18. Pep Guardiola has used Oscar Bobb, 20, Jurgen Klopp has used Conor Bradley, 20. Erik ten Hag has used Kobbie Mainoo, 18. These are all examples of managers — in pressure situations — picking young players over more experienced players because they’re closer to the tactical profile they need for the role they want fulfilled. There are more similar examples too: David Ozoh (18), Rico Lewis (19), Evan Ferguson (19), Luca Koleosho (19), Alejandro Garnacho (19), Wilson Odobert (19), Facundo Buonanotte (19). They’ve all got to start somewhere.

Yeah but their players have had loans at a higher level so are ahead of ours. Wrong. In all but one of the original five examples (Bradley, who had a season in League One) those players have all come in having not had previous experience in men’s football. Like Donley, like Dorrington, like Santiago.

Yeah but our players aren’t as good as those. I disagree. We have comparable England age-group recognition to Mainoo and Miley — Hinshelwood, for example, had received no international recognition before his Brighton debut.

The only difference, in my opinion, is the coach doing the selecting. The opportunities afforded to the young players.

I love Ange dearly. I think he’s the best coach we’ve had in years. As a guy, he’s the best person we’ve had in charge in my lifetime. I urge him to be even bolder, even more ruthless. To stick to his idealogical approach to the max, profile above (nearly) all else. Please, no more Emerson Royal as an inverted wing-back or Oliver Skipp as a number eight.

Join the conversation

  1. Definitely food for thought. We have temporarily lost that swift movement of transition from defence to attack. Let's get back to ball in the box and shoot. Too many slow build up moves then eleven opponents in the box.
  2. It is very troubling that Spurs always recruit managers who are not at all interested in giving academy players a chance. This happened with Mourinho and Conte. Sadly it also happened with Pochettino. He only ever picked one player regularly who he had personally promoted from the academy and that was Harry Winks. Pochettino had this myth that he gave young players a chance which was so untrue when it came to the academy. I am sure many Spurs fans would love to see Yago Santiago on the pitch. It would add some excitement to the dreary football. That is another myth that Spurs have been playing beautiful football. They played good football in a couple of games, but that was it. I am hoping that the football will improve once Bentancur gets his match sharpness back.
  3. Interesting take as ever Chris.
  4. Klopp’s selection of young players for the Carabao Cup (and winning it with them) is a great example that coaches can show trust in their youth and have it work out. Obviously Klopp also wants to show that he’s bringing in a new generation of players before he leaves, but it feels like Ange could have experimented more and I hope he will over the rest of the season.

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