It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the Tottenham Hotspur Academy squad. The best side in their league, they have been involved in a cup run, an end of season play-off, and not to mention five European tournaments since July 2008.
In pre-season, the U18s finished as runners-up in both the Eurofoot in Belgium and the Santiago Tournament in Spain – losing the Santiago final on penalties after an injury time equaliser from Benfica.
Having begun the domestic season well, January saw the squad participating in the prestigious Copa Chivas tournament in Mexico. According to Alex Inglethorpe, the lads got a bit of a rough ride with a poor refereeing decision which saw Berchiche sent off and the team lose in the semi-final.
Arguably the biggest heartbreak of the season for the side came in March. Having made their way to the Youth Cup quarter-final, beating Sheffield United at home, and Charlton and Plymouth away along the way, the boys lost to Arsenal in a 1-3 defeat at White Hart Lane.
In April, they travelled to Switzerland, to take part in the ‘Tourneo Internazionale’ in Bellinzona. They won the trophy, beating Barcelona and Sporting Lisbon – two hugely talented, technical sides at this level of football. It was a very young travelling squad – in total contrast to the squad that had made the trip to Spain in pre-season. For comparison purposes:
Squad for Santiago Tournament, Spain:
Button, L Butcher, Caulker, C Butcher, Smith, Parrett, Kasim, Townsend, Mason, Obika, Bostock, Mtandari, D Hutton, Fraser-Allen, Rose, Pekhart, Hughton.
Squad for Tourneo Internazionale, Switzerland:
Jansson, Ranieri, Carroll, Durojaiye, Oyenuga, Kane, Cox, Butcher, Smith, Kasim, Mason, Waller Lassen, Parrett, Ekim, Caulker, O’Neill, Byrne, Nicholson.
The domestic season ended with yet another defeat to a very strong Arsenal side – this time in the Play-Off final. Having finished top of their league, the lads beat Sunderland in the semi, before going down 0-1 to Arsenal, again at White Hart Lane. Arsenal U18s are a physically strong, and technically gifted side, who have several players in key areas who are a year older than our boys and, whilst defeat to our local rivals is never easy to take, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Finally, the long season for the U18s was coming to an end, but not without more success first – the team retained the Tournoi International de Monthey, beating Hajduk Split 3-0 in the final. It’s interesting to note that John Bostock won the Player of the Tournament award, and that Bostock, Mason, Sam Cox and Jon Obika were all named in the Team of the Tournament.
Player of the Season for this team is clearly Ryan Mason. Nils-Rune, a poster on the COYS forum, has calculated that Mason has managed 37 goals and 19 assists this season – outstanding at any level. He has also managed to make his full Spurs debut, coming on as a late substitute against NEC Nijmegen in November 2008. He plays just off a front man and is a stylish and gifted footballer – his physique is what many think holds him back, but he seems to use his slight frame well and, personally, I don’t think it’ll be long before we’ll see him in first team football.
Mason’s regular strike partner Jonathon Obika, alongside left-winger Andros Townsend, moved on-loan to Yeovil for the run-in – crucial experience for these young players. Both impressed, and I would hope that both would be back out on loan at some point next season.
For the second year trainees: Calum Butcher, Adam Smith, Yaser Kasim, and Sam Cox, along with Mason, Townsend and Obika, it could be a slightly transitional season in 2009/10. I think this is where Spurs have tended to struggle slightly in the past; players have shown potential for the Academy side, but have then failed to make the step-up, and end up getting released or sold for a nominal fee. Of course, it only takes one larger sale to make it all worthwhile, but we’d all hope for more from this group – a group that Academy Director, John McDermott, told me is “the most talented and exciting group of players I have worked with in the 18 years I have been working in youth development.”
Whether the second years play a combination of youth and reserve football, go on loan, or move up to the first team squad, it is a crucial year in their footballing development and, I for one hope that we don’t end up with another group of “inbetweeners” like the Fraser-Allen, Mtandari, Hughton (etc) intake that have just been released – stranded in reserve football and not quite cutting the mustard on trials and loans at other sides.