Thoughts on the Tottenham Academy, season 08/09

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.

Key links for the Academy:
Official Site Academy Pages
Spurs Odyssey Youth Team Reports

Gareth Barry

Gareth Barry is a very overrated footballer. He’s a good player, no doubt about that. He’s not, however, one of the best midfielders in England, although yes, he probably is one of the best English midfielders. His transfer to Manchester City this week has got me thinking on two levels:

  1. The transfer in general.
  2. Spurs missing out on him.

The transfer in general

Initially, reading Barry’s letter to Villa fans you can’t help but think “fair play to the guy”. He’s spent a lot of time at Villa and won nothing. He’s brought them in a decent transfer fee (although only about half of what they could’ve got this time last year), which will allow them to bolster a few other areas of their squad (which certainly needs to be done). He’s been made a big offer from City that was too good for him to turn down.

Then you start thinking about this from the point of view of a Villa fan – their club captain, fan favourite, longest-serving player. He gets his break in the England team and starts to make a name for himself. Great for the club, who are already doing the best they’ve done for some time (certainly the best whilst he has been there), to be getting some recognition. However, he decides he needs to move on to win things, and to play Champions League football. After the protracted move to Liverpool, the fans were very happy for him to stay for one final year, in the hope that he could help them qualify for the CL, and then would maybe stay. If they don’t manage it, then fine – he is free to go. And after all that, he moves to a club that finished 4 places and 12 points below them.

So City are aiming to break into the top 4 next year by signing some star players (Tevez, Lescott and Eto’o if you believe rumours) from around the world. Strange, then, that they’d prioritise Barry when, I’m sure a lot of their fans would agree, De Jong and Kompany were two of their better performers in the midfield holding roles towards the back end of the season.

Spurs missing out on him

There were plenty of rumours to suggest that Spurs were keen to sign Barry – with the likely departure of Zokora, and with O’Hara and Huddlestone hinting that they’d move on in search of first team football, it would be no surprise to most Spurs fans that Redknapp may want to bring in some quality competition for Jenas and Palacios. Indeed, Redknapp confirmed in his Sun column that this was the case, and that we’d lost out on Barry to Manchester City’s millions.

On the face of it, Barry sounded like a great idea – this is the guy who has taken Carrick’s place in the England set-up. Carrick, who was the best midfielder Spurs had had for many years, and whose departure left us with a gaping hole in our team. So Barry must be perfect, right?

Remember though, that we’re a totally different side to the one that Carrick played in. In the days of Carrick, we frequently played a lop-sided 4-4-2 – Lennon wide right, with Davids (or Tainio) and Jenas tucked in close to Carrick. Carrick would sit deep and dictate play – everything went through him. In the last half of the season under Redknapp, we tended to play with Jenas and Palacios holding, giving Modric and Lennon license to roam and create. Jenas and Palacios have complimented each other well – neither player sitting particularly deep, but both well aware of their defensive responsibilities, and both with a burst of acceleration that allows them to be quick to recover their positions when necessary.

I simply can’t see how the Barry that we see for England would fit into our formation. Firstly, because he plays too deep and, secondly, because he is painfully slow. Our midfielders are left to mop up and to pass the ball quickly to the creative players, and occasionally to support the attack or to drive forward with the ball. They aren’t playmakers.

It’s also worth pointing out here that Barry has played a totally different role at Villa this year. With Petrov as the deepest lying of the midfield players, Barry has played often as a schemer – a passer, short or long range, who likes to arrive late in the box, or pop up on the left wing. This player wouldn’t really fit into the line-up either. Essentially, we’d be paying £12m for a 28 year old who would then need to adapt his game, and who we wouldn’t really be getting the best from.

And now I revert back to my opening line – in my opinion, Barry is an overrated player. I’d pick Carrick over Barry for England all day long, and I’d also pick Jenas/Palacios over Barry for Spurs’ midfield.

Plenty more fish in the sea.

Stick or Twist?

With the Summer transfer merry-go-round nearly upon us, and the red tops already going into overdrive, it’s the time of year where we, as fans, think about what players we’d like to see join our club.

After a couple of seasons with very high player turnover (April 08 – March 09: 14 players in, April 07 – March 08: 11 players in), my hope is that we finally “do an Everton” and stick, largely, with what we’ve got.

As I suggested in an earlier article, one of my concerns with Harry Redknapp being our manager is his reputation as a tinker-man. He showed in January what he’s capable of, bringing in 5 “new” faces and getting shot of 8. I’m hopeful that that’ll be the majority of his transfer dealings for the year.

My reasons for not wanting change are three-fold:

  1. I think we already have the 6th or 7th best squad in the PL, and I am happy for year-on-year improvements.
  2. I think a consistent approach – like Everton, or Wigan, or even Arsenal/Man Utd is the only way that we are going to get close to Champions League qualification.
  3. History shows us that multiple changes can do more harm than good.

Harry has said recently that he’ll be targeting more established players (“The players that I have in mind are playing very well and are in their prime”), and according to a lot of the speculation on various forums, he has identified Sulley Muntari (Inter Milam), Roque Santa Cruz (Blackburn Rovers), and Matthew Upson (West Ham United) as his three key targets.

Personally I would like for us to make minimal changes:

  • Central midfield – some competition for Jenas and Palacios. My choice would be Manchester City’s Michael Johnson – a technically gifted player who has had some “off the field problems”, but will be a future star in my opinion.
  • A left-sided midfield player if Harry doesn’t fancy Bale there (although personally I’d be happy with Bale as Modric’s back-up, particularly after his excellent showing against Everton)
  • And a left back to compete with Assou-Ekotto (Warnock?).

Clearly Bent would need to be replaced if, as expected, he moves on and, if that were the case, I’d like us to try to snatch Jô from under Everton’s noses. He would give us the physical presence that we do tend to lack at times, and also has a decent scoring record since being in a settled side

I for one hope that Harry opts for stability over another transitional Summer.

Loanee Round-up

Now that we’re at the end of the season, I’d like to round up the performances of our loanees.

Anthony Gardner joined Hull on loan, but the move was made permanent before he could play a game. Unfortunately for him, his injury curse has struck again.

Leigh Mills went to Gillingham on loan, where he played 7 games. However, he was released from Spurs in February and, as yet, hasn’t found a new club. Rumour has it that he has given up playing.

Charlie Daniels went to Gillingham for a month, where he scored once in 5 games started. He was then signed permanently by Leyton Orient, whom he played for on loan in 2007/8. He’s started 21 games for them.

Tomas Pekhart initially joined Southampton on loan, but failed to make an impact, starting 2 games and making 8 sub appearances, scoring once. He has since joined Slavia Prague on loan – their season is still ongoing.

Jake Livermore had an unfortunate season, having initially been sent to Crewe for the whole year. He suffered a broken leg in pre-season, and returned to Spurs, where he has now recovered and has been playing reserve team football.

Simon Dawkins started 4 games and made 10 sub appearances for Leyton Orient, scoring 1 goal in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. He returned to Spurs in January, and has since made a few appearances for the reserves. I imagine that he’ll be released at the end of the season.

David Button has had a bit of a mixed time, spending time at Grays Athletic, where he made 16 starts, Bournemouth, where he made 4 starts and had a bit of a nightmare, Luton, where he was an unused sub, and finally Dagenham & Redbridge, where he made 3 starts.

Lee Butcher went to Margate, where he played a handful of times, before eventually spending a month at Grays to end the season, playing 3 games.

Andy Barcham went to Gillingham, initally on loan. He made 13 appearances, usually as a left winger, scoring 3 times. He eventually joined them permanently, and has made a total of 38 appearances for them, with 9 goals and 5 assists, helping them to a play-off place.

Ben Alnwick made 6 appearances for Carlisle on loan, before coming back and being a regular for our reserves. Surely another player who will move on at the end of the season – a poor signing.

Troy Archibald-Henville has had a very mixed season. Not making a single appearance in his loan spell at Norwich, it was decided that he’d come back to Spurs. He then went to Exeter, for whom he made 19 starts, helping them to promotion to League One. I would think that there is a fair chance that they will sign him permanently or take him on loan next year.

Kevin-Prince Boateng joined Borussia Dortmund on loan for the rest of the season back in January and, according to Dortmund, they have an option to buy him. I believe he has so far made 7 appearances for them. Let’s hope we’ve seen the last of him at Spurs…

Dorian Dervite has been one of the biggest successes of our loanees. He joined Southend until the end of the season at the end of January, and has made 19 starts. He was one of their outstanding players throughout his spell, and I’m sure they’d love to take him permanently.

Kyle Fraser-Allen spent a month on loan at Macclesfield, making two sub appearances. He came back and played a few games for the reserves, but is another player that I imagine will move on come the end of the season.

At the beginning of March, Danny Hutchins joined Yeovil Town on a one-month loan deal, having been told that his Tottenham contract wouldn’t be renewed. He made 8 starts, and 1 sub appearance, mainly playing at right-back. He had a number of impressive displays, and supposedly Yeovil want to sign him.

Chris Gunter played 8 games for Nottingham Forest, hitting some good form. He is a player that they’d like to take permanently, but I can’t see us wanting to let him go just yet. Perhaps another loan next year will follow.

Adel Taarabt made 5 starts and 2 sub appearances for QPR, scoring once. He has been quoted as saying that QPR have made a bid for him, and that he’d like to move on in search of first team football.

Giovani Dos Santos impressed at Ipswich Town, making 6 starts and 2 sub appearances, netting 4 goals (I think 2 were penalties).

Young Jon Obika and Andros Townsend joined up with Hutchins at Yeovil Town and both made their league debuts. Both made 10 starts, with winger Townsend scoring 1 and striker Obika getting 4 goals and an assist.

Danny Rose got 3 starts and 4 sub appearances at Watford, playing in the middle of midfield, and on the left. He scored a spectacular own goal in this time, and also managed to miss a chance from two yards. However, his stint improved as it went along, and I think he’s a player they will have their eye on this Summer.

David Hutton joined Cheltenham Town, having been told that his Tottenham contract wouldn’t be renewed. He started off with two sub appearances, but soon impressed, and got 5 starts, scoring once and getting an assist. It seems he may have done enough to win himself a contract.

Yuri Berchiche joined Cheltenham Town with Hutton, and made 7 starts at left back. He is another player that I could see leaving us.

02/05/09 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 4-1 West Ham United U18s, Spurs Lodge

A sunny morning brought out a decent crowd at Spurs Lodge on Saturday morning, a crowd including Michael Dawson (in training gear and walking freely) and Tim Sherwood.

Arriving slightly too late to get a team-sheet, we were pleased that there were only two players who we’d not seen before – the fairly recognisable Coskun Ekim (or Josh, as the other players call him), and Harry Kane. Spurs lined up in a slightly unfamiliar formation – the usual 4-4-1-1 adapted, with Mason playing just off a front two of Byrne and Kane. The three central midfielders often interchanged, but largely lined up with Parrett to the right, Kasim to the left, and Ekim central.

Jansson (18)

Smith (18) Caulker (17) Butcher (18) Cox (18)

Parrett (c) (17) Ekim (17) Kasim (17)

Mason (17)

Byrne (16) Kane (? U16)

Substitutes: Nicholson (16), Carroll (16), Fredericks (? U16)

The opening of the game was incredibly frantic, with a couple of chances at both ends and neither team really able to gain a foothold. Spurs were playing the better football, but largely outside the box. West Ham had a great chance at the back post, before Mason started finding space, and had a couple of efforts on goal.

As the half went on, it was clear that the formation did not really suit Spurs – the midfield players weren’t sure who was holding and who was breaking forward. Ekim made a couple of bad challenges, the second of which lead to the referee brandishing a yellow card. Players were getting frustrated with each other, and it was particularly clear that they wanted Kasim to release the ball earlier. The highlight of the half was Mason hitting the crossbar with a volley from inside the box.

As suspected, Ekim didn’t reappear in the second half, with his replacement, Jake Nicholson, playing at left back. This meant that Cox played the holding midfield role, Kasim went to the left, Byrne to the right, and Mason played just off U-16 striker Harry Kane.


Smith Caulker Butcher Nicholson

Byrne Parrett Cox Kasim



This new formation had an almost instant effect, and West Ham fell behind shortly after the restart. A Ryan Mason corner found its way to Harry Kane, who had pulled away from his marker at the back post. He looped a header across goal, and Nathan Byrne was there to prod home from close range.

The second goal came soon after. Dean Parrett was having an excellent second half, and broke forward from midfield again. He slipped a nice pass through to Mason, who this time made no mistake, dinking his finish over the goalkeeper – the celebration was one of relief for Mason, who had missed a few chances. Spurs really began to dominate now, and looked like scoring every time they went forward. The third goal came from another set piece – this time Steven Caulker (the usual target) won a header, and Harry Kane tapped in after a real goalmouth scramble. Kane deserved a goal for a hard-working performance.

And having said Harry Kane deserved his goal, Nathan Byrne certainly deserved his second after a livewire second half in which he tore the West Ham left back to shreds. Substitute Ryan Fredericks showed good feet and put in a cross – the ball eventually fell to Byrne, who fired home with a low shot home from the edge of the penalty area.

West Ham’s goal when Jansson came out flapping and missed the ball. It was a poor mistake and not his first of the day – his kicking is pretty unreliable. That said, West Ham will feel they “got away with it” a bit in losing by only three goals – it could easily have been more.

A few of the West Ham players seemed to have real “attitudes”. The red-haired full-back was particularly mouthy, and picked up a yellow card following a cynical tackle. I’m not sure whether the booking was for the challenge, or for the fact that he picked up the ball and threw it down before effing and blinding at the referee. At one point, Kasim made a challenge which a West Ham player didn’t like. A few West Ham players then surrounded Kasim, and he was pushed. He shoved back, before Dean Parrett maturely put his arm around him and lead him away.

Jansson – As mentioned above, he was at fault for the consolation goal, and his kicking was sloppy. He is a very vocal goalkeeper – his Swedish accent making his voice easy to distinguish. 5/10

Smith – In his first half role he got forward well. Less so in the second half, but had a steady game and rarely looks like being beaten. 6/10

Caulker – Coped very well against the giant striker, Bálint Bajner, and has a tonne of ability. Certainly one for the future. 7/10

Butcher – Like Caulker, coped very well in aerial challenges. He’s a bit more “agricultural” than his centre back partner – the Nemanja Vidic to Caulker’s Rio Ferdinand (!), but still has plenty of promise. I imagine he’ll go out on loan next year as he’s coming to the end of his trainee contract. 7/10

Cox – Looked far better at left-back than centre midfield, but sometimes struggles because he’s very right-footed. Fantastic work ethic, but limited ability. 6/10

Parrett – The best I’ve seen from him. All-action second half with some great breaks forward and also some solid defensive work. Got the assist for Mason’s goal with a typical driving run and pass. 7/10

Ekim – Very much off-the-pace, and a little lost – it’s no surprise that he’s not played an awful lot this year. With him also walking the tightrope of a yellow card, it was obvious that he’d be taken off at half-time. 4/10

Kasim – Not his best game, but it’s clear that he’s a very good player. He has a tendency to hang on to the ball a little too long at times – probably because he can at this level. So strong, and protects the ball brilliantly. 6/10

Mason – I can’t quite place in my mind at which point it occurred, but Mason had a superb dipping volley that dropped steeply and cannoned off the crossbar. Virtually every good move came through him, and on another day he’d have had a hat-trick. Hit the woodwork twice, and also missed a couple of other good chances. 8/10

Byrne – I’d not seem him play a full 90 before, and was mainly used to him playing at right-back. He is pacy and full of energy. He got his two goals and was involved in plenty of other good moves, and was my MOTM. 8/10

Kane – Started slowly, but grew into the game. He’s only young, but is quite tall, and competes well in the air. Also has good ability, and his hold up play got better as he grew in confidence. 7/10

Nicholson – Looks good going forward, but a little naive defensively. Did a good job at left back considering he’s right-footed. 6/10

Carroll – He is tiny. According to the official site, he’s nearly 17, but he is very small, and his voice hasn’t yet broken. Seemed to have good technique, and I’m sure we’ll see more of him once he’s a bit bigger and stronger.

Fredericks – A good bit of play leading to Byrne’s second goal, and wasn’t scared to get on the ball in his short cameo.