Abolition of the Reserves – a good thing or a bad thing?

The club announced a fortnight ago that the Reserves will not be entered into the Barclays Premier Reserve League for the coming season.

The plan is, instead, for young players to be sent on loan to gain experience, and for private friendly fixtures to be arranged when first team players are in need of football (recuperating from injuries, general lack of match fitness, etc).

We don’t have too many players that fit into the “reserve” category thanks to Harry’s mass clear-out since his arrival. Since he joined, the following have left the club: Stalteri, Ghaly, Sanchez, Barcham, Daniels, Olsen, Mills, McKenna (retired), Rocha, Dawkins, Fraser-Allen, Hughton, Hutchins, Hutton, Maghoma, and Mtandari, all of whom would have been in and around the Reserve team.

I’m very keen to see our Academy players going out on loan, as Obika, Townsend, and Dervite all showed how well this can work last season. This latest move will no doubt send a message to Championship and League 1 clubs who will, no doubt, be in touch with Harry Redknapp.

As I see it, these are the reasons why scrapping the Reserve team may be a bad idea:

  • We may struggle to get our young players out on loan.
  • Young players out on loan are not guaranteed regular football (See Archibald-Henville at Norwich, or Fraser-Allen at Macclesfield last year for reference).
  • The popular local derbies against Arsenal, which historically attract good crowds in both home and away fixtures, are lost.
  • Some team spirit may be lost.
  • Players could miss out on regular match-day experience.
  • We could be failing to instil a winning attitude.

Equally, most of these points can be countered:

  • If we struggle to get our young players out on loan, then we arrange regular friendlies.
  • If our loanees aren’t getting regular football, we bring them back and start again – Archibald-Henville wasn’t getting football at Norwich, so he came back. He then went down to Exeter and played 19 games.
  • Firstly, is it worth playing the smaller games to small crowds, just to get the big games? Secondly, I suppose we can arrange separate Reserve friendlies with Arsenal if necessary.
  • Is there much team spirit within a Reserve side made up from a mish-mash of Academy players, and first team players who aren’t getting regular games? I’m not sure that Bentley was feeling the team spirit when lining up alongside the likes of Dawkins and Maghoma against Arsenal Reserves!
  • Regular friendlies at appropriate times will allow players to still keep up match-day routines.
  • Sending players out on loan to a League club gives them a more realistic view of the required mentality/levels of desire.

I think it’s also worth pointing out that the majority of the players who would be playing for our Reserve side are still eligible to play Academy football, and I believe there’s a rule in Academy football that allows for three (NB: please correct me if I’m wrong, there’s not much evidence online so I’m only going by what I’ve seen at Academy games) “Overage” players per team (although I presume there must be a limit on how old they are – 21 perhaps? NB: again, please correct me if I’m wrong).

Overall, I’m fairly happy with the decision we’ve taken and, if it doesn’t work out, we can always re-enter next year. I’m interested to hear what others feel about the decision, so please do feel free to leave comments.

Ashley Young?

With the rumours that Ashley Young is a key transfer target for Harry Redknapp, most Spurs fans are delighted that we’re finally chasing a left-sided player.

Personally, I would be underwhelmed with this signing. My reasons:

  • Modric has played his best football for us on the left, and doesn’t get enough goals to play centrally in a 4-2-3-1 (I don’t even want to consider him as one of the midfield two – waste of his attacking talent, and it would mean we are far less solid).
  • We will have three high profile players battling for two positions – it didn’t work with Bentley, so why would it work this time?
  • Like Bentley, Young needs a target man to aim at/play off.
  • I think Young is a good player, but overrated.

For argument’s sake, say we get 12-15 goals from the front man, and Young scores 8 (ESPN have him down as scoring 7 in 2008/9 and 8 in 2007/8 – his biggest PL goal haul to date). Add those to 5 each from Modric and Lennon, and that’s 33. Presuming there are 12 more goals scattered around somewhere (remembering that with those three ahead of him, Jenas would need to play a much more restrictive role), we may just end up scoring the same total as this past year (45), which most would probably agree is too few.

For me, Modric needs to be on the left (or, at a push, on the right), and the man primarily playing off the frontman needs to be scoring 10+ goals. I see Redknapp as wanting to use Keane in this role, and we know from experience that he is certainly capable of 10 or more goals.

There is an argument that with Young wide, we’d see a frontman scoring more goals to compensate for Modric’s “lack of” in the number 10 role. However, Modric has a decent number of assists from the left for this year, so I’m not sure the number of chances created would rocket. It’s also worth noting that a lot of Young’s crosses tend to come at head height, so we’d still be in a similar position to this season – lacking (tall) bodies in the box. We’d have potentially one in Pavlyuchenko, but often none, unless we signed another striker. And if we were to sign a target man, it would be silly to sell Bentley, who could potentially thrive as he did at Blackburn.

I also think we’ll find the same problem with Young as we’ve had with Bentley – three players vying for two positions. This is fine if you’re a Champions League club, but none of the three will be happy being a bit-part player for a side not in Europe, particularly when they are all used to playing week in, week out.

For me, we’ve got the defensive element of our midfield sorted – Jenas and Palacios’ partnership was one of the main reasons why our record improved so much at the back end of the season in my opinion. I’m happy with that and, unless we can bring in some quality competition (i.e. better than Huddlestone/O’Hara), then I am happy to leave that as it is. When Modric has played centrally for us in a two-man midfield it has, so far, been a disaster. I’m not saying he can’t play there in the future, but it hasn’t worked yet.

The areas where I hope for us to improve on next year are getting goals – so an improved spearhead (I’d like to think, given a run in the team – which he still hasn’t had – Pavlyuchenko can score goals and show what he’s about), more assists and goals from Lennon and Modric, and better creativity from Keane/number 10.

Finally, I personally think Young is overrated. He had a very good start to last season, but a poor end, in which he only managed 2 goals after December 13th, and only got 3 assists in that time too – a run of 23 games. Spending £16m on a player like Young who plays in a position that we don’t really need to upgrade, and who can fall away when the going gets tough (like many of our current players, as seen at the start of last season), is not a risk I’d take.

Young’s a good player, but not ideal for us IMO.

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.