Spurs’ squad is in a real mess.

I’m not normally one to catastrophise or get hysterical but the failures of the recent transfer windows have arguably had less of an effect this season than they will in future seasons. Spurs have major squad surgery to do over the coming year which could significantly set us back if it is not managed carefully. This will be Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest challenge yet.

Our squad has all of a sudden become remarkably middle-aged to old (in football terms). At the top end of the age spectrum are the following:

  • Michel Vorm (35)
  • Fernando Llorente (34)
  • Hugo Lloris (31)
  • Jan Vertonghen (31, turns 32 in April)
  • Toby Alderweireld (30)
  • Moussa Sissoko (29)
  • Danny Rose (28, turns 29 in July)
  • Kieran Trippier (28)
  • Victor Wanyama (27, turns 28 in June)

We had become so used to Pochettino using young players and having a young squad but this has crept up rather suddenly. At this point, the only squad players (that we use) under 22 are Foyth (21) & Skipp (18).

The excellent Daniel Storey pointed out that this season we’ve tended to use older players more than younger players:

League starts this season by players currently 24 and under: 57

League starts this season by players currently 30 and above: 72

Ignoring the fact that Pochettino historically prefers working with younger players, this shift in age within the squad brings with it other issues too, such as: a higher wage bill; more tired/injury-prone bodies; less certainty, as players start looking for ‘one last payday’ towards the end of their career; and less motivation for other young players if they cannot see an obvious route through to the first team.

From the list at the start of this piece, I would argue that only Lloris, Vertonghen and Sissoko are all-but-guaranteed to be at the club for the start of the 2019/20 campaign, and so this issue of having a squad tipped towards older players may become less of a problem. But that turnover in itself is a major issue.

I wrote a Twitter thread about this earlier (@WindyCOYS)

Squad surgery is very achievable when it’s properly planned and undertaken at regular intervals. We are left, however, with a summer where we have three windows of surgery to do in one. Not only is that hugely challenging practically in terms of actually getting the deals done, but it brings with it the knock-on effect of having multiple players to acclimatise at one time.

It also means that you cannot be so opportunistic. For example, I cannot imagine that the club are overly concerned about keeping Lucas Moura, who we could probably sell for £20m+. But presumably we would think twice about selling him simply because we would be at risk of running out of players given all of the other outgoings that we can expect.

If you begin to start looking at the players likely to leave in the summer, it becomes clear that our squad is going to be left remarkably thin without significant re-investment.

  • Toby Alderweireld (contract allows him to leave for a set fee this summer)
  • Christian Eriksen (only a year left on his contract with rumblings that he’ll look to move on)
  • Vincent Janssen (assuming we can find a taker)
  • Michel Vorm (contract expiring)
  • Fernando Llorente (contract expiring)
  • Georges-Kévin N’Koudou (…)
  • Victor Wanyama (unable to play at the highest level after a series of injuries).

If you start to consider other areas where we need upgrades, this widens out from seven outgoings to potentially 11:

  • Kieran Trippier (a possibility to cash in whilst his stock is still high-ish)
  • Serge Aurier (not progressing as hoped, opportunity to recoup £20m)
  • Danny Rose (unable to play more than once a week and struggling to put together consistent performances)
  • Ben Davies (more likely to be kept as a squad player, but ultimately shouldn’t be troubling the first team of a team with aspirations of winning the league).

And then we have a series of young players who at this point seem likely to move on:

  • Josh Onomah (22 in April and needs to leave in search of regular first-team football)
  • Kyle Walker-Peters (as per Onomah; ultimately he’s now wasted three years of his career waiting for opportunities)
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (a little below the required standard for Spurs, though should have no problems finding a decent club)
  • Luke Amos (perhaps he’ll get another year after being so unfortunate with his injury, but he would need assurances)
  • Marcus Edwards (building quite a reputation in the Eredivisie but one may assume his bridges have been burned at Spurs and Pochettino does struggle to integrate more mercurial young players)
  • Anthony Georgiou (22 now and it’s time to find a permanent home)
  • Connor Ogilvie (23 and a constant loanee – time to make that permanent switch)
  • Shayon Harrison (perhaps that Melbourne City loan will become permanent)
  • George Marsh (unlikely to ever make the grade)
  • Jack Roles (having another prolific season from midfield but out of contract in the summer – why would he stay?).

11 becomes 21 and that is without mentioning other young players who could also leave (Japhet Tanganga, Dylan Duncan, Jon Dinzeyi). That is a hell of a lot of work to do, and that’s without even considering how many incomings we may need to repair/bolster the squad.

As we have not been consistently giving even our best academy players chances (let alone others), academy players are starting to get to the end of their first professional contract (or end of scholarship) and are looking at leaving. This means that where we had previously hoped to reap the rewards of our investment in the training centre with a conveyor belt of talent, that conveyor belt will begin to head the way of Germany, France or The Netherlands, countries who have recognised that there is huge value to be found amongst young, English players. It’s important to note that this is not an issue just at Spurs, but across the Premier League as a whole, but Spurs are suffering as much as any, with Miloš Veljković, Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts and Noni Madeuke already having moved abroad in recent seasons and others likely to follow this summer.

One would like to imagine that a lot of pre-summer work to line up outgoing and incoming deals can take place, but with Daniel Levy’s energy targeted towards the new stadium for so long, perhaps some of this focus has been lost. I mean, we’d have hoped for the past two transfer windows that deals would be in place, and yet nothing has materialised. The obvious solution would be to bring in a Sporting Director/Director of Football to manage our squad restructuring process, but I fear Spurs have left that too late too. Besides, is Levy trusting enough to leave these decisions in the hands of someone else? Would Pochettino be comfortable with this extra layer of management?

Instead, Pochettino will be left to prioritise which positions he wants to focus on. Central midfield and the full-backs are the most obvious areas for improvement, but replacing both Eriksen and Alderweireld would undoubtedly have an impact on those priorities, particularly if Pochettino intends to continue playing with a back three.

The club has some major decisions to take in the summer: what kind of buyer do we want to be? Do we want to simply sign ‘proven’ Premier League players (James Maddison, Ben Chilwell, David Brooks), who will cost a fortune due to their homegrown premium? Do we want to dig deeper into the football league (Max Aarons, Jack Clarke, Tom Bayliss) to try to find value? Or do we want to use analytics-based scouting to try to find similar value from across Europe (Sander Berge, Denis Zakaria, Marko Rog, Soualiho Meïté)?

Of course, some of these issues could be fixed with a simple change in approach. We can fix some of the problems right now. Offer Eriksen and Alderweireld huge contracts. Fully integrate the likes of Walker-Peters, Onomah and Edwards. Give Skipp and his 18/19-year old peers significant minutes. Suddenly the situation would look more rosy. We could play Walker-Peters between now and the end of the season and potentially fix our right-back problem. But there is a stubbornness within Spurs’ ranks (and I include Pochettino in that just as much as Levy) that makes me think we’re beyond that point. Besides, we may have left it too late; the time to fully integrate some of these young players was two to three seasons ago. The time to tie Eriksen down was last season.

What we must ensure is that Pochettino is appropriately backed because (Kane-aside) losing him would be worse than losing any player.

We go again

Honestly, I didn’t see this coming. I am not someone to get too excited or angry about transfer windows; there’s so much conjecture, so many assumptions, so many reasons why sources would have information aside from that information actually being the reality of a situation.

But after Spurs didn’t sign anyone in the summer window, I felt sure that we’d have something in mind for January. Perhaps, I thought, we’d missed our target in the summer but we have faith that we can get it over the line in January. Or maybe we’ll ‘do a Lucas’ and sign someone for next year but give them the next few months to bed in. Alternatively, we’ll snap up a couple of young lower league talents and send them out on loan to continue their development, ready for a run in pre-season.

The recent injury crisis didn’t change anything in my mind — it would be lunacy for a club that has already got itself into a pickle by bloating its squad with poor signings to make short-termist moves, designed to fix issues that will fix themselves within weeks or months. But there were and are long-term problems that need addressing in our squad. Not only that, we have two key players seemingly on their way out in the summer, in Toby Alderweireld and Christian Eriksen. That will require some serious scouting and some serious investment. In leaving all of our business to the summer, we are putting a huge amount of pressure on ourselves to fix multiple problems at the same time.

Mauricio Pochettino had repeatedly argued that he wouldn’t sign just anyone — that potential incomings had to improve the squad. I think that’s an intention we can all get behind. It pre-supposes, though, that there aren’t players available who are attainable and who wouldn’t improve our squad. I struggle to see how that can be the case.

Part of me is kind of bullish about this; the stubbornness of our transfer committee is admirable in many ways. ‘We have a good squad, any additions are just gravy’. I still believe that we have a squad capable of finishing in the top four this season, but I also believe that we have put a huge amount of pressure on key players to keep turning out — straight after a World Cup, and with limited rotation for the Champions League. This causes weaknesses in muscles, it creates greater risk of injury and that has been borne out.

When the Champions League starts up again we are going to have to hope that our injury woes behind us if we want to progress any further, and we are really going to need key players to step back in and hit the ground running immediately if we are going to secure another top 4 finish.

One things for sure, you’re hella ballsy, Spurs.


I’ve read two really interesting articles this week that I’d like to share and comment on:

Both are excellent pieces that raise interesting questions.

There is one line in Dan’s piece that I took issue with and rather than try to articulate a point in 280 characters on Twitter, I thought I’d write a response which I hope can be read alongside Dan’s article rather than seen as an antagonistic repost. That line: ‘There is not a single youngster who has left Spurs under the Argentine which the club have lived to regret.’

Before I come to my main point, I personally believe that Miloš Veljković, sold to Werder Bremen for €300,000 two years ago, would have been a very useful asset this season (and last). He’s a starting centre-back in a mid-table Bundesliga team. And also, we could come to regret letting Keanan Bennetts, Reo Griffiths and Noni Madueke leave.

But more importantly, this comment on Pochettino having no regrets assumes that players would not have continued an upward trajectory had they been given an opportunity, rather than stagnating or even beginning a decline, which we have seen in a number of young players. For example, it assumes that Nathan Oduwa, currently without a club having been at Olimpija Ljubljana and Vejle Boldklub (thus many will scoff at my suggestion), could never have made it under any circumstance. Personally, I believe that if the stars had aligned he could have. I would say the same for Connor Ogilvie, now on loan at Gillingham, and others would say the same for Alex Pritchard, now at Huddersfield. In the same way that we maxed out the abilities of the likes of Anton Walkes and Grant Ward and ultimately got them to a level that many youth-watchers would not have anticipated, we failed to max out those of Oduwa, Ogilvie and many others. That’s not to say that I believe that every youth player has a chance of making it at Spurs; there are and have been many, many players in Spurs’ Academy system for whom it clearly is not feasible to be a Premier League footballer (though they might develop or go backwards, of course). Despite huge investment in the Academy over the past decade it is clear that the vast majority of players will not have the credentials post-scholarship; that’s normal.

Josh Onomah, referenced in Dan’s article and who I mentioned in this recent article, is in danger of becoming the next in line to leave Spurs; I would imagine that he will move on over the course of the next 12 months. Onomah is a natural talent that — in my opinion — the club have allowed to stagnate. Myself and others felt he was better than Winks (who was also excellent) in U18/U19/U21/U23 football and if he had had the same opportunities in the same position I believe he would be where Winks is now or perhaps even ahead of where he is now. Others disagree, but I am certainly not alone in my thinking. Perhaps — as Dan alludes to — he did not show the same ‘character’ as Winks in training and so did not get the same opportunities. And so we are back to the age old youth development question: what comes first, the opportunity or the taking of the opportunity? There has to be a balance between carrot and stick.

If Onomah now goes on to play for, say, Bristol City, casual onlookers will say ‘clearly he wasn’t good enough for Spurs’, which I personally believe misses the point that player development is not linear, as the brilliant article from Chelsea Youth explains so neatly.

Various managers/coaches across the Tottenham and England age groups all assessed Onomah’s technical ability and mental attributes and decided that he was worth investing time and energy into; would they have done that if he were not up to it, or a player with a poor mentality? Would Mauricio Pochettino himself have said in 2015 ”He is a special boy, a special player, because of his talent, his potential and his body’ if he ultimately thought that Onomah had an attitude problem and would end up being sold to a Championship team? Pochettino thought Onomah was ‘special’, destined to be a top quality player.

Onomah has been with Spurs since playing in the Under-9s. Taking into account his ability and personality, which he had demonstrated to the club for over a decade, Pochettino and his staff gave Onomah multiple new contracts and felt that he was ‘special’.

If he leaves, and onlookers decide that that must be because he was never good enough, then do they question Pochettino’s judgement? He’s the one that deemed Josh special. Or, more sensibly, do they question how that player (because this isn’t really about Josh Onomah specifically) has been developed? Onomah hasn’t suddenly become a different person after ten years, so knowing his personality, his character through years of working with him, developing him as a player and a person, what did the club/coaches do to continue his development to ensure that a decade of time and resources were not wasted? The point I’m making is that something’s gone wrong, and it’s too easy to always blame the player.

In many ways, keeping players’ development moving in an upward trajectory — with no downward turns or levelling out — is the biggest problem Spurs and other English clubs have faced in post-Under-18 football. We have a failing Under-23 structure (in my admittedly-only-partially-informed opinion) and Spurs specifically have not got anyone overseeing a loan system as we once had under Tim Sherwood and Les Ferdinand (for all their failings, they did that well). We’ve seen the same stagnation with Marcus Edwards, Kazaiah Sterling, Japhet Tanganga, Luke Amos, even Kyle Walker-Peters. I hope the same does not happen with others: Sam Shashoua apparently arranged a loan off his own back and is excelling in Spain, which I hope kick-starts his progression. I could go on and on listing players who have flat-lined. These players have one thing in common: they came out of Under-18 football very highly rated, being selected in England youth squads, and they have ultimately stopped progressing.

It’s so easy for fans who want to believe that the club is doing everything right to put the blame for that on the player: they didn’t stand out in training, they didn’t stand out in that cup match they played in once, they had the wrong attitude, they thought they’d made it, too much too young, money is ruining the game. But young players going abroad and showing their quality tells us that the clubs are failing to adapt. Something has to change within the structure to allow opportunity, to allow growth, to forgive the failings of youth players like we do with more experienced professionals who have cost clubs multiple millions.

Clubs and coaches have to remember that each player is different and each needs a different strategy. Trying to develop Marcus Edwards — a natural technician who needs extra challenges, extra incentives, extra pushes — in the same way that you treat Harry Winks — who is a little more limited and so who obviously has to work his backside off to maximise his abilities, thus shows ‘character’ — is a recipe for failure.

Ultimately, I think if Onomah moves on, he’ll eventually find his way back to the top half of the Premier League because he’s a very good footballer. But with the odds stacked against young players, nobody can really know how this will end.

Pochettino has rightly earned praise for developing a whole host of players at Spurs and for bringing through Harry Winks. He now seems to want to integrate Oliver Skipp and Kyle Walker-Peters, which is fantastic. But English clubs in general have a long way to go in terms of maximising the huge potential within its Academy system. And in order to do that, they and we need to start looking within club structures and strategies, and stop always looking to blame the players.

Loan Update – December 2018

Spurs have a number of players out on loan as it stands:

  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (1997) – Swansea City, Championship
  • Josh Onomah (1997) – Sheffield Wednesday, Championship
  • Connor Ogilvie (1996) – Gillingham, League One
  • Marcus Edwards (1998) – Excelsior, Eredivisie
  • Sam Shashoua (1999) – Atlético Baleares, Segunda División B – Group 3 (Spanish third tier)

Cameron Carter-Vickers

Carter-Vickers has played 413 minutes for Swansea City across eight appearances, four from the start. He has essentially been unable to displace Mike van der Hoorn or Swansea’s own Academy prospect, 21-year old Joe Rodon. Rumours suggest that talks are ongoing as to whether Carter-Vickers will be recalled, with Ipswich waiting in the wings to take him for the second half of the season if that is ultimately agreed.

Josh Onomah

Josh Onomah has endured another unhappy loan spell. Jos Luhukay was sacked as manager last week — one of his final duties was to publicly criticise Onomah, who he withdrew at half-time in his final match.

Caretaker manager Lee Bullen put Onomah straight back in the line-up for the match against Preston North End and was rewarded with an assist. I was able to watch the game, and had a few thoughts on Onomah which I tweeted in this thread:

Sheffield Wednesday grew in confidence as the match went on. This coincided with them playing through Onomah in midfield rather than bypassing him, and it ultimately led to the goal, which Onomah created with a cross.

From my perspective he did not have an outstanding game — certainly not close to the levels we’ve seen him at for Spurs Under-18s, Under-23s, or England Under-20s, but he was good, and a lot of Wednesday’s fans were raving about him afterwards and hoping that this is the start of things to come.

The problem is that Steve Bruce is likely to take over. The same Steve Bruce who had Onomah at Villa, and arguably did not make the best use of him; it will be interesting to see how Spurs handle this one. On one hand, they could argue that adversity is character-building. On the other, Onomah needs to be playing in a possession-based team to be able to showcase his talent.

At this point it looks likely to me that Pochettino has made his mind up on Onomah, and I suspect he will move on at the end of the season. I personally think that that is best for his career; he would be better off joining a Championship club, establishing himself and working his way back up to the Premier League. It’s a pity that the stars haven’t aligned for Onomah in the same way that they did for Harry Winks, but the reality is that in the current climate, Premier League managers see less risk in spending money on players who had already got some games under their belts, something I wrote about last week.

Connor Ogilvie

Ogilvie has found starts trickier to come across in his second spell at Gillingham, though he has been back in their first team for the past four league matches. Ogilvie turns 23 in February and I presume this loan must be another ‘audition’ for a permanent move to the Gills, where he seems to fit in reasonably well.

Marcus Edwards

Edwards has found himself out of the way Excelsior team lately after a good early run in which he’d started seven straight matches, so when he was named on the bench against Heracles last night I didn’t pay much attention. With quarter of an hour to go, I noticed he’d come on – streams of Eredivisie matches are very easy to find so I managed to catch a bit. His side were 3-0 down at the time and the team were struggling to move the ball out of defence. Edwards was coming into the centre of the pitch and willing to take the ball anywhere, turning sharply and committing players. His teammates seemed to have been directed to give the ball to him, which hopefully suggests that he might find his way back into the starting XI next time out. I also saw him tear back into position to cover breaks a couple of times; his lack of defensive instinct was something people had previously criticised him for, so this was pleasing.

Sample sizes are relatively small and he’s at a struggling side, but their points per game are 0.57 when he doesn’t start compared to 1.14 when he does. I’ve caught three or four matches and he’s generally been their most lively player, though his decision making has been an issue and he’s only registered one assist so far. Still, as long as he plays some games in the second half of the season then you’d have to say that this is infinitely better for him than occasional Under-23 matches.

Best case scenario: he establishes himself again in the second half of the season, registers a few goals and assists and is given a clean slate in pre-season 2019/20.

Sam Shashoua

Sam Shashoua, or just ‘Samuel’ as the Spanish commentators charmingly refer to him, is having a lovely time at Club Deportivo Atlético Baleares in Majorca. The Spanish third tier seems to be a good fit for his physical development, and a season of regular matches out on the left wing will stand him in good stead for next year.

He has so far racked up 3 goals and 2 assists in 997 minutes, a goal or assist every 199 minutes; not bad for a 19-year old making his first steps into competitive men’s football. Shashoua could easily play League One football, but given how well he seems to have settled, it makes sense to leave him at Baleares and to see how he looks after a full season. I suspect he could be a player who goes on the first team’s pre-season tour, and from there who knows what can happen: just look at Luke Amos before injury cruelly robbed him of potential opportunities.

The Academy as a resource

Pochettino’s 13

It was fantastic to see Oliver Skipp make his full Spurs debut against Burnley on Saturday, and the 18-year old — the second 2000-born player to step onto the pitch for Spurs, after Tashan Oakley-Boothe — looked the part; his Academy-ness did not stand out.

As per Dan Kilpatrick’s tweet, Mauricio Pochettino has now given debuts to 13 Academy players since he arrived at Tottenham in May 2014 – let’s look at those 13, and the total minutes they have since had for Spurs.

  1. Oliver Skipp (2000): 84
  2. Kyle Walker-Peters (1997): 608
  3. Luke Amos (1997): 2
  4. Tashan Oakley-Boothe (2000): 0 (added time sub)
  5. Kazaiah Sterling (1998): 2
  6. Anthony Georgiou (1997): 6
  7. Cameron Carter-Vickers (1997): 360, NB: currently on-loan for the second season in a row.
  8. Anton Walkes (1997): 10, NB: moved permanently to Portsmouth in July 2018.
  9. Shayon Harrison (1997): 7
  10. Marcus Edwards (1998): 15, NB: currently on-loan for the second season in a row.
  11. Filip Lesniak (1996): 4 NB: moved permanently to AaB in July 2017.
  12. Joshua Onomah (1997): 807, NB: currently on-loan for the second season in a row.
  13. Harry Winks (1996): 3998

(Numbers correct as of 16/12/2018)

What we can see from this is that only really five players (Winks, Onomah, Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters and now Skipp) have had real first team involvement, the rest more token gestures — perhaps as a ‘reward’ for training well, or as a carrot: ‘here’s what you could have’. Given that a number of these players were or are players not expected by most watchers to make the breakthrough to Premier League life permanently, I would suspect that it is a combination of both.

Establishing youngsters

I think it’s fair to assume from this that Pochettino aims to bring through one player from the Academy a season, with Winks the only real success so far in terms of establishing himself, though we hope that after his Barcelona showing and the glowing mentions from his manager since, that Walker-Peters may be the next to become a squad regular.

We should not ignore the fact that Pochettino has established other young players in our first team squad: notably Harry Kane, Dele, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth, Ryan Mason Nabil Bentaleb. These players were given debuts pre-Pochettino or signed from elsewhere. I personally think that Pochettino prefers using players who have had experience elsewhere, which to me slightly contradicts his loan policy, or certainly the policy he had before he finally sent Onomah, Edwards and Carter-Vickers out. 

I would need to take some serious convincing that 1995-born Georges-Kévin N’Koudou is a better footballer than some of the young attacking midfielders that our academy has produced over the past three or four years, but the 4,936 minutes he had racked up for FC Nantes and Olympique Marseille made him worth £11 million. My own view, of course, is that it may have been an idea to ‘try out’ one of our own young wingers first, as that £11 million could have been saved and, indeed, we could have created a player of our own worth a similar amount. Perhaps there were good reasons why Edwards, for example, was not deserving of an opportunity at that time — as fans, we are not privy to all of the information — but alas, part of me wonders what might have been had Edwards been integrated at that point. Two years on and he’s on the bench for Excelsior in the Eredivisie which some fans will tell you categorically confirms that he’s ‘not good enough’.

How are our rivals doing?

Spurs are not particularly behind the curve in terms of giving opportunities to young players, but this should not be a race to the bottom. All Category 1 clubs need to find a way to better bring through their talent, since it is undeniably some of the best young talent in world football.

Indeed, we are lagging behind some rival clubs, most notably Arsenal, who have utilised the Europa League to establish some very exciting players in their squad. They have used Bukayo Saka (2001): 112 minutes, Emile Smith Rowe (2000): 402 minutes, Eddie Nketiah (1999): 180 minutes, Joe Willock (1999): 180 minutes and Ainsley Maitland-Niles (1997): 292 minutes) plus given a handful of minutes to three other young players across cup competitions.

Perhaps Spurs are at a disadvantage compared to Arsenal with regard to opportunity. Their being in the Europa League gave them a series of ‘easier’ matches where the risk was lower. They could afford to play two or three youngsters knowing that they should still safely win the match.


The ‘risk’ element of blooding a youngster will not have been helped in the eyes of Spurs fans and possibly coaching staff by Walker-Peters’ unfortunate early error against Barcelona or by Juan Foyth’s handful of errors in otherwise highly promising displays.

That said, I cannot remember too many high-profile errors by young players in matches. Bentaleb made a couple in his early showings; I vaguely remember a square ball across the box vs Manchester United but could be wrong. I also remember a large number of high-profile errors made by more established players this season alone. Kieron Trippier has been guilty of several, Serge Aurier and Moussa Sissoko spent a lot of last season making errors which could have cost us. Obviously the idea is to minimise risk, but all players are capable of errors, regardless of age, ability or experience. Less experienced players making more errors may be true, but I also think it’s exaggerated.

Jesus Perez claimed in this wonderful interview with Alasdair Gold that young players making mistakes is not an issue to Pochettino and, instead, their progress is dependent on being accepted by other first team players:

“Mauricio got his chance when he was 16 or 17 at Newell’s Old Boys and that is always in his mind. No one has to explain to him what it means to give a chance. 

Mauricio is not the person who says ‘It goes there, this is good, play’, he’s more like ‘let’s see what he’s like training for two or three months with the first team and see if he’s good enough’. Then once the first team accept this guy is good he plays. 

Then you can fail, it’s not a problem. Mistakes with Mauricio are not a problem, if you behave properly, if you want it and you try and your will is good. That’s why he improves a lot of players.

He doesn’t teach players. He proposes to the player a scenario, a platform to improve. If they take it they will improve. It’s just practising and having the backing of your manager. That’s how you improve.”

English football needs to change its collective mindset towards giving young players an opportunity. How good should a young player have to be before they are given matches? Should they be better than their positional rival before even getting a few minutes? Is that a realistic aim? Can we expect young players to improve *without* opportunity within a fully-functioning team? 

Let’s use the Academy

And now we come to the central part of my argument – forgive me, I’m an amateur. We should use young players more – they are a valuable resource which can help keep our first teamers fresh. And they allow us to better manage the ‘homegrown’ requirement within the squad. Exposure to the first team squad creates value, and so even if they are deemed to not be at the required standard for Spurs, we can then sell them on for huge profit, as we have with Nabil Bentaleb, Jake Livermore, Steven Caulker, Andros Townsend, Ryan Mason, etc etc. 

Typically at Spurs young players get opportunities when there is an injury crisis. This was true of Harry Kane and this season it has been true of Foyth, Walker-Peters and Skipp. This means that they are often thrown into a sink or swim scenario with very little preparation or thoughtful integration. Better would be to do what we did really well with Winks; we had him on the bench and brought him on at key points of games, slowly integrating him, before giving him starts as a rotation. This approach allows the player to build confidence and also allow first-timers the time off that they need to recover properly between matches. Given how many players we have in our squad with chronic injuries, this seems to be a no-brainer.

Putting a number on it

Currently in our Academy we have 10 first years and 16 second years. Typically over the past ten years, around two or three from each group have been players identified as potentially good enough for first team football in the Premier League — let’s generously say 20% of our Academy players *might* have ended up integrated into first team training previously. Of course, there are exceptions – e.g. the 1991/1992 group featuring Andros Townsend, Steven Caulker, Ryan Mason, Tom Carroll, Adam Smith, etc; Alex Pritchard and Harry Kane were often playing ‘up’ in this group too.

This season’s Under-18s are some of our best yet. They might just be the best group of young players our Academy has produced, though it’s too early to say for sure. That 20% figure may need to be revised, as I think as many as 40% of these 26 players could be first team training contenders (that’s around 10), and from there – who knows?

What could we change?

I’ve had a fair few discussions on Twitter over the past eighteen months around whether we trust that Pochettino is doing the right thing with the way he manages the integration of youth players. Pochettino is — quite rightly — adored, and it is assumed that he is right about everything. He’s right about most things, I agree. Fans believe that if a young player doesn’t play it is because he is not good enough technically, not good enough mentally, or not good enough physically. Or that he’s not been knuckling down in training or has the age old ‘attitude problem’.

My own belief is that we wait until players are 100% ready in all aspects then we will lose more quality young players in the same way that we have lost Keanan Bennetts and Reo Griffiths (and Milos Veljkovic before them). I think there is a middle ground, and it involves a few more bench places and opportunities across the season.

To me, this makes total sense. It would be absolutely crazy to be adding three or four untested players to our match-day squad at one time, but dipping three or four players in across a season feels entirely reasonable. 800 minutes (9 matches) split four ways feels like a realistic target.

If we’re not going to do this, though, it is absolutely essential that we start getting players out on loan. Walker-Peters has had two years with barely any football; I fail to see how this has helped him. Were it not for this latest injury crisis, Skipp could have ended up in the same boat. We need to be identifying good loan clubs and letting our young players go out and get minutes and try to impress. For example, I strongly believe that Jack Roles would gain so much more on-loan at a League One club (a team trying to play football like Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe Wanderers, for instance) than playing Under-23 football in the PL2.

Hand being forced

With Eric Dier’s latest setback, and the ongoing injuries to Mousa Dembélé and Victor Wanyama, Pochettino has had his hand forced, somewhat, and we can probably expect to see Skipp get plenty of minutes over Christmas. We might also, therefore, see another young midfielder included on the bench since there’s little other midfield back-up throughout the squad (unless he tries to convert Juan Foyth to a defensive midfielder).

I expect 1998-born George Marsh is the most likely, but my personal preference would be for one of the 2001-born central midfielders Jamie Bowden or Harvey White to be the ones elevated ahead of time. Both show enormous potential and, in my opinion, have a greater chance of making it as Premier League players than Marsh in the long-term. Indeed, one must really feel for Luke Amos in this situation: he was in a great position at the start of the season to get some really decent minutes, and then sustained an injury which will keep him out for the entire 2018/19 campaign. Heck, Josh Onomah might finally be getting games for Spurs in his favoured position were he not on-loan at Wednesday, being savaged by their ‘on the brink’ manager.

In summary

Spurs aren’t doing a horrible job of bringing young players through, but there’s room for improvement, and the summer showed that, unless we change, we will lose good players from our set-up. We have had a few ‘less productive’ years in terms of talent coming out of the Academy, but we now have a glut of quality players, and we can but hope that a good number of them ultimately become first team squad players, saving us a fortune in the process.

If you liked this article, why not listen to The Extra Inch Youth Football Part 1 and Part 2? You might like those two. And if you do, please leave a review in iTunes!