Spurs are potentially about to have a very welcome selection dilemma. With Son Heung-min poised to return from his suspension, Lucas Moura coming off the bench to secure a point in the last game, Dele returning from injury and Giovani Lo Celso building fitness, Spurs are about to inject their attacking midfield with real talent. Whether that is offset by the sale of Christian Eriksen remains to be seen, but irrespective of that, Mauricio Pochettino has some choices to make.

Spurs fans dubbed the preferred front four DESK (Dele, Eriksen, Son, Kane) last year, though the number of games that they actually all appeared in together was disappointingly low. It will be fascinating to see come the end of the year whether Pochettino decides, once again, on a ‘clutch’ foursome or whether with more choice, comes more flexibility.

For example, this weekend Spurs play Newcastle, who had below 40% possession in each of their first two matches, at home to Arsenal and away at Norwich. They tended to sit relatively deep, attempt to be compact, and use Almirón’s ball-carrying ability and Joelinton’s hold-up play to counter. With the space behind the defence restricted, some of the qualities of Lucas and Son in particular may be negated.

Lucas has mostly been used as a forward, often the most advanced, with Harry Kane (or another) dropping deeper. This can stretch a defence and create more space for schemers to work in. But if a defence is already filling the space he would run into he can become reliant on other abilities – trying to run at players and commit them – and potentially a bit one-dimensional. Meanwhile, while some of Son’s skillset can be negated by a defence sitting deep, he does offer lethal shooting ability from range from either foot, so can be useful against teams that park the bus. It could be ‘either/or’ with Son and Lucas for much of the season once again.

With Dele, Spurs have a player who has a well-rounded skillset, particularly after a year of playing a different role, as described by Nathan A Clark for StatsBomb. He can hold it up, he can attack from wide, he can play deeper. This flexibility means that he has something to offer against most styles of play the Premier League can offer.

The same may be said about new boy Giovani Lo Celso, who played in a double pivot for Paris Saint-Germain and showed considerable defensive abilities, before playing a far, far more advanced role for Real Betis, a season in which he returned 14 goals and six assists. He offers nice flexibility to Pochettino, but one would think that initially he may play a more advanced role, with less defensive responsibility, in order to ease him in.

Erik Lamela has starred the season with a goal, an assist and plenty of running. He covered the most ground for Spurs in their opening match against Aston Villa, and ran further than that and also clocked the top speed of 33.75km/h against Manchester City. Lamela is a curiosity; he has a wonderful attitude, and clearly possesses plenty of talent, but has never found the consistency to go with it. He does most of his best work between the defensive and midfield lines: buzzing around, elbows flailing, chaos ensuing.

And then we come to Christian Eriksen, perhaps the most unique of Spurs’ attacking midfielders. Eriksen is the composer, the maestro. Like most of Spurs’ players, he offers versatility. I wrote back in July that I hoped Tanguy Ndombele’s introduction could allow Eriksen to re-find his truly elite productivity from a more advanced role. I still feel as though that is ideal, and yet Eriksen does a bit of everything. He’s often the one lingering outside the box to pick up the pieces when a cross or shot is cleared. He keeps things moving, finds a new space, demands the ball again, and then tries to play a creative pass. He dictates the tempo, the shape, he chooses when the killer ball is played, and he also has the ability to be on the end of a killer ball.

Whether Eriksen is still at Spurs come the end of the window, we have a fascinating collection of skillsets to squeeze into the team, and I for one look forward to Mauricio Pochettino to find the right blend.

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25-Man Squad – August 2019

With under 24 hours to go until the close of the transfer window I thought I would revisit the 25-man squad situation which I outlined previously here.

As it stands we have 24 players who would need to be named in our 25-man squad. And this is all fine because we have nine homegrown players.

Hugo Lloris 26/12/1986 32
Jan Vertonghen 24/04/1987 32
Toby Alderweireld 02/03/1989 30
Moussa Sissoko 16/08/1989 29
Danny Rose (HG) 02/07/1990 29
Victor Wanyama 25/06/1991 28
Paulo Gazzaniga 02/01/1992 27
Christian Eriksen 14/02/1992 27
Erik Lamela 04/03/1992 27
Heung-min Son  08/07/1992 27
Lucas Moura 13/08/1992 26
Serge Aurier 24/12/1992 26
Ben Davies (HG) 24/04/1993 26
Harry Kane (HG) 28/07/1993 26
Eric Dier 15/01/1994 25
Georges-Kévin N’Koudou 13/02/1995 24
Harry Winks (HG) 02/02/1996 23
Dele Alli (HG) 11/04/1996 23
Davinson Sánchez 12/06/1996 23
Tanguy Ndombele 28/12/1996 22
Anthony Georgiou (HG) 24/02/1997 22
Kyle Walker-Peters (HG) 13/04/1997 22
Joshua Onomah (HG) 27/04/1997 22
Cameron Carter-Vickers (HG) 31/12/1997 21

Basically all of this means that we can sign one more non-homegrown player without worrying a jot about the squad. If we were to sign more than one more player, someone would have to be left out of the squad. This should not be a problem with Onomah likely to move on permanently, and Georgiou and Carter-Vickers likely to move on loan.

We have 15 non-homegrown players currently, but that includes Nkoudou who is likely to leave. We can name 17 in our Premier League squad. So the only thing that may get us into a bit of bother is if we were to go on a major spree and not manage to offload anyone. Otherwise, we have squad space and need not worry.

25-Man Squad – June 2019

This summer will likely see Spurs re-build the squad both from the top-down and bottom up. By that I mean that we will need to add first team-ready additions in at two or three key areas, but also prepare for the future, with one eye on the home grown players rule.

There’s a slight misconception about the requirement itself — people tend to think that clubs must name eight home grown players in their squads. That’s not strictly true. We could name fewer than eight home grown players, but would need to also name fewer than 25 players in our squad — for example, if we only have seven home grown players, we can name a 24-man squad, 6/23, 5/22, etc. 

A home grown player is defined as one whom, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21). Source: Premier League.

Spurs will not need to name players who are under 21 on our squad list, though, so could augment the list with youngsters. This would mean that we could manage with, say, a 22-man squad with just five homegrown players, but would need plenty of under-21 players who are ready to play. For the 2019/20 campaign, players considered ‘under 21’ will have been born on or after 1st January 1998. This means that for the coming season we still have a number of ‘freebies’ who are fairly well-known names: Juan Foyth, Alfie Whiteman, George Marsh, Marcus Edwards, Oliver Skipp, and Troy Parrott (presented in age order). Of these, one would expect Foyth and Skipp to be included in Pochettino’s thinking on a regular basis, with the others a bit of a mystery at this stage.

Going back to the over-21s, Spurs currently have 12 home grown players who would need to be named in order to be included in the Premier League squad list. But of those, only five or six are expected to remain next season: Danny Rose, Ben Davies, Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Dele Alli and possibly Kyle Walker-Peters.

Kieran Trippier, Luke Amos, Anthony Georgiou, Joshua Onomah, Shayon Harrison and Cameron Carter-Vickers are all expected to be either sold or loaned out. Until this happens, though, there are a lot of variables to consider, so it is difficult to speculate too much on the final make-up of the list.

One other consideration is the Champions League. The Champions League rules are a little different — have a look at page 40 of their regulations. UEFA don’t just want clubs to have players trained elsewhere in the FA structure — they have additional requirements for club-trained players. They want to encourage clubs to bring through their own young players.

It is clear to see why Spurs may want to revert back to the previous policy of signing young, English players. Not only are those players going to make life easier for future squad structure, but England is producing genuinely world-class talent now. Whereas clubs used to look for value in Europe, the value may now be right under our noses, and it’s important that Premier League clubs appreciate just how vibrant and competitive the Football League is and how good some of the elite players both are and can be. 

We have signalled our intent to look towards the Championship with the signing of Jack Clarke, but this could continue across the summer, with a number of other players linked as well.

That said, our own talent pool is brewing beneath the first team and, as we can see, that’s important for the Champions League regs. There are players, some already mentioned above, who could have an impact. But, as with many other Premier League clubs, creating the runway to get them from second year scholar (age 17/18) to first team is an issue for Spurs, and probably the next piece in the jigsaw once the recruitment is dealt with. One key method could be forming a strategic partnership with a Football League club, and there is a chance that QPR could be one such partnership.

With Mark Warburton, a Spurs fan who has some historic links with Spurs (from the NextGen Series days), now in charge at QPR, it may become a formalised route. Luke Amos, the 22-year old midfielder, is likely to be sent to Loftus Road for the season. They have also picked up Dylan Duncan, released last month by Spurs, as a free transfer to add to a wider group of players previously at Spurs (Massimo Luongo, Aramide Oteh, Grant Hall, Charlie Owens). Perhaps this partnership will strengthen through more loans and these players can return to Spurs with minutes under their belt and a report card from a man that the club’s hierarchy respects.

Longer-term, I do think Spurs need to focus on that link between Academy and first team. Even if the quality of players coming through is ultimately not ‘good enough’ for when we want our first team to be, young talent can be used to pad out the squad, and can be highly profitable in terms of onward sales. To me it seems to be a bit of a no-brainer to try to develop in this area.

Released/retained players confirmed

Following my article from a month ago, Spurs have now confirmed their released and retained players lists as per Premier League rules.

There are a few points of interest:

  • Spurs confirmed the release of Michel Vorm (35), Dylan Duncan (20), Charlie Freeman (19), Tom Glover (21), Connor Ogilvie (23) & Jamie Reynolds (19) have all left the club.
  • Spurs did not confirm the release of Fernando Llorente (his contract expires at the end of the month); however, he is noted on the released list.
  • Spurs include new signing Kion Etete on their retained players list. He has joined from Notts County, and is 17, so in the same age range of next year’s 2nd year Academy scholars. However, he joins Troy Parrott and Harvey White has second year scholars who already have professional contracts.
  • Spurs have given new contracts to Jack Roles (20) and Japhet Tanganga (20).
  • Spurs have also offered new contracts to Shayon Harrison (21) and George Marsh (20).

That last bullet point was perhaps the biggest surprise, as many youth watchers expected both to move on, though Marsh has been included in many of Mauricio Pochettino’s match-day squads so perhaps he has kicked on behind the scenes or just has something that Pochettino admires.

I am very pleased that Roles and Tanganga have been given contract extensions as both are players I like and who I think — at the very least — will hold some value in the future. I would expect both to be sent out on loan next season.

I had thought that Jonathan De Bie and Brandon Austin were out of contract this summer based upon contract details listed on the web, but either that information was incorrect or options to extend their contracts were triggered.

Spurs’ other young signing, 15-year old goalkeeper Isak Midttun Solberg (from Bryne FK), is not listed, as he is joining the Academy as a first year scholar.

I still suspect a number of other Development Squad players to move on permanently this summer as the club makes space for the large second year group who have now become professionals. The other alternative is to make full use of the loan system which would be a shift in policy.

Finally, if you are interested in what Kion Etete is like, here are a couple of videos of the young striker in action:

A hat-trick for Notts County reserves.

Released/retained players

In the first week of June Spurs will announce their released and retained players, and there are some decisions to make both with those whose contracts are expiring, and those caught between academy and first team.

In terms of the first team, we have two players whose contracts are expiring: Michel Vorm (35) and Fernando Llorente (34). I think we can safely assume that Vorm will be leaving, but there is a big question mark over Llorente, particularly given his impact in the Champions League. Personally I think if we have the squad space then he should be kept on, but what makes that difficult is that we won’t necessarily know until the end of the transfer window how the squad is shaping up. It would be pretty awful planning if we were to extend his contract and then end up not being able to name him in the 25-man squad, à la Vincent Janssen. But that also assumes that we might buy some players, sooooo…

Then we come onto the Development Squad players, and I think there’s a real point of interest here. In doing some research for this article I found the below tweet that I made in June 2018.

Nick Tsaroulla, after a year without a club, has joined Championship side Brentford this week ahead of next season. Tsaroulla was an excellent left-back in our Under-18s and then Under-23s who suffered an injury away from the pitch and was ultimately released. I was surprised, as Spurs had previously stuck by injured players (Joe Pritchard as an example, but there have been others) and, besides, I thought Tsaroulla was good. I think in hindsight we should have kept hold of Tsaroulla and released the others mentioned in my tweet above.

Those I mentioned will presumably all be released or sold this summer (Jaden Brown already joined Huddersfield in January on a free transfer). I think you could reasonably say that we have wasted a year’s worth (or 6 months’ worth in Brown’s case) of time, wages and potential opportunities for others on Tom Glover, Shayon Harrison, Shilow Tracey and Brown. Harrison and Glover have spent some of the season away on loan — Glover at Helsingborg, making 0 appearances, and Harrison at Melbourne City FC, making 11 appearances. But ultimately we made poor judgement calls and I personally think this is more evidence of mismanagement of the Development Squad players, and I personally believe that more oversight is required of that group.

I would support the introduction of an Academy Progression Manager to oversee everything from Post-Scholarship to first team integration, setting up individual progression plans and arranging loans if deemed necessary. As it stands, too many players are stagnating or regressing. Speaking of which…

A number of the current scholars have been sharing pictures on social media of themselves signing their first professional contracts — a proud moment for them and their families! It seems that pretty much all of the second year scholars have signed professional contracts, the only question marks perhaps being Jeremie Mukendie and Elliot Thorpe, who have not played a lot of football this season for various reasons. This means that the Development Squad will be seeing the introduction of the following players next season:

  • Phoenix Patterson
  • Rodel Richards
  • Maxwell Statham
  • Jubril Okedina
  • Armando Shashoua
  • Brooklyn Lyons-Foster
  • Joshua Oluwayemi
  • Maurizio Pochettino
  • Rayan Clarke
  • Paris Maghoma
  • Maximus Tainio
  • Jamie Bowden
  • Dilan Markanday
  • Jeremie Mukendie – TBC
  • Elliot Thorpe – TBC

It’s worth noting that Oliver Skipp is also in this age group (2000/2001 born) but, of course, he has already become a first team squad member.

So what can we say about this? Well, we’ve offered more (mostly one-year) pro contracts than possibly ever before. It’s a strong group, but some of those offered contracts are arguably at an ability level at which in previous seasons would have seen them released or offered an extension of their scholarship to really prove themselves capable at Under-18 level before progressing or moving on.

This most likely supports what many youth-watchers had already been thinking: that a clear-out of the Under-23s/Development Squad will be happening. The following players are out of contract this summer:

  • Connor Ogilvie (23)
  • Shayon Harrison (21)
  • Tom Glover (21)
  • Brandon Austin (20)
  • George Marsh (20)
  • Dylan Duncan (20)
  • Jack Roles (20)
  • Japhet Tanganga (20)
  • Charlie Freeman (19)
  • Jonathan De Bie (18)

I think we can expect most of these players to leave. Sadly, Roles — who has 13 goals and 6 assists in 19 matches this season — has not been offered a contract, and is being courted by multiple clubs from Premier League to League One. Marsh has been included in first team squads, so may get a contract extension on that basis, and hopefully young goalkeepers Austin and De Bie will be kept on too.

Aside from these players, we have decisions to take on:

  • Luke Amos (22) – contract expiry: 2021
  • Anthony Georgiou (22) – contract expiry: 2020
  • Kyle Walker-Peters (22) – contract expiry: 2023
  • Joshua Onomah (22) – contract expiry: 2021
  • Cameron Carter Vickers (21) – contract expiry: 2021
  • Shilow Tracey (21) – contract expiry: 2020
  • Alfie Whiteman (20) – contract expiry: 2020
  • Kazaiah Sterling (20) – contract expiry: 2021
  • Marcus Edwards (20) – contract expiry: 2020
  • Sam Shashoua (19) – contract expiry: 2020
  • Jonathan Dinzeyi (19) – contract expiry: unknown
  • Jamie Reynolds (19) – contract expiry: unknown
  • TJ Eyoma (19) – contract expiry: 2021
  • Tashan Oakley-Boothe (19) – contract expiry: 2021
  • Tariq Hinds (18) – contract expiry: unknown

Some of the decisions may be taken out of the club’s hands. The agents of Sterling, Edwards, Shashoua and Georgiou forced the issue with loans last season, meaning that each now has experience of professional football on their CV and they may look for permanent moves. Conversely, Walker-Peters has staggeringly played nearly as many minutes for the England Under-21s as he has at any level for Spurs since August 2017.

I would think that this is the summer that Onomah and Carter-Vickers move on and if Walker-Peters stays it would surely only be because he’s received assurances of significant game-time next season. Amos has had an injury-disrupted season and may give it another year given the positive impression he made in pre-season last summer.

Of the development squad players, I could foresee Dinzeyi and Reynolds being released (incidentally Reynolds has been injured for a lot of the season but has shown some potential at left-back), whilst I think Hinds will be kept on; he’s a very competent right-back with a degree of potential.

I await our released and retained lists with baited breath and hope that the presumed clear-out marks the beginning of a new strategy for our Development Squad players, hopefully involving more strategic loans, more involvement on the first team bench, and the use of fringe players (like Skipp and Walker-Peters) in alternative competitions (PL2, Checkatrade Trophy, etc).

This is even more vital because of the position we have got ourselves into with the number of homegrown players required to enable us to name a 25-man squad (see this piece from last year for further information). What we don’t want is to have to spend big money on inflated transfer fees for homegrown players who are potentially no better than players we could have developed from within, and I think that’s a genuine risk right now.

To finish, have a listen to our unapologetically jubilant post-Champions League semi-final podcast: