January 4, 2019
I’ve read two really interesting articles this week that I’d like to share and comment on:
- How does a Hudson-Odoi become an Mbappé? by Chelsea Youth.
- ‘Tottenham team vs Tranmere: Tough teacher Mauricio Pochettino will only let best students graduate in FA Cup’ by Dan Kilpatrick.
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.
December 23, 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)
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
December 16, 2018
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.
- Oliver Skipp (2000): 84
- Kyle Walker-Peters (1997): 608
- Luke Amos (1997): 2
- Tashan Oakley-Boothe (2000): 0 (added time sub)
- Kazaiah Sterling (1998): 2
- Anthony Georgiou (1997): 6
- Cameron Carter-Vickers (1997): 360, NB: currently on-loan for the second season in a row.
- Anton Walkes (1997): 10, NB: moved permanently to Portsmouth in July 2018.
- Shayon Harrison (1997): 7
- Marcus Edwards (1998): 15, NB: currently on-loan for the second season in a row.
- Filip Lesniak (1996): 4 NB: moved permanently to AaB in July 2017.
- Joshua Onomah (1997): 807, NB: currently on-loan for the second season in a row.
- 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.
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.
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.
December 10, 2018
Yeah, I’m a glass half full kinda guy but I can’t help but see tomorrow’s match as win-win. We win and we qualify for the Champions League. It’s where we want to be, it will galvanise the club ahead of the impending move to our new home, and it will go down as one of the most famous victories in our history.
If we lose: it’s Barcelona! There’s no disgrace in losing away to Barcelona! We’d drop into the Europa League, we can give some of our young players some much-needed first team exposure, we can rotate the team and focus on securing top four again in an ultra-competitive Premier League season.
So ultimately I’m seeing this as a shot to nothing. It’s a little frustrating, because it needn’t be this way at this stage, but the Champions League is ultra-competitive itself and one or two slip-ups cost you. So I will be relaxed, letting it play out without feeling overly concerned about the consequences. I’ll be able to enjoy the match for what it is.
We’ll hopefully be doing a bit of a Barca de-brief on The Extra Inch so do keep an eye (or ear?) out for that. We’re now on Spotify and Stitcher if that helps. If you enjoy it, please consider leaving us a review, as it helps us attract sponsorship meaning that we can pay Nathan for producing the podcast.
I’ll hope that Barcelona it’s the turning point in our season in terms of consistent performances, because *that* hasn’t happened yet. I keep seeing articles in which Spurs’ numbers look bad. In almost every metric I’ve seen, we’re some way off nearly all of the clubs around us; the latest being some pass-chain data that Duncan Alexander used in this article for the BBC:
The numbers of 10+ pass sequences seem staggeringly low, even taking into account our style.
And yet having beaten Leicester City we’re a point worse off than our best ever points tally (37 in 2011/12) after week 16 in the Premier League. Grinding.
We all know the reasons, but let’s summarise them again:
- The World Cup
- The lack of summer signings
- Stadium delay
- Broken Harry Kane (fixed now?)
- Broken Mousa Dembélé (fixed never sad face)
- Broken Victor Wanyama (I can’t even)
- I could go on…
Pochettino has had to change formation to adjust for life post-Dembélé. He’s had to play Lucas up top with Kane to do some of his running. He’s had to re-establish Moussa Sissoko in the team. And he’s made it work. The guy just continues to work miracles, and – despite the Arsenal nightmare – I continue to think he’s one of the best things to ever happen to us.
One more positive before I sign-off. Have you seen how well our Under-18s are doing? I’m a bit down on the situation with our Under-23s (for various reasons, perhaps I’ll blog on them sometime) but the Under-18s are unbelievable. I can’t get down to Hotspur Way much these days but I’ve been living vicariously through Lennon McCandless-Branagan (hope I’ve got that right, Lennon!), who has barely missed a match across all youth levels and writes the most thorough of reports on his website. Kudos to Lennon for his incredible support and thank you for making it so easy to follow our fabulous Under-18s (who have a plethora of individual talent).
August 10, 2018
Dear Mr Levy,
No wait, that’s that other bloke.
As Mauricio Pochettino delivered a staggeringly philosophical press conference yesterday, which moved between the ever-so-slightly sanctimonious and pure, glorious serenity, some of the cracks of the transfer window were smoothed over. He’s wonderful in these situations; a true company man, protecting his team, his boss and himself with pragmatism, the odd joke, plenty of smiles and a warmth rarely seen in such arenas.
Spurs only have themselves to blame for this mess — if, indeed, it is one; I’ll come back to that — which began two years ago when we signed Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kévin N’Koudou and Moussa Sissoko, three players we’ve presumably been looking to shift in every window since.
We have a squad bloated with problems — some players are not good enough, some want to leave — and Pochettino’s ‘We didn’t sell players and with 25 players in the squad it is difficult to add players.’ comment pretty much explains that it is difficult to do ‘in’ business without first doing ‘out’ business.
The plan over the next few weeks needs to be to find loan takers for some of those players that we ultimately want to flog and those players that are ultimately going to potentially cause unrest. Which is, I presume, why we’re talking to Schalke about a loan move for Danny Rose.
Within the bloat, however, is a core of excellence. Our first fourteen or fifteen players are a match for nearly any other side in the league, and comfortably top four worthy. The rest? Well, we have to make it work. Pochettino’s brilliance comes in his ability to improve. To squeeze extra from a starting point which doesn’t seem to have any slack. Every year we see growth from within the squad; last year it was Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies, this year someone else will step up, that’s simply inevitable with a coach as good as ours.
There is untapped potential there too, some of which we’ve seen in pre-season (Oliver Skipp, Luke Amos, et al) and some of which we haven’t (Josh Onomah and, whisper it quietly, Marcus Edwards). Many fans have given up on Onomah and Edwards, but if we can harness that talent, the upside is huge. Onomah can do some of the things that our long-term target, Jack Grealish, can do, possessing both the ability to drive with the ball from central midfield and to pass the ball effectively, illustrated by the fact that he was statistically one of the best progressive passers in the Championship last season:
This is @footballfactman's model's best progressive passers from midfield areas this season in the Championship – good to see Onomah so high up the list and in good company with Neves and Maddison (amongst others). #THFC #COYS pic.twitter.com/gR150r2yf3
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) May 30, 2018
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) April 14, 2018
Edwards has had well-documented problems — before and during his loan spell at Norwich, but all need not be lost and a clean slate and change of approach from both club and player could finally see both benefit. Perhaps I’m deluded and both will be on loan by September.
— New York Spurs (@NYSpurs) September 22, 2016
But I do think this window has been a mess. I think Daniel Levy has failed in this window, as he did in August 2016, as he did in January 2017, as he largely did in August 2017 and as he did in January 2018. But the failing, in my opinion, is in not putting an appropriate structure in place as much as being one of (lack of) ambition or his famed negotiation tactics. He invites pressure onto himself by being so closely involved in the process, and by not having recruitment experts on hand to do what he cannot.
We accept that Spurs cannot match the spending power of other Premier League clubs with bottomless pits of cash — certainly not having just spent a billion quid on a stadium, and certainly not until we are at a point where we can stretch our wage structure (after a year of increased match-day revenue, perhaps). So we need to be canny, we need to dig that bit deeper, we need to use other methods to identify players. It all seemed to be going so well with the (albeit short-lived) appointment of Paul Mitchell, his black box, a new analytics team, and an increased focus on using ‘modern’ methods to recruit, rather than relying on word of mouth and ‘the eye test’. This has not yielded results.
As I’ve spoken about on The Extra Inch, my biggest hope for this window was that Spurs had got their act together and would act early to secure targets which may be a little under the radar, making the deals that bit easier to do. Pochettino’s pre-World Cup comments implied that the intention was to do business early, to have signings available for pre-season. Clearly, our inability to sell has inhibited our ability to buy, and we have to consider that in future windows. Perhaps we need to accept less. Or better, to not buy trash in the first place.
I hope that this will lead to a change in approach. Where a signing is simply squad fodder, let’s promote from within instead. Let’s utilise the talent already at the club to fill those squad places. This has multiple benefits, but the main two being the savings in outlay (of course), which frees up funds to genuinely improve the first team, but also creates the sense of a progression route being in place from the Academy, which will hopefully put an end to us shedding our top talent in the way that we have over the past two years.
Another young Spur flies the nest. So far this summer we’ve lost our best U15 (Forson), best first year academy prospect (Madueke), one of our best U23s from last season (Bennetts) & one of our best U18s who outscored everyone else in the league by a distance (Griffiths). https://t.co/5G58AyBpdL
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) August 1, 2018
It is clear to any sensible observers that Spurs have basically stood still this summer whilst, at least on the surface, those around us have improved. The window has been a disaster in many ways, but the disaster is within context and — just as importantly — is containable.
Even having signed nobody, we probably have the fourth best squad in the league, and we probably have the second best manager in the league. A manager capable of over-achieving, and so third place again would be no great surprise to anybody.
We are short on fit first teamers for now, sure, but we have a relatively ‘easy’ (with the caveat that ‘there are no easy games in the Premier League) start to the season that will hopefully allow us time to get players fit before we play United.
The positivity that the new stadium will bring can provide the same bounce as a new signing and whilst we might be left wondering what might have been had we strengthened, I still foresee a positive season for Spurs, and hopefully this will be the year that we finally bring a trophy home.
On a personal level, I have negotiated flexible working for the next few months which will give me a little more time to write, to podcast, and to engage more generally, and I can’t wait for the season to get going.