December 9, 2017

When does Spurs’ young talent get a chance?

The free hit at APOEL last week felt like the perfect opportunity for Mauricio Pochettino to give Marcus Edwards his first start for Tottenham.

If you only watch first team football and pay no interest to our youth teams, this will likely be your only prior knowledge of our young attacking midfielder:

Edwards made his debut in this match in September 2016, coming off the bench against Gillingham, aged 17. Now 19, and without having seen a single minute of first team football since that day, he might be starting to question why he (eventually) signed a new contact.

Edwards has been doing his thing for Spurs’ youth teams since before he was 16. Impeccable balance and dribbling (after Mousa Dembélé he is the best dribbler at the club), excellent creative vision, and occasional final product have been the order of the day, and not much has changed during that time. He’s got a little sturdier — though, to be honest, strength has never really been an issue due to his low centre of gravity; he’s got a little better at pressing; he’s got a little less close to the first team picture.

Pochettino’s Messi ‘comparisons’ at the time were based on style only, and in no way was he suggesting that Edwards could be as good as one of the greatest footballers of all time. But Pochettino virtually retracted the comment this week, saying ‘Maybe I made a mistake because I believed it was positive and he was going to take it in a positive way.’ In that statement he seems to almost take responsibility for the comment and subsequent reaction and then instantly shirk it — let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest it might be the language barrier confusing matters. But ultimately if the comment has not had the desired effect, it’s as much Pochettino’s misjudgement as it is anything to do with the player.

But this, it turns out, is not the only controversial uttering of Pochettino on Edwards. In his ‘Brave New World’ book/diary, Pochettino says of Edwards ‘He has authority and behavioural problems, and we have to look at the bigger picture to find out the root cause.’ Perhaps it was a strategically placed comment designed to encourage Edwards through tough love, but that must have been pretty difficult for a teenager to see in print.

Edwards’ reported attitude problems have been accepted as truth. As a 16-year old he was seen by some as a sulker. He apparently had run-ins with the hierarchy. Before he signed his new contract, there were rumours of rifts with the club over assurances that he wanted regarding his route to the first team. But by all accounts these are things of the past, and Edwards has got through this fairly typical teenage phase and knuckled down, worked hard, and performed pretty consistently for a player of his type. Indeed, there have been no indications of any problems from his on-pitch behaviour or performances. And if there were such significant issues, why would the club have offered Edwards a contract that runs until 2020?

Even if there were still problems brewing, Pochettino has never shied away from playing other players with ‘attitude problems’: he signed Moussa Sissoko (famed for not turning up every week at Newcastle) and Serge Aurier (over whom well-known on and off pitch question marks existed) and continues to play Danny Rose despite him orchestrating and giving one of the most incredibly damning footballer interviews in recent years. You could even bundle Dele Alli into this conversation, who Pochettino has (rightly) persisted with despite various comments to the press about his character.

It must have been difficult for Edwards to be the best, most talented player at basically every level he’s played at for the last eight to ten years and see very little progression during that time. I could imagine that having a demotivating effect, yet he is still doing the business in the majority of matches — a regular threat, a regular winner of penalties, a regular assist-er of goals and a regular scorer himself.

And his omission (if one could refer to it as such) from the APOEL match was due to ‘performance’ if you take Pochettino at face value. Following that logic one must assume that he is not be ticking the right boxes in training, and that Kazaiah Sterling and Luke Amos are, because if it’s about performance in matches, Edwards (and others) has been playing at levels well above Sterling and Amos over the past 12-18 months. I am a fan of both of these players but there is no denying that they had both dropped off previous performance levels, and I had started to wonder if terrific early potential had started to fall away. Conversely, Edwards has been mostly consistent. One could also suggest that Nkoudou’s performances have been pretty diabolical for the first team, so ‘performance’ meritocracy doesn’t seem to be consistently at play.

There are so many schools of thought on Edwards:

He’s overrated, another John Bostock. — He’s on a different level to John Bostock.

He’s got an attitude. — Yet the club gave him a lengthy contract.

He’s not physically ready. — Though he was physically ready to play against Gillingham nearly 18 months ago.

He’s 19 and his time will come. — This is an optimistic reading that I’m not against accepting.

My opinion is a little different. I think Pochettino is struggling generally to integrate youth players. I’ll explain why.

Since Pochettino took charge he has only truly brought through one youngster: Harry Winks. We’ve seen Josh Onomah have some game time (albeit in uncomfortable positions); Cameron Carter-Vickers came and went on-loan (which is fair, he looked raw); Anton Walkes made a debut and then was sent to the MLS to get regular game-time; Filip Lesniak had a few minutes and was sold; Anthony Georgiou (who most youth-watchers assumed was destined for League One or Two) has had a debut; and now Sterling has five minutes of first team football to his name. In the four years prior to Pochettino, we brought through a really good number of young players, and Pochettino arrived with such a strong reputation for developing youth. So what’s going wrong?

Many will argue that I am biased in favour of youth players, and I cannot deny that this is the case. I openly admit that I would generally rather we put more faith in maximising our academy investment than sign players as punts, such is the level at which our academy output is. Were our youth players less good, of course I wouldn’t say that. However, I am not calling for just any youth players to be called up to the first team, and to be honest I generally had not been supportive of Georgiou, Luke Amos or Tashan Oakley-Boothe getting mintues, because there are others I prefer. Kazaiah Sterling is slightly different because we’re so lacking in striker depth and he seems back to his ‘old’ form recently. Most proponents of our academy only truly rate a relatively small proportion of our youth players and absolutely do not call for regular youth player starts.

However, we have, in my opinion, the best crop of youth players we’ve ever had at Spurs. Not everyone rates Onomah, but for me him, Walker-Peters, Edwards, Japhet Tanganga and Oliver Skipp would be in our top 10 at youth level since I’ve been paying attention, with Kane and Winks in there too amongst a few others that have since moved on – Milos Veljkovic, Ryan Mason, and one of Nabil Bentaleb, Paul-Jose M’Poku, Massimo Luongo or Steven Caulker, all of whom excelled at the various youth levels they played at.

The perception is that it’s undoubtedly more difficult to bring players through whilst the team is towards the top of the league, and playing such high stakes matches (it was arguably easier for Pochettino at Southampton where there was less at stake). The fear is that youth players will make catastrophic mistakes which will lead to… what? Goals, sendings off, nervousness setting in… the inability to pass to that player because they might make an error… something. And yet we’ve seen Walker-Peters play 90 solid minutes of Premier League football on his full debut where he barely put a foot wrong, whilst expensive signing Serge Aurier (who I like incidentally) has been fairly error prone. We’ve seen Winks come in and look like he’s always been a regular, making fewer mistakes than other established senior professionals. Is it really more risky to play Marcus Edwards than, say, GK Nkoudou? Is it more risky playing Walker-Peters than Serge Aurier? I feel like I should also mention Moussa Sissoko now, but it feels like kicking a puppy. Ultimately all new players require just as much patience as youth players. But youth players are not going to let you down in all cases, and particularly not when introduced carefully – ten minutes from the bench here and there is how they should be integrated, just like Winks experienced initially.

The reality is that our best youth players are at a level where they could be trusted. Indeed, most of our Under-23 side could probably slot in and ‘do a job’ amongst ten other first teamers, such is the base level of talent drilled into them over a number of years. That’s not to say that I think all of them should play; that would be ludicrous. But I do think that it’s time to be far more brave in terms of integrating youngsters, particularly at this point in the season when fatigue is becoming an issue, and rotation is required. APOEL would have been an ideal situation for a good number of them.

Moving specifically back to Edwards, Pochettino seems to be sending a message: if you want to play, you have to show that you are ready. But what does that actually mean? Pochettino picks the team. Pochettino manages the squad and its myriad of personalities. The responsibility lies at least partially with the manager, and to defer it entirely to a 19-year old kid seems like imperfect management. If Pochettino is waiting to be 100% satisfied that Edwards is ‘ready’, then he could be waiting a while and risk one of our greatest homegrown talents leaving. Pochettino has a ready-made excuse should Edwards’ not make it: he wasn’t right mentally. He had issues with authority. He didn’t perform in training. And yet if he *does* make it, he claims all of the credit. That doesn’t feel right; this is a joint venture. Recent press conference comments have made it feel otherwise.

Ultimately in Edwards’ case I think this comes down to talent against mentality, and Pochettino’s flexibility with certain players and not others. I know well enough from my own profession that, as a manager, it’s impossible to treat everyone equally, because everyone is different with different motivations and values. But being seen to treat people consistently is important, and if Edwards sees concessions given to those who don’t play as well as him or those who act up and still get games, then I imagine he’s going to find that frustrating.

The non-selection of homegrown players isn’t just a Pochettino issue, it’s an English football issue. The mentality towards youth players *has* to change, because the levels of English and English-grown youth players have changed. Recent competitions suggest that England are producing some of the best youth players in the world; these are excellent footballers who will not let their teams down. And Spurs have one of the top four or five academies in the country, perhaps even top three. Signing a cheap foreign back-up is not necessary because we have *free* back-ups waiting in the wings who just need a chance to be taken on them. Nobody can convince me that Onomah wouldn’t have done at least a good a job as Sissoko in our midfield three given the same game-time, saving us £30m and probably gaining us a very valuable young English asset by this point in the season.

Stakes are high, sure, and it’ll take a bit of bravery for Pochettino to initially take the plunge. But if he fails to bring through some of our quality young players then he is failing on one of his key objectives.

I was encouraged to see his comments yesterday in light of the Champions League squad being a little tight in terms of overseas players: “Now we’re so focussed in trying to bring more English players through the academy. Or if we don’t have this profile, try to take advantage of the English market and add more English players here.” If he truly means that then now is the time to give bench places to some of our talented young players who need to be given a taste of first team football. My short term targets for Pochettino for the rest of the season would be: bring back Onomah in January and give him Sissoko’s minutes. Integrate Edwards into the first team squad and use him from the bench occasionally. Start Edwards, Onomah and Walker-Peters against AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup. Give Skipp and Tanganga debuts in that match if we’re comfortably ahead. None of that would put us at risk. It’s all achievable.

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July 22, 2017

Academy Players Feature In Tour Squad

A number of Academy players have travelled to the United States with the first team on the pre-season tour, and I thought I would write a brief round-up on each.

The selection includes second year Academy scholars Jon Dinzeyi and Tashan Oakley-Boothe, recent Academy graduates Brandon Austin, Alfie Whiteman and Jaden Brown, plus established Development Squad members Will Miller and Anthony Georgiou.

Mauricio Pochettino told the official site: “They’ve all impressed me in the first few weeks (of pre-season) and with John McDermott (Head of Player Development) we decided to give them the possibility to join us on the tour. It’s a big opportunity for them, a great opportunity to show their quality and why not, maybe we are seeing a player for the future of the first team?”

Below is a little about each of the involved players.

Brandon Austin
Age: 18 Position: Goalkeeper
Austin may have come onto your radar when he was lucky enough to train with the England squad at Hotspur Way last season. If not, then his performance against Chelsea in the Youth Cup Semi-Final at White Hart Lane may have caught your eye; he made a number of terrific saves and really helped to keep the score down. Austin has dual English/American nationality so he may even have joined a different queue at passport control!

Jaden Brown
Age: 18 Position: Left-back
Brown lost his place in the Under-18s to Nick Tsaroulla last year, which led to him being promoted to play Under-23s, perhaps ahead of time. He actually made the jump pretty well, and ended up performing better at that level, even scoring a couple of times. He has represented England at Under-16, Under-17 and Under-18 levels, despite his club form being somewhat patchy, and is known as an athletic full-back who gets up and down well. My gut feel is that he’s here due to the injury to Rose more than anything, but it would be great to see him take his chance.

Jon Dinzeyi
Age: 17 Position: Centre-back
Dinzeyi is a versatile player, having come through as a winger before settling on centre-back. He’s tall — he must stand at around 6’4 — and quick across the ground. Last season he was a little error-prone, and his centre-back partner, Japhet Tanganga, was the one who often stood out, but Dinzeyi has the raw materials to be an interesting player, and I’m fascinated to see how he looks at this level.

Anthony Georgiou
Age: 20 Position: Winger
Georgiou, a Cypriot youth player, had a rough time with injuries last year, missing the majority of the season for the Under-23s. He came through the Under-18s as a traditional, touchline-hugging left winger but has ended up playing at left-back for the Under-23s on occasion, also switching to the right to play as an inverted winger. I was surprised to see his name on the squad list — particularly with Marcus Edwards and Sam Shashoua not included — but wonder whether this is, perhaps, a ‘shop window’ job, as Georgiou could do with a loan move to test his mettle.

Will Miller
Age: 21 Position: Attacking midfield
Miller will be a familiar face, after appearing for the first team both in pre-season of last year and also the post-season tour. He had a loan spell at Burton last year, which I summarised here, and impressed Nigel Clough with his attitude:

“It’s incredible, his attitude. Every training session, he is sharp, he is bright. We’ve managed to get him on the bench a few times, not get him on the pitch too often.

“It’s just a lovely, refreshing attitude these days. Tottenham actually wanted him back, they said they wanted him to go out to League One and play, they said that’d benefit him more. But he said, ‘I’m happy here, I like being around the first team and I want to try to help them stay up’.”

He’s primarily a number 10, but can cover right and left wing, and has played deeper too.

Tashan Oakley-Boothe
Age: 17 Position: Central midfield
Oakley-Boothe is an interesting player — he made a name for himself with some sparkling Under-16 performances, but then didn’t quite replicate his form at Under-18 level. It’s clear that there’s a lot of potential there and, as a result, he’s been involved with England at Under-16 and Under-17 age groups, and has trained with our first team often. He has played in all central midfield roles — 4, 8 and 10 — and I think this year might be a year of working out which suits him best. He’s a very good ball-carrier, and I suspect he might end up specialising as an 8, a bit like Josh Onomah.

Alfie Whiteman
Age: 18 Position: Goalkeeper
Whiteman was born and lives in Tottenham and has a tremendous reputation internationally. He has represented England at Under-16, Under-17, Under-18 and Under-19 levels, and started at the Under-17 World Cup in 2015. He has been in several first-team travelling parties and even made the bench against Gillingham in the EFL Cup last season.

And finally, a word on those who have not travelled:

Marcus Edwards – having been part of the England Under-19 side that won the European Under-19 Championship, some have speculated that Edwards has been given time off to rest. My understanding (and I give no guarantees that it is correct) is that his exclusion is due to the fact that he has yet to extend his contract, which runs out at the end of the season. Spurs have a history of doing this with young players, and Milos Veljkovic — now a regular starting centre-back in the Bundesliga — suffered the same fate. However, Edwards was not involved in the match against Cambridge United on Friday night, which may back up the view that he is resting.

Kazaiah Sterling – Sterling did play a part against Cambridge, coming on as a second half substitute and apparently putting in a lively display. I was surprised that he did not travel, particularly in the absence of Son (and, therefore, a third striker) and given the fact that he travelled to Hong Kong post-season, and wonder whether this may mean that a loan move is pending.

Sam Shashoua – Georgiou’s selection ahead of Shashoua was interesting given that Shashoua was on the first team bench for the Leicester City game.

Luke Amos – Amos also travelled to Hong Kong at the end of last year, but the rumour is that he will be back out on loan for the coming year.

Japhet Tanganga – Tanganga is our best young centre-back in my opinion, and I was surprised that he did not travel and that his partner, Dinzeyi, did. Of course, we don’t see what happens on the training ground, so it could just be that Dinzeyi puts in more consistent showings there, but Tanganga has a lot of potential.

TJ Eyoma – along with Tanganga, Eyoma is one of the stars of the Under-18 side, and certainly performed at a level above Dinzeyi and also probably Oakley-Boothe last year. His ability to play at both right-back and centre-back might have made him an interesting proposition, but at least he got game-time against Cambridge.

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May 22, 2017

Loanee Round-Up

Spurs have used the loan system to send out a few players this year – primarily those that they are looking to sell, but also a couple of younger prospects. I shall start with four players who have now either left Spurs or look set to in the summer.

Federico Fazio – AS Roma (Serie A)

Fazio played 3766 minutes at Roma, including 2937 in Serie A. The transfer was reportedly made permanent in January, but that has not been confirmed by either club as yet. He has been a mainstay there and has become a popular figure.

Nabil Bentaleb – FC Schalke 04 (Bundesliga)

Bentaleb has played 3354 minutes for Schalke including 2463 in the Bundesliga during which he has five goals and five assists. It’s easy to see why Schalke have made the transfer permanent – good luck, Nabil, I for one shall miss you.

Clinton Njie – Marseille (Ligue 1)

Njie has played 1118 minutes for Marseille scoring four goals and getting an assist in Ligue 1. He has played mostly from the left wing, but occasionally as a centre-forward. He seems likely to make the move permanent in the summer, though it seems the deal is dependent on various clauses being met.

Nathan Oduwa – Peterborough United (League One)

Oduwa only managed 112 minutes across three competitions for Peterborough before joining Slovenian PrvaLiga club Olimpija Ljubljana on a permanent basis in January.

Many thanks to Alan Swan (@PTAlanSwann), Chief Sports Writer at the Peterborough Telegraph, who provided the following on his progress:

Nathan Oduwa was a strange signing as our team played a rigid midfield diamond formation for most of his time with us. They had no real use for wingers.

Oduwa didn’t start a single game, not even in the Checkatrade Trophy when the inexperienced and very young often played.

He showed very little in his nine substitute appearances, but most of them were very brief.

A disappointing season for Oduwa, after creating a bit of buzz last year. We wish him well in Slovenia.

Will Miller – Burton Albion (Championship)

Miller made 15 Championship appearances for Burton, accumulating 402 minutes in the league and another 32 in the FA Cup.

Many thanks to Joshua Murray (@JoshuaMurrayBM) — who is the Burton Albion writer from the Burton Mail — for this terrific write-up on Miller.

The Spurs website labels Will Miller a ‘versatile attacking midfielder’, but it was up front where the 20-year-old gained almost all of his game time on loan at Burton Albion.

His pace around the field up top made him a constant nuisance to defenders as he chased and harried them down out of possession, while allowing him to make dangerous runs into the channels when Albion attacked.

Miller also showed a good eye for finding space as a striker. That showed when he grabbed his first goal in senior football, notching a 94th-minute equaliser at Wolves in September. He hung back on the edge of the box as a cross from the right was looped towards the far post, before charging into a gap just as possession was knocked back into the danger area – and he was on hand to provide the cool finishing touch.

Brewers boss Nigel Clough has spoken highly of Miller’s presence in the Albion camp all season. He could have returned to Spurs in January when his initial loan deal expired, but decided to stay on and help the club’s bid for Championship survival, despite battling with six other loanees, with a limit of five loan spaces in a matchday squad.

His attitude around the training ground was apparently superb, and he will have learned plenty from playing alongside experienced forwards like Chris O’Grady and Luke Varney this term, having made a total of 16 first-team appearances.

If his work ethic on and off the field for the Brewers is anything to go by, he could well have a bright future ahead at White Hart Lane.

Miller has been included in the first-team squad for the friendly in Hong Kong later this week.

Luke McGee – Peterborough United (League One)

McGee ended the campaign with Peterborough’s Players’ Player of the Season award, having kept nine clean sheets in 39 matches in League One.

Many thanks again to Alan Swan (@PTAlanSwann), who provided the following about Luke:

Luke McGee is the best goalkeeper I’ve seen at Posh in the last 20 years.

Excellent shot-stopper (including four penalty saves), good control of his penalty area, decent with the ball at his feet and obvious passion for his team. Luke was never afraid to speak/shout his mind at defenders and officials.

Form did dip a little in the second-half of the campaign, but he finished the season strongly.

We’d love to have him back (Barry Fry has offered to take him on a free transfer with a huge sell-on clause which is good of him), but he is obviously destined for far better things than our little club.

Luke Amos – Southend United (League One)

Amos only played 125 minutes for Southend, but was well thought of by Phil Brown. Their promotion chase made it difficult for Brown to mess with a settled team.

After his football league debut, in which he played 51 minutes as they came back from 2-0 down to beat Walsall 3-2, Brown said “I was so disappointed for Luke Amos that I had to bring him off. He played well and kept the ball. He has a good career ahead of him.”

20-year old Amos is a busy, technically-sound central midfielder and another League One loan next year would be handy; particularly if he could head out at the beginning of the year an establish himself for a full season.

Connor Ogilvie – Stevenage (League Two)

Ogilvie re-joined Stevenage in January and made 18 appearances, playing 1619 minutes in League Two. Ogilvie was very popular amongst Stevenage fans as the responses to this tweet will testify.

After such a promising start to his career with glittering displays in Under-18 football, Ogilvie has stagnated somewhat. I think he has suffered a little from being equally comfortable at left-back and centre-back (though he played as an attacking left-back for Stevenage). As Spurs will likely need left-sided centre-back cover next season (assuming Wimmer leaves), it will be interesting to see whether Ogilvie, now 21, is taken on the pre-season tour, or whether he is sold in the summer; one would presume the latter.

Ryan Loft – Stevenage (League Two)

Loft played just 82 minutes across nine appearances, coming on at the end of matches.

With thanks to Neil Metcalfe (@Metcalficus) for his thoughts on Ryan Loft:

Loft never really worked. Looked a little overawed with the senior game. Had one glorious chance at Hartlepool not long after coming up but it came at him quick and was missed. Would have been a big confidence boost had it gone in. But given a longer loan spell somewhere next season it may be different.

He returned to play several Premier League 2 matches as he was not getting much game-time, and it will be interesting to see whether he is kept on to make up the numbers in the PL2 next season.

Shayon Harrison – Yeovil Town (League Two)

Harrison played 530 minutes for Yeovil across 16 appearances, scoring once.

Harrison was name-checked by Pochettino during the season which caused a bit of hype, but the 19-year old looks some way off a first team shot as it stands.

More of a natural number ten than an out and out nine, Harrison has consistently scored goals at youth level and now needs to ensure that the rest of his game can match his finishing.

Anton Walkes – Atlanta United (MLS)

Many thanks to Doug Roberson (@DougRobersonAJC), a reporter for AJC, who provided the following on Walkes’ progress:

He has made two appearances for Atlanta United and is typically the third centerback in the rotation. He was unlucky to give up an own goal in the inaugural game against New York Red Bulls. He came in and played the second half of the loss at Montreal after Leandro Gonzalez Pirez received a red card at the end of the first half. He has shown athleticism and an understanding of manager Gerardo Martino’s system. The team’s schedule will become very compressed in September, which is when he may get a start or two. It will be interesting to see if Atlanta United tries to make the loan permanent in the winter transfer window.

Filip Lesniak – Slovan Liberec (Czech First League)

And finally our recent debutant, Lesniak. It did not work out for him at Slovan Liberec where he played just 48 minutes and returned early.

Despite making his Premier League debut against Leicester, Lesniak looks likely to leave in the summer when his contract ends. I could see him eventually doing well somewhere like Bournemouth where he’s a technically-sound, steady cog in a machine, but in all likelihood he will need to start lower and work his way back up the league structure.

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September 13, 2016

10/09/16 Reading U18s 4-3 Tottenham Hotspur U18s, Hogwood Park

Brandon Austin (17)
Tariq Hinds (16) TJ Eyoma (16) Jonathan Dinzeyi (16) Jaden Brown (17)
Oliver Skipp (15) George Marsh (17) (c)
Reo Griffiths (16) Jack Roles (17) Keanan Bennetts (17)
Aramide Oteh (18)

Subs:
Tashan Oakley-Boothe (16) for Skipp, 67.
Pablo Gonzalez-Velasco (17) for Bennetts, 78.
Dylan Duncan (17) for Brown, 85.

Subs not used:

Joy Mukena (17)
Jonathan De Bie (16)

Reading U18s: Collings, Howe, Green, Shokunbi (Coleman 70), Odimayo, Philby (Wallace 80), Rollinson, Frost, House, Loader, Holsgrove (Medford-Smith HT).
Unused subs: Hillson, Denton.

Reading official site report
Spurs official site report

It was pouring down at Reading’s Hogwood Park for this midday kick-off. I left the house in a bit of a rush, and I grabbed one of those netted bags which I thought had an old waterproof jacket in. As I opened it on arrival I realised that it was a pair of waterproof trousers! Still, as I approached the pitch I realised that there were stands with seats (!) so I was able to sit with my notepad on my lap and a golf umbrella sheltering me from the downpour!

You may have seen that Kieran McKenna, our Under-18s coach, has moved on to Manchester United. The rumour I heard — and I stress that it is only a rumour — is that things were not going so well at Spurs, and that he was essentially let go by John McDermott. There on the touch-line on Saturday were McDermott, Chris Riley (our former Academy full-back, now ‘Academy Sports Scientist’) and someone with a training top labelled ‘AM’, who I didn’t recognise.

Spurs lined up with Brandon Austin in goal, Tariq Hinds at right-back, and the rest of the defence made up of England players — England Under-16 TJ Eyoma at centre-back, and England Under-18s and Jon Dinzeyi , partnering Eyoma, and Jaden Brown on the left. George Marsh captained the side and started in central midfield alongside Oliver Skipp (another england Under-16 player) — making his first appearance at this level — with Jack Roles just ahead. Roles and Skipp had license to bomb on, and it was unclear at times whether the intention was that this was 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3, because Skipp was always a willing runner, and Roles also put a shift in going back towards his own goal. Keanan Bennetts was on the left, Reo Griffiths was on the right, and Aramide Oteh was up top.

The match started with Spurs in control and they won an early corner, which Roles lofted slightly too high for Eyoma to reach. Dinzeyi’s concentration was tested soon after when Oliver Skipp’s pass went astray and Dinzeyi had to go to ground to make an important interception and stop a Reading attack.

Marsh played a lovely angled pass out to Griffiths but he lost the ball on this occasion. Eyoma stepped out from the back and found Skipp, who returned the ball but was fouled in doing so. The referee pulled play back and Bennetts angled a free-kick into a great area, but it drifted all the way through the watching pack for a goal kick.

Griffiths and Roles and Bennetts linked a nice move together but Bennetts’ pass went between Spurs shirts in the box. The ball popped back out to Roles, who fed Griffiths to cross, but his attempt was blocked. Bennetts’ corner ran over everyone and out for a goal kick.

Roles intercepted a poorly hit goal kick, allowing Skipp to play an excellent first time pass to Bennetts. He played Oteh in, but the offside flag was raised.

Oteh was next to make a good interception high up the pitch, but Roles got his pass to Skipp slightly wrong and the move petered out.

Griffiths showed terrific pace to get onto a long kick from Austin, but after running half the length of the field he didn’t have the energy to put a cross in, and his attempt to find Oteh was undercooked.

Fifteen minutes in, Reading had a big chance, getting down their right and putting in a cross which their number 8, Tyler Frost didn’t connect with in the box.

Skipp picked up the ball in the middle of the park and made a terrific surge forward; he put too much weight on his pass to Griffiths, but the pace of Griffiths rescued it, and found Oteh. Oteh’s attempted ball to Roles was poor, though, and it again came to nothing.

Griffiths picked out Bennetts with a great pass but his touch was awful and the ball seemed to go straight through him. This led to a Reading counter-attack and, after Austin had saved an initial shot from Ben House, the ball rebounded back to him and went in off his ahead to make it 1-0 — I’m not sure he knew much about it.

Reading’s Frost took a free-kick which was deflected for a corner which Marsh dealt with at the near post.

Bennetts fashioned some space on the left, beating his man well and getting round him to cross, which was blocked by a hand right on the edge of the box. Bennetts took the kick with his right foot (he generally used his left for set pieces, but this was from the other side) and it was bent nearly perfectly towards the far post — nobody got a touch on it, though, and it drifted inches just wide.

Skipp overhit another through ball to Griffiths, before Bennetts took a corner from the right with his left foot. Frustrated he shouted to his teammates ‘why is no-one attacking the ball?’. To be fair, despite not playing especially well in open play, he had put in some excellent set piece deliveries.

Reading were doing a good job of cutting off passing lanes. Marsh picked up the ball in deep midfield and, with no easy passes on, was forced to angle a long ball to Griffiths out on the right. He got it wrong and it went behind Griffiths and out for a throw — to no complaints, as Marsh had nothing else on.

Jack Roles made it 1-1 when he got onto a Skipp pass and whipped a strong finish across the keeper into the far corner with his right foot. Skipp had surged forward well and this was a confidence-building moment for him.

Spurs were pressing high and having a spell in which they were relatively successful, and Reading were becoming frustrated. Reading had an awfully well-spoken centre-back (Harry Philby) who shouted out ‘we are playing ourselves into pressure’, and he was spot on — Oteh and Griffiths were keen to intercept and press high.

A lovely bit of play from Skipp on the right allowed him to get the ball to Oteh, who dummied the ball when well-placed in the box when he should have let fly. It ran through him to a defender and was cleared, but only to Roles. Roles lifted the ball intelligently over the foot of the defender who came to meet him, but couldn’t pick out a Spurs man from the crowd.

Reading made it 2-1 from the spot when their talented number 10, Dan Loader, sent Austin the wrong way. Eyoma had impeded House, but I didn’t get a good look at the incident from my vantage point.

Jonathan Dinzeyi once again made a brilliant intervention after Reading’s Tyler Frost had burst forward and found Dan Loader. Dinzeyi stayed strong, took control of the ball, and then went to ground when his ankles were clipped.

With five minutes to go until half-time, Griffiths had a firm shot from range which was parried. The rebound fell to Roles, but it squirmed under his foot. He then found Griffiths again, and his cross-shot was half-blocked, before the flag went up for offside as Oteh had strayed beyond the last man.

Roles found Giffiths with a cracking pass and he in turn played in Oteh, but his shot was blocked for a corner. Bennetts’ corner went just over the head of Dinzeyi, who had pushed in closer to the goal-mouth this time at the instruction of John McDermott.

A good low shot from the edge of the box by Loader made it 3-1 before half-time; Spurs gave him way too much time to get his shot away, and it went into the bottom corner across Austin after taking a slight deflection.

It was nearly game over just before half-time as the Reading right-back got forward to latch onto a pass from the influential Loader, and fed in a low cross which Marsh dealt with well. Marsh then blocked a shot from the subsequent corner.

It was a poor half from Spurs, with too many rushed passes and lack of considered possession. It felt like the aim was to get the ball in front of Griffiths, Bennetts and Oteh into the channels early, which is not a Spurs-like quality. When there are ball players like Marsh, Roles and Skipp on the pitch who are more comfortable playing possession football.

Tsaroulla and Sterling were with the substitutes warming up at half-time. A good sign as Sterling has been injured, I believe.

Soon after the second half had started, Austin spilled a shot — understandably in the very wet conditions — but he fortunately managed to gather it at the second attempt.

Roles drew groans from teammates with a poor ball to Bennetts, before Bennetts came close to picking out the far corner from the left-hand side.

Spurs did make it 3-2 when Griffiths went on another surging run and was fouled just inside the box, and Oteh scored from the spot via the post… as per this:

Bennetts went on a mazy run but was stopped with a good tackle having not released it sooner — a teammate shouted ‘pass man’, and I had to agree — this is a bad habit which Bennetts needs to shake off.

An excellent interception and pass from Skipp saw Spurs start another counter, he found Roles who came very close to putting Griffiths in.

Oteh held the ball up and played Roles in for a first-time shot which was blocked for a corner, but Roles wanted a penalty for handball. Marsh had an effort blocked from the corner, and another corner was subsequently taken short and Oteh headed the eventual cross wide when he was in a decent position and unmarked.

A good tackle and pass from Brown led to Roles being able to play Bennetts through, but he lost the ball again.

A matter of minutes after our second goal, we got an equaliser. Griffiths went on yet another purposeful run, and he finished with a thumping strike from the edge of the box. There was a bit of good fortune involved, as the aforementioned posh centre-back, Philby, slipped as Griffiths got within range, but at this point it was difficult to argue that Spurs didn’t deserve to be back in it. In fact, it looked like their tales were up and that they would go on to win the game.

However, the action went straight up the other end and our forward, Aramide Oteh, was forced to head off the line from a corner, as tall centre-back Akinwale Odimayo got on the end of the ball in. Odimayo had more luck a few minutes later as he stooped to head in a free-kick at the back post to make it 4-3 to the home side.

Skipp played a good pass up the line to Griffiths but he fouled Philby in trying to reach it, before Austin made a terrific save after a glorious touch from Loader had created the chance.

A great team move from Spurs saw Roles delay his shot just a little too long, causing it to be blocked.

16-year old Tashan Oakley-Boothe, who had appeared as a substitute for the Under-23s in a 3-1 defeat at Stamford Bridge on Friday night, came on in midfield for the debutant Skipp.

Bennetts latched onto a slack pass across the back from Reading but took an awful touch and missed an opportunity to have a clear run on goal.

Roles dropped between the centre-backs to pick the ball up from Austin, and then pushed forward, linking well with Hinds to receive the ball in the middle of the park. He played a pass into the channel for Oteh, who had a one-on-one chance saved.

Spurs brought on Juan Pablo Gonzalez Velasco (known as Pablo) for Bennetts and, not long after his introduction, he was clearly fouled on the edge of the box — possibly inside — but nothing was given amidst protests.

Dylan Duncan came on for Brown for the final few minutes which prompted a re-shuffle; Hinds moved to left-back, Marsh came to centre-back, and Eyoma went to right-back, with Duncan pushed up on the right of midfield.

Austin saved a low free-kick and lost the wet ball again, but got up quickly to make himself big and block the follow-up as the game somewhat petered out for Spurs.

This was a disappointing result with some slack defensive play, and Tottenham got what their performance deserved. The second half saw improvement, but Reading were fairly resolute and stuck to their game plan. Spurs sometimes lacked patience and tried to play the killer ball, which led to the ball coming back at them time and again, and sometimes they were unable to cope with Reading’s counter-attacking. Having said that, Griffiths in particularly was a real threat going forward, and Oteh was a muscular presence who gave the Reading centre-backs a tough match. In many ways he reminds me of Kudus Oyenuga who, incidentally, now plays for Greenock Morton in the Scottish Championship.

Brandon Austin 6 – it wasn’t easy for him with a wet ball, and he did let a few squirm away from him. Overall he did pretty well.
Tariq Hinds 6 – couple of nice bursts forward, but he’s nowhere near as dynamic as, say, Kyle Walker-Peters. At this point, that’s probably a harsh comparison, as we were spoilt with KWP!
TJ Eyoma 6 – a laergely solid performance with a few blips.
Jonathan Dinzeyi 7 – made a lot of impressive recovery challenges and interceptions.
Jaden Brown 5 – struggled a bit and seemed to be targeted by Reading. Brown is an England player and is someone who I know people rave about — I seem to always catch his less impressive days.
Oliver Skipp 7 – Skipp is a great young player and whilst he didn’t quite find his passing range, he had a decent debut and I am excited to see more of him.
George Marsh 7 – tenacious as ever, Marsh never shirks a challenge and is happy to take the ball in tight areas to get a teammate out of trouble.
Jack Roles 7 – Roles has a tough ask, because he’s often picking the ball up on the half-turn with teammates screaming at him for the ball from both sides of the pitch. Unlike some of of his teammates, who were giving him a bit of grief, I felt he generally made good decisions and used the ball well. I would say that I would want him to take on his shots earlier — he could do with watching someone like Sigurdsson, who is the master of the early shot.
Reo Griffiths 8 – a real threat; his pace and physicality cannot be denied, but his technical ability was impressive too. I really like the look of this kid! Think Michail Antonio.
Aramide Oteh 7 – a big presence for Spurs who didn’t give the Reading defence any peace. He sometimes lacked finesse in the final third, but he tries his heart out.
Keanan Bennetts 6 – some really good set pieces, but a bit disappointing in open play; he needs to learn when to release the ball.

Tashan Oakley-Boothe – a fairly quiet cameo in midfield.
Pablo Gonzalez-Velasco – was unlucky not to win a penalty, and showed decent acceleration. Keen to see more!
Dylan Duncan – didn’t see too much of the ball in his short spell on the pitch.

Two more pieces of news! Firstly, Nya Kirby is seemingly about to join Crystal Palace, and it seems that we are in turn looking at their striker, Francis Baptiste

And finally, on Wednesday we play our first UEFA Youth League match against Monaco at Hotspur Way. The team selection will be interesting — the full squad is here. It is an Under-19 tournament with three overage players allowed.

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August 14, 2016

13/08/16 Tottenham Hotspur U18s 4-1 Southampton U18s, Hotspur Way

Brandon Austin (17)
TJ Eyoma (16) Jonathan Dinzeyi (16) Joy Mukena (17) Jaden Brown (17)
George Marsh (17) (c)
Sam Shashoua (17) Jack Roles (17) Tashan Oakley-Boothe (16) Keanan Bennetts (17)
Reo Griffiths (16)

Subs:
Phoenix Patterson (15) for Bennetts, 61.
Aramide Oteh (17) for Roles, 74.
Moroyin Omalabi (16) for Shashoua, 83.

Subs not used:
Nick Tsaroulla (17)
Alfie Whiteman (17)

Southampton Under-18s: Adam Parkes, Connor Langan, Aaron O’Driscoll (c), Harry Hamblin, Jake Vokins, Siph Mdlalose, Ben Rowthorn, Callum Slattery (Will Smallbone 54), Tyreke Johnson (Harlem Hale 75), Archie Thomas, Dan N’Lundulu.

Southampton official site report
Spurs official site report

Spurs formally announced their new intake of Academy players this week, with photos and biographies appearing for the following:

Jonathan Dinzeyi
Charles Freeman
Jamie Reynolds
Moroyin Omalabi
Timothy Joel (TJ) Eyoma
Tash Oakley-Boothe
Matthew Lock
Tariq Hinds
Reo Griffiths

The key name missing was Nya Kirby, who is still without a club having turned down a scholarship at Spurs. 16-year old Belgian goalkeeper Jonathan de Bie was not listed, amid rumours of his signing a three-year contract. It will be interesting to see where he fits in or whether the signing will be announced (much like the club took a long time to announce the signings of Miloš Veljković and Nabil Bentaleb).

Four of the first years started on Saturday morning as the team got off to a flier against a decent Southampton outfit.

David Pleat and Paul Mitchell were in attendance on an early afternoon which flitted between overcast and sunny. Keiran McKenna was seemingly not on the Spurs bench, but John McDermott was a big enough presence to make up for his absence.

Spurs lined up with Brandon Austin in goal, behind a back four of TJ Eyoma (normally a centre-back) at right-back, Jon Dinzeyi and Joy Mukena in the centre and Jaden Brown at left back. George Marsh seemed to be the dedicated midfield anchor, with Jack Roles and Tashan Oakley-Boothe ahead; Sam Shashoua and Keanan Bennetts started wide, and Reo Griffiths — prolific last year in the Under-16s — was up front.

Griffiths’ first impact came when he was clearly fouled when playing a cushioned first time pass into the path of Bennetts, who won a corner. This was a facet of the forward’s play throughout, preferring to try to play forward first time or to turn and run, rather than to hold the ball up and wait for support.

Brown advanced up the left and sent in a dangerous ball between defence and goalkeeper, but it trickled away for a goal kick.

Dinzeyi began his battle with the big Southampton forward, Dan N’Lundulu, when he was penalised for a foul — a decision which might have gone the other way had the referee spotted the holding. Tyreke Johnson’s free-kick was headed away by Joy Mukena.

Mukena’s slack pass into midfield put us under pressure, but he got back into position in the nick of time to make up for his error.

A lovely pass from Roles to Griffiths over the top tested his pace but, having got on the end of it, he tried to beat his man, rather than taking the safe option of laying it off to the supporting runners.

Sam Shashoua tricked his way past his man to launch a counter and was cynically fouled by Callum Slattery, who got a talking to from the referee.

Southampton were pressing high and putting our centre-backs under pressure, and it showed. Mukena gave the ball away again, this time chipping it to a Southampton player, as nerves started to show.

A nice one-touch passing move from Spurs led to Bennetts getting into a decent crossing position, but his effort was blocked.

Spurs took the lead when George Marsh played a high pass over the defence; Reo Griffiths latched onto it and was brought down, giving Shashoua the chance to score from the spot, which he didn’t pass up.

Roles showed good strength and determination to hold off three challenges in midfield to hang onto the ball, but soon after sent Mukena chasing after a poor pass which ran out for a throw.

Dinzeyi then gave the ball away and was rescued by his centre-back partner, Mukena, before Dinzeyi did aim a well-flighted long ball forward which Brown couldn’t quite get to.

It should have been 1-1, but N’Lundulu put a chance wide on the turn when in space.

Oakley-Boothe began to drop deep to collect the ball, as Southampton’s pressing began to take its toll. John McDermott wanted the players to move the ball more sharply, repeatedly shouting ‘quicker, quicker’ from the touchline.

Spurs made it 2-0 when Jack Roles’ low shot from the edge of the box was spilled by the Southampton goalkeeper, Adam Parkes. It was an unfortunate error, but reward for Roles’ willingness to test him.

Joy Mukena ventured forward to join the attack and played a wonderful slide-rule pass inside the full-back allowing Shashoua to strike a shot wide across the keeper from a tight angle on the right.

Eyoma made a great interception, latching onto a ball played to the Southampton left, but then gave the ball away sloppily.

Then Keanan Bennetts and George Marsh showed that they were switched on defensively to shepherd an attack into a safe area, with Bennetts seeing it out for a goal kick.

Austin was quick off his line to take the ball off the feet of South African winger, Siph Mdlalose, as he looked to latch on to a through ball.

A great one-two between Roles and Griffiths saw the latter nearly get onto the ball in the six-yard box, but it just evaded him, and then Bennetts crossed too close to the goalkeeper.

George Marsh showed his battling qualities by almost single-handededly forcing an attack out of the box follwing a corner, and then Dinzeyi made a terrific saving challenge after Mukena had been robbed in the box after dallying.

Griffiths held the ball up and won a throw on the right, which was an encouraging sign — he will need to do more of that.

Brown stopped Mdlalose in his tracks with an excellent challenge, and the corner from Johnson forced Austin to punch out for a throw-in.

Bennetts broke forward again for Spurs and found Oakley-Boothe, but he checked and tried an expansive pass to Brown, which he put too much on.

It amused me to hear a Southampton player shouting ‘let’s engage the ball’, which sounded like something he’d overheard from his coaches in training; amongst plenty of effing and blinding, it stood out!

Spurs took a 2-0 lead into half-time and deserved the lead.

Oakley-Boothe found Griffiths and he cut back for Shashoua, who couldn’t connect with a shot. It nearly ran for Eyoma, approaching at the far post, but a defender nipped in.

A clever pass from Griffiths put Oakley-Boothe clear, and he hit the by-line and returned the favour with a fantastic cross, but Griffiths got his feet in a mess and couldn’t put it away at the back post.

Shashoua won a free kick on the edge of the box with great footwork, and he took the kick himself. He shot low but his weak effort was saved.

Griffiths made it 3-0 when finishing a really classy team goal, which all started with some terrific play from George Marsh, and ended with Bennetts playing Griffiths in and the ball being slid beyond the keeper. Top stuff!

Three minutes later Southampton pulled a goal back when their impressive substitute William Smallbone found the bottom corner with a left-footed effort.

Griffiths had a chance to make it 4-1, but snatched at a shot with his left foot when a bit of composure might have seen him score.

15-year old substitute Phoenix Patterson nearly scored in the six-yard box, but needed to lift the ball and instead saw his effort saved low down.

Some great battling from Shashoua on the right saw him lose the ball when being fouled (which the referee didn’t spot), before showing strength and tenacity to win it back with a strong challenge. As he strode away with the ball he was fouled again, and this time the referee pulled back play and admonished the Southampton left-back, Jake Vokins, who told him to eff off!

Shashoua and Patterson linked well to set Griffiths free but it came to little.

Goalkeeper Brandon Austin was required to make a superb save, diving full stretch to his left to prevent a curling effort from Archie Thomas sneaking in at the back post.

Second-year forward, Aramide Oteh, came on for Roles, with Shashoua moving into the middle and Griffiths switching to the right.

Oakley-Boothe went to ground making a challenge to prevent a Southampton shooting opportunity, giving away a free-kick and earning himself a ticking off.

Just as midfield control seemed to have been won by Southampton, holding player Moroyin Omolabi replaced Shashoua to give the midfield some protection for the final few minutes.

Spurs had a wonderful attack on the right when Eyoma and Griffiths liked up effectively to see Grifiths drive into the box and beat his man, but his two crosses were cleared.

Spurs did make it 4-1, though, when Oakley-Boothe played a give-and-go with Griffiths before smashing into the roof of the net from a tight angle.

4-1 was a slightly flattering scoreline, and there were various points where Southampton could have got back into the match. It was an encouraging display, though, with some good individual performances. Some of the ratings below could easily have gone up or down a notch and this was just my perspective. For example, Eyoma was somewhere between a 7 and an 8 for me, Roles and Shashoua were somewhere between a 6 and a 7, with Marsh just a bit better than both overall. Griffiths got a goal and three assists, so you could definitely make a case for an 8, but his overall game was slightly inconsistent (though I do really like the look of him).

Brandon Austin 7 – was nice and alert when he needed to be and made one excellent diving safe. Will have his work cut out this time to get regular game time with Alfie Whiteman his competition.
TJ Eyoma 8 – a very encouraging performance, in which he defended well and also showed ability on the ball. There was one brilliant bit of play in particular which saw him protect the ball in midfield in an almost Dembele-like way.
Jon Dinzeyi 6 – had some nervous moments in possession but did make some very timely interventions.
Joy Mukena 5 – like his centre-back partner he looked edgy at times, and he ended up losing the ball in dangerous areas. Will need to improve on the ball as the season progresses.
Jaden Brown 6 – got up and down the line well, but needed a bit more quality in the final third.
George Marsh 7 – a typically busy, industrious performance. He really reminds me of Scott Parker.
Sam Shashoua 6 – a tidy showing but he did drift out at times. Shashoua is highly-rated, and has trained with the first team, so is one to keep an eye on.
Jack Roles 6 – there were times last season where he looked a little lightweight, but a really solid tackle in midfield showed his bravery and strength. I like the way he keeps it simple and also his ability to time a run into the box.
Tashan Oakley-Boothe 6 – not his best all-round game today, but the late goal showed what a big talent he is. I am very excited to see how he progresses this season.
Keanen Bennetts 5 – Some good early moments, but he drifted out of the match. I’m expecting more from him this season, as he has all of the physical attributes that he needs to be highly effective at this level.
Reo Griffiths 7 – an encouraging match in which he showed a real willingness to run and work for the team. The obvious area for improvement is his work with his back to goal, and this will come over time — he’s a converted winger, so it’s natural that that is not refined at this point. A goal and three assists!

Phoenix Patterson – fascinating to see him included on the bench, and I hope that this is the first of many appearances. See the video below for an insight into his ability.
Aramide Oteh – a bit of a battering ram of a forward, who could be useful in certain circumstances.
Moroyin Omalabi – my first look at him in the flesh, and he looked nice and composed.

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