Understandably, this intervention caused a bit of a stir, but @thfcacademy stuck to his guns in the lively debate that followed on my timeline.
Sensing he may have one or two things to get off his chest, I got in touch with Ben, the man behind the @thfcacademy account, to ask if he wished to expand on his point in more detail. In 140 characters it is hard to make a counter-intuitive argument, but the more I thought about what Ben had said, the more I started to see his point of view.
So, I sent Ben a bunch of questions on the youth situation at Spurs, and he sent me back a bunch of answers. The full Q&A is below — dig in. It’s fascinating and covers a whole bunch of issues including playing time, loans, coaching and more. And yes, there’s a Marcus Edwards question in there too.
(For those who don’t know @thfcacademy, it’s a great account and consistently provides interesting news and perspective on youth issues. Give it a follow. And if you’re new to this blog, give me a follow too.)
A lot has been made of Tottenham’s reputation as a club that promotes talent. But this season and last, Harry Kane has been the only “homegrown” regular starter (and perhaps Danny Rose, depending on where you draw the line). Is Tottenham’s reputation justified?
I don’t think so. The fact that our talisman and two or three fringe squad members are academy products has created a distorted perception that our squad is full of them.
You created a bit of a stir on Twitter recently by suggesting that Mauricio Pochettino’s track record of bringing academy kids through at Southampton and Spurs may not be nearly as strong as many believe. What exactly did you mean by that?
He is a fantastic coach, there’s no doubt about that. His record at improving players, particularly British ones, is unrivalled. He gets a lot of praise for developing homegrown talent, and rightly so. But I think people struggle to differentiate/articulate between improving a first-team player and bringing through academy players. His record at the latter is underwhelming.
At Southampton, Shaw, Lallana & Ward-Prowse were already members of the first-team squad (by that I mean training with the seniors full-time *and* making semi-regular Premier League starts), they were considered genuine options, not time-wasting substitutes.
Kane, Bentaleb and Rose made their Premier League breakthroughs prior to Pochettino’s arrival. Did he improve them? Yes. Did they ‘break through’ under him? No.
Ryan Mason and Calum Chambers (both now at lesser clubs) are the two who have made the jump from their respective development squads to the first team under him. Two players in four years isn’t something to shout about.
Are there any specific players at Spurs, or Southampton, that you feel could have made the jump under Poch? Or is the broader issue that ultimately even these two clubs aren’t producing enough quality players?
Onomah and Winks would’ve been useful last season. Winks is a better player than Mason, as was evident in pre-season. I think there were moments throughout last season where Onomah’s crisp passing and dribbling would’ve helped the team too.
Whether accurate or not, is there a benefit in Pochettino’s reputation as a guy who “gives the kids a chance”, for example in attracting young talent to the club and incentivising those academy kids already on the books?
There is a definite belief throughout the academy that if you work hard and meet targets you will eventually be given a chance in the first-team, so yeah, that perception adds an extra bit of drive for academy boys.
It’s still quite early in the season, but are Harry Winks, Josh Onomah and Cameron Carter-Vickers playing enough football?
To put it simply, no. It’s great that they have the opportunity to learn from all the experience and knowledge at Spurs but there comes a point when they need to put it into practice or risk stalling as players.
Of all the signings this summer, the one that surprised me the most was Moussa Sissoko. The minutes he finds may well be at the expense of Onomah and Winks, which doesn’t sound ideal. Is there a risk that these two in particular get stuck, as so many kids at other clubs seem to be, in the vicious cycle of being too inexperienced to start, but not being able to gain that experience?
I think Sissoko gives the team a different option so I can understand the signing. But yeah, if you look at who is currently ahead of Onomah in the pecking order: Dele, Eriksen, Lamela, Sissoko, N’Koudou & Son, they’re all relatively young so it’s difficult to see when Onomah will get an opportunity.
It looks like the club have cleared the pathway for Winks, with only Dembele, Dier & Wanyama (possibly Dele & Eriksen too?) ahead of him in central midfield.
With Spurs challenging for the title and playing in the Champions League, every game seems huge at the moment. Is it just inevitable that the price of success is less youth development, or should Spurs be thinking long-term and continuing to prioritize it?
The academy players at Spurs are held in such high-regard I think it would be foolish not to prioritise bringing them through. I doubt Spurs will consistently be able to attract players who match the potential of the likes of Tashan Oakley-Boothe, Marcus Edwards and Oliver Skipp.
There appears to have been a change in policy on youth loans, with well-regarded youngsters being kept at Spurs rather than developing elsewhere. Listen to the likes of Kane and Mason, and they talk so positively about the loan experience in terms of their personal development. Are the current youngsters missing out?
I think every player should be treated differently. I don’t agree with the current philosophy of keeping all the A class talents in-house or Harry Redknapp’s philosophy of sending every single one of them anywhere and everywhere.
Every player is different. For example, there would be no point in sending Edwards to Wimbledon, but Kyle Walker-Peters would benefit hugely from a loan to MK Dons.
Karl Robinson at MK Dons sets his teams up in a similar style to Pochettino, I think it would be well worth the risk for KWP, or anyone else, possibly picking up some “bad habits” (Poch’s words not mine) under him with the learning experience of six months or a season in men’s football. He is too comfortable at U23 level, the remaining step in his development is to learn when it’s okay to dribble out of defence and when to play safe.
On the subject of Walker-Peters, while Carter-Vickers is now very much part of the first-team CB group and may now be ahead of Kevin Wimmer, KWP doesn’t seem to have made that step up yet to challenge Kieran Trippier. What’s your view on KWP?
He’s a fantastic prospect. He improved so much over the course of last season, developing into a more conventional full-back. Around January/February it was clear the U21 league was too easy for him, loans to Roda and Chesterfield were close but never finalised.
Since then it appears the lack of challenging football for him has hurt his game; he’s started this campaign in poor form and as a result has stopped training with the first-team on a regular basis.
I find, whenever Spurs U23s are playing, there are a lot of negative comments on Twitter about the job being done by Ugo Ehiogu. How fair is the criticism, or are fans guilty of applying first-team standards of scrutiny to a reserve-team coach?
The main objective of any youth coach is to improve and push the most talented players in the group, results aren’t important. But when you get to U23 level (in theory the penultimate step before senior football) part of that learning process has to be about winning and playing your part in a functional, organised team.
Last season his team was unbalanced and directionless. He played a number of players out of position, which can be valuable to individual development but should be done in the earlier stages of their careers.
This season the squad is so poor it would be unfair to blame him for results and performances. If you look at the teams he’s put out, I struggle to think of anything I would do differently. There are several players in that group who barely coped with U18 football.
Spurs lost U18 coach Kieran McKenna to Manchester United this summer. Is it hard to replace a guy like that, or do Spurs have a depth of youth coaching talent?
It’s not a big loss. McKenna was liked and respected by players and parents but there are plenty of coaches (internally and externally) who are capable of replacing him.
As fans, we desperately want to believe that all young talents will become regular starters and stars, but actually it is very rare. If you were a betting man, which of Winks, Onomah and CCV do you think is mostly likely to still be at Spurs and a regular starter age 25?
I’d guess Onomah and Winks will be regulars, Carter-Vickers will fall just short of that level.
And finally, the inevitable Marcus Edwards question. He’s clearly on the fast-track — is it realistic to expect that we may see him in the Premier League this season? And, jokes about Messi aside, how good can he be if he keeps his head screwed on?
I don’t think he has the stamina required to play for a Pochettino team yet, it’d be unrealistic to expect much from him over the next 12 months. He’s so talented, only his mentality or injuries will prevent him from becoming a star.