Category Archives: Spurs Youngsters

Tom Carroll, the last of the loan rangers

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With Tom Carroll’s departure to Swansea, an era of sorts comes to an end for Spurs.

Carroll was the last of a generation of homegrown youngsters whose development was largely outsourced to clubs in lower divisions. Now, only one remains at the club — in fairness, he’s not a bad player to have sticking around.

The “loan rangers” may ultimately have failed to make the grade at Spurs, but the ability to secure multimillion pound fees for homegrown talent is a testament to the club’s ability to produce footballers of value.

There is life after White Hart Lane, and it is a source of pride that few clubs — perhaps only Manchester United — can match Spurs in sheer numbers of graduates finding gainful employment in the professional game.

Since the 2011/12 season, Spurs have sold seven former academy stars for seven-figure sums:

Tom Carroll — £4.5m
Alex Pritchard — £8m
Ryan Mason — £13m
Andros Townsend — £12m
Jake Livermore — £8m
Steven Caulker — £8m
Jamie O’Hara — £5m

The combined total? £58.5m. That’s a remarkable return on the annual investment made in the academy (I don’t know the figure and would welcome any information). By way of comparison, Hotspur Way cost around £30m to build.

This ability to secure sizeable fees for youngsters has helped Spurs defy gravity while revenues have soared at other clubs, not that Spurs have necessarily spent the money well.

All them spent prolonged periods of their early careers on loan — these seven players had a combined 38 loan spells. For better or worse, these journeys through lower divisions helped shape who they became.

The Championship in particular is a tough proving ground, and strong performances by youngsters in that division will see their values soar. Does it necessarily make them better players? That’s another debate — and Mauricio Pochettino’s policy of keeping prime youngsters in house suggests he feels that it is not.

At the moment, Spurs have just one youngster on loan to a Championship side — Will Miller at Burton Albion. Luke McGee is (from what I’ve read at least) impressing at Peterborough in League One, while Ryan Loft has joined Stevenage in League Two. The other loans are the flotsam — Fede Fazio (who’s actually doing very well at Roma), Nabil Bentaleb (he’s also doing well at Schalke), and Clinton N’Jie.

The excellent @thfcacademy reported recently that Kyle Walker-Peters, the young right-back, will be brought into the first-team squad — and he made the bench for the FA Cup tie vs Aston Villa. A loan to League One has long been rumoured with clubs interested, but for the moment he’s not going anywhere. Both Cameron Carter-VIckers and Josh Onomah have played precious little football this season, but there are no indications that Pochettino is considering sending them out for the second half of the season to find regular playing time.

As Harry Winks has shown with his excellent displays this season, Pochettino’s approach can bear fruit. The point of the academy is to produce Spurs players, not act as an ATM. But for the club’s beancounters, the loan system has proven highly lucrative, and may be missed.

Of course, Spurs have shown that there are other ways to skin the cat. Wandering European youngsters such as Iago Falque and Nabil Bentaleb found homes in the Spurs academy, and departed for huge fees — Spurs netted a reported £5m million for Falque, and Schalke will pay a reported £17m for Bentaleb once he hits the required number of games (he’s played 21 so far, so he’s well on his way).

But for the likes of Carroll, Mason (a player I was immensely fond of) and Townsend, it was never about money so much as about playing for Spurs. They had their chances — aside from Pritchard — but couldn’t quite seize them. Sometimes you need to pinch yourself to believe Harry Kane is real — he’s a once in a generation blessing for Spurs, the type of “one of our own” hero that every set of supporters craves. The departure of so many other contemporaries highlights what a glorious exception to the rule he is.

For Carroll, Swansea is a chance to jump-start a career that has shown flashes but must have become deeply frustrating. Swansea seems a good fit — a club, likely to be playing Championship football next season, needing ball players to reconnect with a footballing philosophy lost amid the grotesque riches of the Premier League. There’s talent there, but evident shortcomings. £4.5m plus add-ons is about right.

But if he feels discouraged, he only needs to look at the opposition and the odds are there is a Spurs youngster in there, defying the “reject” label and making the most of their career. Dean Marney is still playing in the Premier League, so are Adam Smith and Charlie Daniels; Kevin Stewart has come remarkably close to proving Spurs wrong at Liverpool; the likes of Jordan Archer, Grant Ward and Massimo Luongo are all playing regularly in the Championship or League One.

Good luck at Swansea, Tommy C.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

Is Mauricio Pochettino’s reputation for ‘giving the kids a chance’ deserved? A Q&A with @thfcacademy

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I was watching The Premier League Show on the BBC the other week and tweeting my praises about Mauricio Pochettino’s work at Spurs, when something unusual happened: dissent.

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.

Thanks to Ben for answering my questions. You can follow him on Twitter here. For more Spurs chat, please give me a follow too.

How Spurs can take it to the next level: A blueprint for the summer of 2016

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If Mauricio Pochettino’s first year as Spurs manager was about knocking down a house that had become rotten, in the second year the Argentine had to relay the foundations. A leaky defence was fixed, a team culture was established, and an exciting and effective style of play emerged.

The late collapse into third place behind Arsenal was hugely disappointing and added a sour note to what was in many ways a spectacular season. We challenged for the title, something we haven’t done in the Premier League era, and secured our highest finishing position since the 1989/90 campaign. What was it that BIll Nicholson said about aiming high?

If the stumble to the finishing line showed how much of the Pochettino project remains unfinished, the season as a whole showed just how strong the foundations are that he has laid.

With only one out-and-out striker and a dearth of central midfield options, it was a miracle that Spurs managed to secure Champions League football while also coping with the gruelling Europa League schedule. It is a testament to Pochettino’s managerial ability, his fitness regime, the spirit of the team he has assembled, and improving recruitment.

The goal for Pochettino has always been to have a world-class team in place for when the new stadium opens for the 2018/19 campaign. Spurs are ahead of schedule.

The next two summers are about taking the club to “the next level”. The goal will be to identify talent, either within the academy or elsewhere, that can enable the club to challenge for titles at home and in Europe in the years to come.

Pochettino has warned that getting stronger is about more than just buying players. But being able to offer Champions League football this summer presents a huge opportunity to attract the sort of elite talent that may not previously have been interested, if Spurs so wish.

There is a need to balance the present and the future. Clearly, better first-team rotation and bench options are needed for Pochettino. But also, Spurs will continue to identify young talents and turn them into stars — Harry Kane and Dele Alli are the latest in a long line of players to hit superstar status while wearing lilywhite. It is something the club does better than any other, and the academy contains a number of extremely promising prospects.

As always, Spurs will look to find value in the transfer market. The club veered off this path under Franco Baldini, and paid a heavy price. Ultimately, it is just where the club is more comfortable, and the stadium will limit how much can be spent anyway. So, Spurs will identify players at distressed clubs, those on expiring contracts, or those they feel have the potential to hit the top level with time and training.

I would expect Spurs to look to sell to other Premier League clubs — the new TV deal means that there is more money than can possibly be spent in a sensible way. Also worth watching is the pound versus the euro — it is performing a faceplant that Spurs would be proud of amid the Brexit uncertainty.

I am going to sketch out a possible summer blueprint, in terms of contracts, sales and purchases.

It is all deeply hypothetical. Player availability is far from certain at this early stage, and only Pochettino knows who he wants to move on and who he wants to keep. This isn’t a prediction — I’m not an ITK peddler and have no insight beyond what is widely available.

What I want to do is illustrate the type of deals that may be possible, the type of players that may fit, and how far Spurs may be able to stretch the budget. It is tremendous fun trying to game it out, and please feel free to join in below the comment line. Disagreement is guaranteed.

Contracts

First order of business will be contract negotiations. The surge in Premier League TV money and Champions League lucre will mean every agent will be demanding significant wage bumps for their clients. For Spurs, it will be about balancing squad harmony and ensuring the total wage bill remains in line with what is required through stadium construction.

Both Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen have been engaged in lengthy discussions, but contracts remain unsigned as of the date of this article. These are key players that Spurs will want to keep over the next four to five years (I imagine, now 29, Jan gets a four-year deal, while Eriksen wants five).

For other players, the demand for a pay rise gives the club a chance to add years to contracts (and remove unhelpful exit clauses if any exist). This may be the case for Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Erik Lamela and Danny Rose.

Meanwhile, the club must continue to increase wages of young stars. Priority number one will be Harry Kane. Having started 66 consecutive league games, and secured the Premier League Golden Boot, he will become one of the club’s top earners. New deals will no doubt be needed for Dele Alli and Eric Dier.

If this all sounds a bit much, it is just the reality of the game. With a huge TV deal kicking in, player salaries will soar in line with it. Spurs have done an excellent job controlling the wage bill since the Bale money splurge, but with revenue about to soar, now is the appropriate time to increase it.

Players out

Pochettino looked appropriately livid after the dismal defeat at Newcastle. It is fair to say it will have crystallized one or two thoughts about which players will be leaving Hotspur Way this summer. Here is a list of players who I think are on the way out, with a guess of a potential destination and guide price.

Nacer Chadli, Sunderland, £15m

I’ve written about the conundrum that Chadli poses — a productive player who rarely pushes for a place. The fact that Pochettino called for Josh Onomah over Chadli against Newcastle spoke volumes, as did the fact that Chadli barely factored in previous matches in the final stretch. There have long been whispers that Chadli lacks the intensity that Poch demands. My guess, having lost his place in the Belgian squad, Chadli will be seeking a new start regardless — this could be a mutual parting of ways. Chadli’s departure opens the door for Onomah, while more striking options (see below) will mean more chances for Son Heung-min from his preferred wide role. With his goal-scoring ability and the fact that he is just entering his prime, Spurs should get a good fee for Chadli. I think he’d be a great fit for a Sunderland side needing goals from midfield.

Ryan Mason, Bournemouth, £7.5m

Mason has been hugely important to Spurs in the Pochettino era, as much for what he has symbolised as what he has been capable of from a technical perspective. He has been a walking, talking lesson in perseverance to academy youngsters, and testament to the Pochettino ethos that workrate and character (I know that term freaks some people out as it isn’t quantifiable) are valued as highly as pure footballing talent. Mason has learned to play a different role under Pochettino, and the midfield partnership with Nabil Bentaleb was just about sufficient to keep the project on track in its first year. The “one of our own” spirit has reconnected fans to club after years of disconnect and mercenaries, and Mason, with his evident love of the club and pride in appearing in the shirt, was a key part of this. However, in 2015/16 he suffered from injury — gained while scoring a pivotal goal against Sunderland — and never rediscovered the form he had shown previously. Appearances in the Europa League knockout rounds and in place of the suspended Dembele showed his limits. As a player in a rebuilding Premier League team, he is fine; in the Champions League and a title challenger? Not quite. A rumoured move to Bournemouth may suit all parties, and his England cap last year should help Spurs achieve a premium for his services. I’d be more than happy if he stayed another year, and of all the players on this list, I think he is the least likely to leave.

Tom Carroll, Stoke, £4m

Another late bloomer, Tom Carroll was finally given his chance to make his mark at Spurs after years on loan. Did he take it? In my view, no. While he has a beautiful left foot, his passing can be too “safe”, and he lacks the physicality and defensive instinct to play a deeper role. He still has the opportunity to develop, but will be 24 when next season starts. You imagine a Premier League club looking to add a little bit of “culture” to its midfield mix will be interested. With Stephen Ireland and Ibrahim Afellay suffering long-term injuries at the end of the season, and Charlie Adam fat, old and never that good, Stoke could have an interest.

Michel Vorm, Crystal Palace, £3.5m

The world of the back-up goalkeeper is a strange one. When he signed, unless he believed Hugo Lloris was set for an exit, Michel Vorm must have known his game time would be very limited. I don’t begrudge him looking for a big contract to secure his financial future, but there must come a time, with the ongoing expectation that you won’t see meaningful action, when you lose your edge mentally and physically. You wonder, if a two-year spell as a back-up is “about right”. If he still considers himself a Premier League keeper, and not some Richard Wright-style hanger on, now may be the time for Vorm to move on. In his limited appearances, Vorm has looked predictably rusty. Clubs that may be interested in his services? Middlesbrough, whoever goes up through the playoffs (Hull or Sheffield Wednesday), and Crystal Palace. My guess: Vorm heads to Palace as an upgrade on Wayne Hennessey and Alex McCarthy, both of whom are distinctly Championship calibre.

Federico Fazio, China, £5m

I’d almost forgotten about him. If no Spanish clubs are interested, poor old Fazio will be seeking pastures new as he looks ill-suited to the English game. Look for Spurs to cash in on China’s boom, or failing that Russia or the Middle East. Fazio to Spurs was a terrible move for all parties. He is richer financially, but in every other way poorer for the experience.

DeAndre Yedlin, West Brom, £7.5m

Yedlin confounded doubters and established himself as the first-choice right back in Sunderland’s latest great escape. He won the contest against Billy Jones, and Sunderland (botched move for Emmanuel Eboue aside) felt other areas of the squad needed strengthening more in January. Having watched a number of Sunderland matches, it is clear Yedlin made huge progress defensively under the guidance of Big Sam. However, he still looks well short of what is required at Spurs to knock out Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier, in particular offensively. Adding to Yedlin’s logjam at Spurs is Kyle Walker-Peters, one of the brightest talents coming through the academy. Having proven his Premier League mettle at Sunderland, and still just 22, this may be the optimum time to cash in. Spurs paid just £2.5m for Yedlin — they should secure a handsome profit with a host of Premier League clubs potentially looking to strengthen at right back. I reckon Spurs would look to triple their money. Swansea, Sunderland, a de-Pulised West Brom, Bournemouth and Watford may all be interested.

Total incoming: £42.5m

 

Players In

Spurs have two clear “needs” this summer — in central midfield and up front. Longer term, there may be a desire to find better options on the right flank, with both Kyle Walker and Erik Lamela showing limitations. But there is only so much to spend this summer, so that can wait. Budget-wise, even with Champions League money coming in, I wouldn’t expect net spend to be any more than £30m with a stadium to build and Daniel Levy in charge. I’d say, with money recouped from sales, we are looking at a pot of about £72.5m. Given the amount of money that will be sprayed around this summer, this amount, shockingly, may be at the lower end in the Premier League. Finding value will be key, and I reckon it is possible. How far could this money go?

Mateo Kovacic, 22, Real Madrid, £25m

Spurs sorely need to add a midfielder who can offer a new dimension in terms of playmaking, as none of Dier, Dembele or Alli are particularly “creative” passers. Too much reliance on Christian Eriksen can make Spurs predictable, and easy to play against. Another playmaker, operating from deep, would appear to fit the bill. Furthermore, as Dembele struggles to play twice in a week, another first-choice calibre central midfielder is absolutely essential regardless. I’ve had a crush on Mateo Kovacic since reading this article, and having failed to establish himself since joining Real Madrid, he may be available. This piece explains why he may not make the grade at the Bernabeu. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, especially when that trash is 22 and stuck behind Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. Rather than heading meekly back to Italy on loan, Spurs can offer Kovacic Champions League football and the chance to join an emerging footballing force. I’m sure Luka and Gareth would put in a good word. Meanwhile, I bet Daniel Levy would relish the opportunity to negotiate with Real Madrid again. Spurs could make a signature signing, without breaking the bank. There are of course other options here — various suggestion I’ve seen in recent Twitter conversations include Tielemans, Pjanic and Kampl.

Victor Wanyama, 24, Southampton, £17m

Failure to hold leads in pivotal matches against physical opposition like West Brom and Chelsea highlighted the need for Spurs to add another defensive midfield option, in particular one with some height and physicality. It would also enable Spurs to move Eric Dier back into defence if Toby Alderweireld was unavailable, so would kill two birds with one stone. Wanyama is entering the final year of his contract, and has previously spoken of his desire to join Spurs. Relations between Spurs and Southampton are far from great, though, honestly, it is a long list of clubs who hate dealing with Spurs. Southampton are an extremely sensible club who, if Wanyama is set on leaving, may see the benefit of accepting a fair price that they can reinvest in someone who wants to be there. This is a deal that can surely be done, if Spurs don’t behave like absolute idiots by lowballing Southampton.

Michy Batshuayi, 22, Marseille, £25m

West Ham are trying their hardest to inflate the price of Batshuayi with public bids beyond what Spurs may feel is required to secure him from a financially-troubled Marseille. But Spurs can offer Champions League football, so it may be immaterial — Batshuayi is one of many players West Ham are publicly talking up. The Belgian fits a clear need for Spurs — someone able both to cover for Kane as an out-and-out striker, but also with the versatility to play with him. At the age of 22, he is in that “sweet spot” for Spurs — experienced enough for there to be meaningful data for Paul Mitchell and Co to analyse, young enough to still have room to improve.

Moussa Dembele, 19, Fulham, £5m

I expect Spurs to add two strikers this summer. Son Heung-min proved limited when covering up front, and Clinton N’Jie was a non-factor due to injury. Dembele agreed a move to Spurs in January, only for it to collapse as a dismal Fulham team couldn’t risk letting him go with relegation to League One a possibility. Could Spurs resuscitate this move, and strike a compensation deal with Fulham to avoid the uncertainty of a tribunal? It sounds like a cheap way to add a talented young striker with a promising Championship goalscoring record (15 goals in 43 appearances in his first full season). It may be that Dembele is lured away elsewhere, in which case, I’d not entirely rule out Spurs taking one final spin at Saido Berahino roulette. Timo Werner, who we have also been linked with in the past, ticks the “value” box in a number of ways after Stuttgart’s relegation. Spurs may have a talent in the academy in Kaziah Sterling, who has been mentioned in dispatches, but a three-pronged strike force is surely required immediately for the Champions League and another title tilt.

Brad Guzan, 31, Aston Villa, £500K

I wrote about how the time may have come for Vorm to move on. This represents a chance for Spurs to make a couple of million quid by essentially shuffling back-up keepers, and pocketing the difference. The key will be identifying an experienced keeper of Premier League quality who is available for free, or a cut-price amount. Do any exist? Here is one suggestion: Brad Guzan. Like everyone connected to Aston Villa, he had a horrible season in 2015/16, but in the two years previously he was quite competent, in my view. He is entering the final year of his contract, and Villa will be looking to slash their wage bill after being relegated. Spurs may be able to pick him up for free, or very cheap. Guzan gets to sign another lucrative Premier League contract, and he can follow in the footsteps of Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel as a bald, American goalkeeper for Spurs — a fine tradition. My little Vorm-for-Guzan swap may seem a bit random — but it is an illustration of how Spurs could boost the transfer kitty without getting much weaker. With a stadium to finance, we need to find smart ways to increase our spending power. I’m sure there are other keepers out there who may be better than Guzan, I’d welcome suggestions.

Total outgoing: £72.5m

 

Loans

If you haven’t already seen it, Chris Miller’s crowd-sourced loan round-up was an excellent piece of blogging and offered some hints to future loan moves.

I wrote a few months back about how loan numbers were down this year — we shall see in due course of this was a change in approach, or just an outlier.

A couple of thoughts on possible loan moves.

Josh Onomah will stay and benefit from Chadli’s departure, while new arrivals in midfield surely mean Harry Winks heads out on a season-long arrangement to the Championship.

I have always thought loans were particularly useful for young defenders. Even the best defensive talents make a bunch of mistakes, and it is far better for Spurs that they make them elsewhere. I’d like to see both Kyle Walker-Peters and Cameron Carter-Vickers head to League One and find their sea legs. It would surely benefit their development more than the occasional minutes they’d pick up in the Capital One Cup.

There is a lot of chatter about Dominic Ball, who impressed for Rangers and played a very similar role to Dier. I’d be cautious about pencilling him in, given the dire state of the Scottish second tier. Surely the Championship is a logical next step.

One final thought: I wouldn’t be surprised if Spurs sent Clinton N’Jie to another Premier League team. He had his debut season ruined by injury, and we barely saw him in meaningful action (386 minutes in total). When he did play, he looked raw. My concern for Clinton is that he is going to need a lot more playing time to fulfill the potential identified by the scouting team than Spurs will be able to offer him without the Europa League, which was useful in this regard. Therefore, a loan would be a logical next step. It doesn’t mean Spurs would be writing him off, it is about doing what is in the best interest of the club as it seeks to maximise the return on its investment in a young player.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat through the summer.

Good problems: Five questions facing Spurs this summer

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Nabil Bentaleb is a problem — but a good one.

A full-blooded draw at Stamford Bridge ended Tottenham’s slim title hopes, but the point ensured that Spurs will finish in the top three for the first time in the Premier League era.

Various mathematical possibilities remain, but at the very least Spurs have secured qualification for the Champions League qualifying round. A win on Sunday against Southampton and we will wrap up second place given our unassailable goal difference.

It has been an extraordinary season, and once the disappointment of being pipped to the post by Leicester fades, I’m sure we will look back on the campaign as one of the finest in the history of the club.

While us fans drink it in, and mull over what might have been, there is no time for Premier League clubs to rest.

The combination of the new TV deal and new eras at some of the richest clubs threaten an arms race the likes of which we haven’t seen in the Premier League era. Spurs and Leicester have usurped the elite, and they will be gunning for both clubs. At Spurs, we are used to it, but you sense Leicester are going to be in for an almighty shock next time around.

Champions League was the hope for Spurs in the 2016/17 season, but not the expectation. The potential to now compete for higher calibre players adds both potential, and pressure, to the business ahead. Meanwhile, Champions League football may necessitate new contracts, wage bumps or bonuses to ensure the players and their representatives are happy and focused for the campaign ahead.

As far as problems go, these are brilliant ones to have.

Put yourself in Daniel Levy’s shoes. What would you rather be doing this summer — fending off calls from Ed Woodward and Florentino Perez, or topping up a few contracts and shopping for a couple of new stars?

The wage issue is just one of a number of “good problems” facing Tottenham’s key decision makers. With such a young team, the scope for natural progression is evident. The strong team identity — the philosophy, if you will — provides a framework for strengthening that certain other teams lack.

This summer offers an opportunity to make a number of smart moves that can push us to the next level. In most cases, the choice will between something good, and something potentially even better. We are in a strong, and happy, place right now — that perspective is important in the months ahead.

I am going to sketch out a number of these “good problems” below. One thing that isn’t a “good problem” is the striker situation — we’ve walked the Harry Kane hamstring high wire once, but there is no way we can risk it again. Our forward options are just a problem, pure and simple.

Do Spurs stick or twist with Nacer Chadli?

Of the “Bale money” signings, if there is one who continues to defy judgement, it is Nacer Chadli. What is he? Is he a productive player who contributes when given the chance — seven goals and five assists this season in limited minutes? Or is he a player with tremendous physical and technical gifts who has never quite found the intensity to reach his potential?

After showing little promise in his first season at White Hart Lane, Chadli was widely accepted as having a fine campaign in 2014/15. He played just under 3,000 minutes overall — the amount a first-choice player would play — and contributed 13 goals and five assists in total, one every 163 minutes.

This season, he started the first five games — in which Spurs secured five points out of a possible 15 — and played 90 minutes in each (against Everton he was subbed off just before the end). But since then Chadli hasn’t played the full 90 minutes in a league game.

In all competitions, Chadli has played just 1,650 minutes — although an ankle injury in the autumn meant he was unavailable for two months. When he has played, he has often appeared off the pace and even listless. And yet, he has been extremely productive — with seven goals and five assists in total, one every 137 minutes.

Chadli is a walking, talking “good problem”. On the one hand, he is a squad player who has proven that he can produce goals and chances when called upon. On the other hand, he has done nothing in the past six months to put pressure on Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela for a place in Pochettino’s strongest XI.

With his scoring record and the fact that, at 26, he is in his prime, Chadli is sure to have suitors. Spurs paid £7 million for him from FC Twente — given Andros Townsend, a far less productive player, went for £12 million, Spurs should comfortably command something in the £15-20 million range for him. This is money that Spurs could re-invest in, say, a young talent with a far higher ceiling.

On the other hand though, Spurs need productive squad players. The Europa League campaign highlighted the shortage of quality options in the squad, but Spurs did not need to prioritize the competition. There is no such room for easing off in the Champions League, and certainly not if the club is trying to sell out Wembley. A player like Chadli — who seemingly is happy to be part of a squad and playing limited minutes, yet contributing when he does — may be far more useful for Spurs next season.

It is a “good problem” if ever there was one.

How to add a new dimension to the central midfield?

Against Bournemouth and Liverpool, Spurs fans watched every Eric Dier tackle with trepidation knowing that he was one yellow card away from a two-game ban.

Dier’s transformation from makeshift to mainstay has been extraordinary, and is a testament to both Pochettino’s coaching and Dier’s intelligence and technical ability.

His adaption to the role is illustrated by the yellow card issue. In his first seven games as a Premier League central midfielder, he was booked five times, ruling him out of the home match against Liverpool. He has been booked five times In the 28 games since.

Dier has played 35 out of 36 games in the league this season, racking up 3,088 minutes. Along with Toby Alderweireld and Hugo Lloris, he has been the rock this miserly Spurs team has been built on.

In Dortmund, a Spurs midfield anchored by (and I still can’t believe Pochettino tried this) Ryan Mason and Tom Carroll was brutally and predictably taken apart. It showed that we sorely need at least one other strong midfield option in case of injury, suspension or need for rotation.

This isn’t a straightforward task though. The midfield trio of Dier, Mousa Dembele and Dele Alli offer a wonderful balance, and whoever comes in is likely to see limited minutes as a starter. In particular, both Dier and Alli have proven themselves durable in their early careers. More likely, the minutes will be in place of Dembele, who is never at his best playing back-to-back games.

While someone like Victor Wanyama is frequently linked, and would appear to offer value entering the final year of his contract at Southampton, Spurs would still be spending a lot in transfer fees and wages on a player who may see strictly limited action as a Dier replacement, or someone brought on alongside him to stiffen up the midfield and preserve a lead in certain games.

Likewise, Spurs may not want to sign a midfielder who primarily plays “forward” as this player may not offer quality cover for Dier when needed. Spurs already have Ryan Mason in the squad offering cover in that sort of box-to-box role.

You may be thinking, just buy two. But we have been down the road of expensive squad players, and it wasn’t pretty. Pochettino spent most of his first 12 months clearing out the likes of Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Benji Stambouli.

Pochettino doesn’t want depth for depth’s sake, judging by his statements on wanting a smaller squad than he inherited. He wants first-team quality options, and if there are minutes going spare, he would rather give them to youngsters. The days of the “Mourinho mantra” of two experienced players in every position may be over — Spurs have tried it, and not only did it fail but it was expensive. Spurs will be looking at highly-targeted versatility, rather than a Redknappian “we need to get a few more bodies in”.

Spurs ideally would be looking for someone who can play in the deep role, but also provide some of the attacking thrust of Dembele (there won’t be anyone exactly like Dembele, he is a one of a kind). This isn’t an easy piece of recruitment by any means.

But if I was Paul Mitchell, this is exactly the sort of recruitment puzzle I’d get out of bed for. There will be quality players out there who can do both. It’s just a case of finding them.

Why is this a good problem? We already have a midfield that works, and there are all sorts of interesting ways Spurs can approach the task of making it even better without breaking the bank.

What do Spurs do with Nabil Bentaleb?

Of course, it may be that Spurs already have the central midfielder they need to cover Dier and Dembele in the squad. Step forward…Nabil Bentaleb.

In his first 18 months at Spurs, Bentaleb showed serious potential. While far from the finished article, he showed tenacity and looked like he may in time develop the tactical nous to be a quality defensive midfielder in the league. With that beautiful left foot and athleticism, he also offers something going forward.

However, something has gone seriously awry in the past 12 months. Do we even know what? Public demands for a new contract? Concerns over his representation? A falling out over an injury? None of them, in isolation, seem anything more than run-of-the-mill issues and far from enough to discard a young talent. Along with facts, what has also been noticeable in its absence is any significant leaking from Bentaleb’s camp about his unhappiness and desire to move on.

It is all highly curious. It makes me wonder, perhaps, if an olive branch, or promise of a blank slate, has been quietly offered. Maybe, it has all been some jedi-style mind training from Pochettino, a deliberate crushing of Bentaleb’s soul in order to harden him for the dreary defensive work that lies ahead as a deep-lying midfielder.

Honestly, I have no idea, like everyone else. But either way, Spurs are winning. They’ve either got a quality midfield prospect hungry to get his career back on track, or they have a midfield prospect with huge potential who will fetch millions in the transfer market. That’s a “good problem” alright.

Where should Spurs look to find an understudy for Eriksen?

If Eric Dier has been irreplaceable at the base of the Spurs midfield this season, so has Christian Eriksen at the pointy end. After a mid-season dip, Eriksen has hit top form in recent months.

Eriksen has played 33 out of 36 league games this season, notching 2,762 minutes. He has also played seven Europa League games. Last season, Eriksen played in all 38 Premier League games.

Spurs are a physical and intense team capable of blowing the doors off an opposition defence. But when more subtlety is required, Eriksen is the man to pick the lock.

He is comfortably the most creative player, averaging 3.7 key passes per 90 minutes, according to WhoScored. The next closest is Erik Lamela with 2.7 per 90. Chadli in limited minutes has 2.3 per 90.

We don’t really know what would happen to Spurs if Eriksen was out for an extended time, or needed to be rested in a big match. This season, the three games he missed came during Spurs’ slow start to the season — against Leicester (a), Everton (h) and Sunderland (a). But the team was in the early stages of its evolution then, and there were myriad reasons for the underperformance.

As previously mentioned, the Champions League won’t offer the same chance of rotation as the Europa League. Eriksen, surely, will not be able to play every Premier League and European game season after season. We will need another creative midfield option. The question: Do Spurs look to the academy, or do they use Champions League qualification to attract a world-class talent?

The three most likely contenders to fill Eriksen’s shoes as creator-in-chief in the current squad are all homegrown — Tom Carroll, Josh Onomah and Alex Pritchard. Onomah would appear to have the most “upside”, but has yet to provide any real end product. Pritchard was surely the understudy-designate before walking under a ladder and enduring a year from hell that last saw him lumping it about in the West Brom U21 squad.

A driving principle of the Pochettino philosophy has been about giving homegrown talent the same chance as expensive imports. But let’s not be naive: with Champions League football on offer and money to spend, Spurs could have some serious fun shopping for an attacking midfielder.

Go and Google “best young attacking midfielders in Europe” — you’ll land on a bunch of clickbaity galleries full of future superstars. Now, because of what’s been achieved, Spurs may be able to buy some of them — we’d be crazy to rule it out.

Do we need to talk about Kevin?

One of the many benefits of a strong season like Spurs have had is that it makes retaining key players that much easier. Of course, if Real or Barca coming knocking, that’s one thing, but the entitled talk coming from Old Trafford sounds frankly delusional.

http://www.espnfc.co.uk/club/manchester-united/360/blog/post/2853621/man-united-face-critical-summer-as-supporters-grow-impatient

If there is one player that I am concerned about keeping hold of, it is Kevin Wimmer. I should probably explain why.

When Jan Vertonghen went down against Crystal Palace, Wimmer didn’t so much as blink upon stepping in as his replacement. In the 10 Premier League games Wimmer played, Spurs conceded seven goals (0.70 goals per game). With Vertonghen at the back, we conceded 18 in 24 (0.75 goals per game).

Is Wimmer better than Vertonghen? I don’t even begin to know how to judge it — defensive stats such as tackles and interceptions seem pretty meaningless, especially in context of a high press.

Vertonghen’s ability to carry the ball and his distribution may give him an edge, but in pure defensive terms, Wimmer perhaps is better in dealing with aerial balls and physical strikers.

Paul Mitchell obviously had Wimmer up his sleeve from the moment he arrived at Spurs, black box in tow. While the club was cautious in doing business early on, presumably waiting for as much data as possible to be gathered before making decisions, Spurs were always moving for Wimmer.

So why am I concerned about keeping Wimmer? It is a combination of the fact that he has proven his quality, the fact that he is unlikely to unseat Vertonghen as first choice, and the fact that there is a shortage of ball-playing, left-sided centre backs in the Premier League.

If you are wondering why Spurs are where we are, Wimmer is a pretty good illustration. He is our back-up left CB, yet would be first choice in that position at Man City, Man Utd, Chelsea and Liverpool.

The way Spurs split the CBs is oh-so trendy, and works a treat, and every Premier League side is going to be trying to do it next season if they aren’t already doing so. Wimmer has proven he can play out that way, while keeping things tight coming the other way. This makes him an extremely valuable commodity in the Premier League in 2016/17.

Why is this a good problem? Because if you are worried about losing a player, it is way better that it is your back-up centre back than, say, your only striker. And this whole potential scenario arises from the fact that Wimmer has been such a successful signing,

I hope Spurs keep hold of him, and use him more. The last thing we want to be doing is messing around with a settled and solid defence. But if that is not possible, we will at least get a massive wodge of cash — far more than the £4 million we spent.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles. This article was first published on Spurs Stat Man.

The Winks Effect: Spurs appear to reduce number of youth loans

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The Sun via Google Images

Spurs midfield prospect Harry Winks recently turned 20, but in his career so far, he has played just 17 minutes of first-team action. Surely, you would think, the time has come for a loan?

During the January transfer window, Winks was linked with a temporary move, and a number of Championship clubs were reportedly interested.

But Mauricio Pochettino, per Sky Sports, was against letting squad players leave at a crucial part of the season, although Alex Pritchard was eventually allowed to join West Brom as he continues his recovery from ankle ligament surgery.

So Winks remains at Hotspur Way, a long way down the pecking order behind fellow academy graduates such as Tom Carroll and Nabil Bentaleb. He may see action in the Europa League if Pochettino shuffles his pack during a busy month, or if injuries strike, but more likely he will not. The emergency loan window, which allows for youth players to move to Football League clubs for periods of up to 93 days, remains open until March 24 and may yet allow him to get some first-team action elsewhere.

The Winks situation got me wondering whether the club has pulled back in terms of the numbers of young players being sent out on loan. I decided to take a look.

For the past eight seasons, I have gathered data for the total number of loans, those which are long-term in nature (spanning at least half a season, or two transfer windows), and those which are developmental in nature (so filtering out experienced players who for various reasons aren’t required but are not sold).*

loanlist

A few points

  • As you can see, the total number of loans so far this season is relatively low, and is highly unlikely to hit the levels of previous seasons even if several academy players do move on emergency loans in the next six weeks.
  • This season, only one of the loans in non-developmental — Federico Fazio. In previous seasons there have nearly always been three or four of these “unwanted” players. This is a good illustration of Pochettino having his squad just as he likes it, and also the club’s effectiveness in being able to move out unwanted players on permanent deals rather than having them hanging around.
  • The number of long-term loans is particularly low this season, even below the 2008/09 season. I wanted to look at this as, one imagines, an extended spell with a lower league team makes for a very different learning experience to just dipping in and out for the odd month.

The number of outgoing loans is certainly low this season. Is this a deliberate shift in how the club is seeking to develop young talent, or just a one-off situation? I will keep an eye on it, and I would welcome any comments or insight.

With social media, and the increasing number of youth games being streamed or broadcast, youth football is becoming a more prominent part of the daily Spurs discussion. Just in the past week, there were articles on both ESPN FC and Sky Sports analysing the talent coming through at Hotspur Way. Inevitably, this creates expectations, and causes frustrations if we don’t see these youngsters unleashed as soon as we would like. (I’m just as guilty as anyone, as this article I did early in the season on Josh Onomah proves…)

In Pochettino we have a head coach who is prepared to put faith in youngsters. This was evidenced in January when he opted against bringing in defensive cover in favour of promoting Cameron Carter-Vickers, or bidding for a defensive midfielder such as Victor Wanyama, and instead placing faith in Bentaleb despite his difficult season. From this perspective, you can understand that the number of youngsters out on loan may decline — they are required in the first-team squad.

Winks may well “need a loan”. Surely, there comes a point where you need to put what you learn in training into action, like a trainee pilot swapping the simulator for a real plane? Or, it may have been judged that he is better off developing at the club, for now. There could be reasons we don’t know about — a growth spurt, concerns over durability, a clear plan to phase in more minutes in the second half of the season.

Pochettino, and academy guru John McDermott, have earned patience and trust — even if these commodities are rare in the insta-everything world we inhabit. I look forward to seeing more of Winks in the future.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more articles and general Spurs chat

*This data comes from Wikipedia, for all bar the 15/16 and 11/12 seasons, when the entries are incomplete and I instead used Transfermarkt. I used Wikipedia because it makes further research such as loan length easier, rather than because it is necessarily the most authoritative source. Furthermore, classifying what is and isn’t developmental isn’t an exact science — at some point, Bongani Khumalo, say, went from being developmental to flotsam. You can insert your own Bongani jokes here. But certainly, these numbers offer useful guidance.

#FreeOnomah: Is a lack of action holding back the latest Spurs prodigy?

onomah

From Google Images

In the 81st minute of Tottenham’s dismal Europa League defeat against Anderlecht on Thursday, Joshua Onomah trotted on in place of Andros Townsend.

Many fans on social media, myself included, welcomed Onomah’s introduction. Townsend, once again, had drifted through a game and offered no meaningful end-product. He had one shot at the end of the first half, which was wide, and from memory he didn’t create any chances. His presence shifted Erik Lamela to the left side, where he is less effective, and Townsend failed to offer sufficient defensive cover for Kieran Trippier, who endured another tricky Thursday night.

With Spurs down and showing little indication that they had any fight left in them, Onomah’s arrival seemed as much a statement by a visibly angry Mauricio Pochettino aimed at Townsend as it did a tactical move or part of a considered strategy to gradually ease Onomah into a first-team role. Still, Onomah became involved in the game and had one or two nice touches.

Meanwhile, Youri Tielemans, the FIFA/Football Manager wonderkid widely seen as the next Belgian prospect to be snapped up by a big European club, played an assured if quiet 90 minutes. He look technically excellent, though his impact on the game was limited. He was surpassed in midfield by the experienced Sebastian Defour and Leander “Clive” Dendoncker, a young defensive midfielder who was instrumental in Anderlecht seizing control of the game.

I couldn’t help but think of the comparison between Tielemans and Onomah. Nothing gets the teeth of English football fans gnashing like our inability to turn our talented youngsters into top-level performers. Spurs, rightly, receive praise for being better than most Premier League clubs at player development, but the Tielemans-Onomah comparison is a good illustration of how hard it can be.

Some basic facts. Tielemans and Onomah are both 18. They were born within two weeks of each other — Onomah on April 27, 1997, and Tielemans on May 7. Both are versatile midfielders. Onomah is an attacking midfielder who plays best behind a striker, but he can also play in the wider attacking midfield positions and, while it is early days, looks like he has the physical size to eventually play deeper. Tielemans is a central midfielder, who can play in a more advanced position like on Thursday, in a deeper role, or on the left side.

For club this season, Onomah has played nine minutes of competitive action for the first-team. He has also played one U21 game, going 90 minutes. Total: 99 minutes. *

In 2014/15, Onomah played in 17 U21 matches, and made one sub appearance (14 minutes) in the FA Cup. Total: 1,394 minutes.

In 2013/14, Onomah played in 3 U21 matches, for a total of 199 minutes.

Tielemans has played rather more. This season, he has appeared in 10 Jupiler League games and three times in the Europa League. totalling 920 minutes.

In 2014/15, Tielemans made 51 first-team appearances (including six in the Champions League), totalling 3,956 minutes.

In 2013/14, Tielemans made 35 first-team appearances, again playing in the Champions League, totalling 2,340 minutes.

In total, Tielemans has 7,216 minutes of first-team action for Anderlecht. He has played 93 times and scored 13 goals. By comparison, Onomah has just 23 minutes of first-team action for Spurs, or 1,692 minutes including U21 action.

That is a massive difference.

Sure, Onomah may be learning and improving all the time while he trains with Pochettino’s first-team squad. And yes, the Jupiler League may not be as strong as the Premier League (though that didn’t stop Anderlecht from giving Spurs a sound beating). But there is surely no substitute for actually playing — putting those things you learn into practice in a competitive match, no matter what level. For Onomah, 99 minutes by late October feels woefully short of what he would require.

Getting minutes for the first-team at Spurs is tough. Onomah is part of a clutch of players vying for three attacking midfield slots: Eriksen, Lamela, Son, Alli, Chadli, Dembele, Townsend, N’Jie and Pritchard (sadly injured). In the brutal, perma-crisis atmosphere of the Premier League, where you are only ever a few games away from being next for the sack, you can understand why even a manager like Pochettino is reluctant to give Onomah a chance ahead of more experienced options. There are only so many minutes you can set aside for development. At the moment, those minutes seem to be going to Clinton N’Jie.

A good comparison for Tielemans, in terms of getting good experience early in his career, is Christian Eriksen. Before the 2013/14 season when he joined Spurs, Eriksen played 157 times across four seasons for Ajax, totalling 11,654 minutes. Is there any wonder Eriksen arrived at Spurs, aged 21, looking like a complete player?

If Onomah isn’t getting playing time for the first team, and the U21 league isn’t providing sufficient opportunities, then he needs to be loaned out. Take Andros Townsend as an example of how this system can work: in five seasons before 2013/14, he played (with a couple of cup appearances for Spurs thrown in) a total of 118 games, for 9,061 minutes. That’s not as many minutes as Eriksen, and not at such a high level as Ajax, but then Townsend isn’t as good a player as Eriksen. Townsend returned to Spurs ready for his first-team role, and has had plenty of chances to stake a regular spot since then.

I’d add that ahead of Onomah in the Spurs pecking order is Dele Alli. Alli is just one year older than Onomah — he is also an April birthday — but is now a regular starter for Spurs and has played for England. Last season, Alli played 3,826 minutes for MK Dons, and the season before that he had 2,453 minutes.

If Onomah is going to get a chance, it is now. Son is injured for several more weeks, while Chadli and Pritchard are longer term absentees. N’Jie is more likely to be used to give Kane a breather up front, while Townsend is either in bad form or is showing that he is a limited player who has stalled out in terms of his development.

From what little I’ve seen of Onomah, and from everything I’ve read, he is about as good a prospect to come through the Spurs academy for a while. But we are very good at hyping prospects, so it is hard to know for sure.

Onomah may never be as good as Alli or Tielemans, and may be on a slower curve in terms of physical development. But, aged 18, he needs to be playing — and if it isn’t at Spurs, then there are plenty of Championship or League One clubs that would love to have him on loan.

It is time for the Joshua Onomah era begin, one way or another.

Or, to put it in Twitter-speak, #FreeOnomah.

Please follow me on Twitter for more random musing on Spurs and life. Handle is @spurs_report.

* All stats from the excellent TransferMarkt. Injury time not included from what I can make of it, so for example, Onomah played 12 minutes last night, but only nine minutes are accorded to him by the site. The site doesn’t have U18 data.

Relative Age Effect: Patience pays off for Tottenham’s “young-but-not-that-young” outliers

androsryan2

Insert a “slow cookin'” pun here… From tottenhamhotspur.com via Google Images.

Please follow me on Twitter. My handle is @spurs_report. It will be fun, I promise.

One of the more tedious parts of following football in the age of social media is clubs wishing their players “Happy Birthday”, an activity that has ticked up significantly post Yaya Toure and the birthday cake incident.

But over the summer, I was surprised by how many Spurs players were celebrating their birthdays, in particular our homegrown players.

I have an August birthday, so I’ve long taken an interest in what is called the “relative age effect”, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers. Relative age effect is a bias against people born at certain times in the year when set against certain selection points, the most common of which in the UK is the standard school year running from September 1.*

Born in August, you could be almost a whole year younger than the people you are competing against for spots in football or rugby teams, which is obviously a huge disadvantage in terms physical and mental development. As Gladwell asserts in his book, people born earlier in the selection period (he studied NHL players) had a head start in terms of them making it as a pro. The numbers of pros born earlier in the selection period outweighed those born later. He concluded that those born earlier in the selection period were likely to be seen as relatively better than those born at the end, even if they were just developing at the exact same rate. This played out in giving them access to better coaching, more competitive teams, increased training time, and so forth, which then accelerates their talent.

Relative Age Effect is now something considered in football youth development circles, as this 2011 article in The Guardian illustrates. Interestingly, this piece quoted John McDermott, head of youth development at Spurs:

“At Tottenham we’ve introduced strategies to try and combat the bias [which include] putting the seven-, eight-, nine- and 10-year-olds together, therefore a player moves up to the older group on his birthday. In that way he experiences being the youngest and eldest as the year progresses.”

“Tom Carroll, an outstanding prospect, trains regularly with our first team and is on loan at Leyton Orient [but] he couldn’t cope physically in matches with his own age group as he was a late developer and [had a] summer birthday. But he had outstanding perception, technique and aerobic capacity.”

“Of the [many] boys out on loan recently, Ryan Mason [Doncaster Rovers], Harry Kane and Carroll [Orient], Nathan Byrne [Brentford], Danny Rose [Bristol City], Jake Nicholson [MyPa], Kyle Walker [Aston Villa], and Andros Townsend [Millwall] are all summer babies.”

Four years on, it is clear that this strategy has paid dividends just from the names mentioned by McDermott.**

From the current Spurs senior squad, here is a list of players of various homegrown classifications — those you’d say either came through the academy or were developed at the club before going into the first-team. I’ve also listed their birth dates.

Kyle Walker: 28 May 1990
Danny Rose: 02 July 1990
Andros Townsend: 16 July 1991
Ryan Mason: 13 June 1991
Nabil Bentaleb: 24 November 1994
Tommy Carroll: 28 May 1992
Alex Pritchard: 03 May 1993
Harry Kane: 28 July 1993

It is quite a striking list. The outlier is Nabil Bentaleb, born in November, solidly in the first half of the selection period — France is on the same cycle as Britain. Of the others, four — Kane, Mason, Townsend and Rose — are in the final quarter of the selection period. Walker, Carroll and Pritchard are solidly in the second half.

Why is this so striking? Well, typically one would expect it to be the other way round — with one outlier born towards the end of the selection period, with most of the others born relatively earlier.

Looking through the dates of birth of Spurs current academy prospects, a more typical profile emerges.***

Of the development squad, nine out of 21 were born in second-half of the selection period. Three of those (Will Miller, Shayon Harrison and Dominic Ball) were born in the final quarter.

Out of the academy squads, five out of 26 were born in the second-half of the selection period. Just one — Joy Mukena — was in the final quarter of the selection period.

(The next closest is Samuel Shashoua, born 13 May, 1999, and I was tickled to read that he is from Chelsea and attended Harrow School — spiffy! I hope his career continues to develop and he brings a touch of the debonair to the Spurs midfield for years to come)

This got me wondering about how the other academies or crops of quality young players stack up. So I’ve spent a while Googling.

I will look at five teams, using information from club websites: Chelsea (the strongest youth teams for years), Man United (their website is really easy to analyze), Arsenal (for it is them), West Ham (once the power in youth development in London) and Southampton (everyone’s favourite feeder club).

Fom this data, you can see relative age effect playing out at the academy/development squad levels. If there was no bias, you’d expect the percentage of academy prospects born in second half of the year to hover about 50%. No club is close to that — Southampton are the only club to hit 30%. Likewise, without bias you’d expect about 25% of the prospects to be born from June to August. But no, Man Utd are highest at 15.4%, no-one else is above 10%.

While a small sample — just current squads at five clubs — my guess is you’ll see similar patterns emerge through other clubs and in previous years. Relative Age Effect is nothing new. My point is that, for Spurs to have 7 out of 8 of their current homegrown first-teamers be born in the second half of the year appears to be really rather unusual.****

Relative Age Effect doesn’t mean that, if you are born in August you are screwed. It just means you either have to have marginally more talent or develop relatively earlier in order to receive the same benefits of someone from earlier in the selection period. Someone like Gareth Bale no doubt transcended the bias due to his freakish natural athleticism. But this problem goes a long way back — Roy Keane was rejected by Brighton for being “too small”, while Alan Shearer famously was rejected by Newcastle as a youngster. They are both August birthdays.

What most of the Spurs young guns also have in common is the “young-but-not-that-young” tag — they are late bloomers by the standards of the English game. The likes of Mason, Pritchard, Townsend and Kane have all “done their time” in lower leagues before getting their chances at Spurs in their early 20s. They weren’t bursting onto the scene like West Ham’s Reece Oxford at the age of 16. Their talent has taken longer to develop.

I suspect that the age bias in the system may have had something to do with it. Spurs’ outliers were talented enough to survive the ruthless culls on their way up through the academy ranks, but they’ve had also to weather years as fringe prospects far from guaranteed contract extensions and chances of a first-team place.

Patience is such a rare commodity in football, but Spurs have a very tangible demonstration of its value. If the club is wondering whether or not a player is going to “make the grade” or whether he has reached the limit of his potential, the examples of our “young-but-not-that-young” outliers is instructive.

Ryan Mason by any measure should have been discarded by Spurs aged 23, but more by luck than judgement they stuck with him and he has turned out to be a useful player who I suspect will be a good first-team squad man for years to come. Likewise, the club was seemingly unsure whether to cash in on Andros Townsend this summer, or give him another year to progress into a genuinely useful Premier League winger, rather than the occasional talent he is now. He may have had enough chances by now, but maybe not.

It seems, based merely on the current youth intakes, that Spurs may have slipped back into the pack in terms of ratio of youngsters born outside peak points in the selection period. Not many summer babies, at least at the moment. However, I am sure John McDermott is continuing to keep an eye out for those like Tommy Carroll who’s struggle was primarily physicality, not footballing ability.

By far the biggest difference maker in elite sport is not when you are born, but how talented you are. But there will always be marginal talents, the Townsends and the Masons, who both struggle to convince but continue to intrigue. Spurs have some pretty clear examples of how giving them a little extra time may be beneficial.

Either way, it all makes me think that Spurs’ current crop of homegrown youngsters — a hugely likeable group of footballers it must be said — are more likely outliers than a new dawn in talent identification and development.

Big conclusion? We should enjoy them all the more for it.

Please follow me on Twitter. My handle is @crg_yeah. It will be fun, I promise.

Notes

* Sept. 1 is the selection point for the purposes of this article, I believe the school system is the most relevant thing here, even though I believe different selection points are in place for some youth football. Also, some late August kids get to move into the year below, to great potential advantage.

** Nathan Byrne moved from Swindon to Wolves this summer for a seven-figure fee — so he is heading back up the ladder.

*** I started this article in mid-August, so one or two names may have left the academy lists since then. I’ve removed Aaron Lennon but first team stats for other teams may have changed.

**** Interestingly, the Southampton “diaspora” of talent that has long since left the South Coast is rather similar to Spurs. Here are their birth dates:

Gareth Bale: July 16
Theo Walcott: March 16
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: August 15
Adam Lallana: May 10
Luke Shaw: July 12
Callum Chambers: January 20

Callum Chambers is the exception — everyone else is from the second half of the selection period, with Bale, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Shaw all in the final quarter.