Tag Archives: Ryan Mason

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.

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Godspeed, Ryan Mason — One of our own

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The announcement that Ryan Mason has joined Hull City brings an end to the midfielder’s 17-year association with Spurs. Mason is player I have immense affection for, and I’ve rarely felt such pride as a Spurs fan as I did when seeing him step onto the pitch at Juventus Stadium in March 2015 in an England shirt.

Of all the prospects to have emerged from the academy in recent years, Mason’s development as a player has been the most surprising, and most inspiring. That he needs to move on from Spurs to find regular football at the age of 25 isn’t a mark of failure, but rather a success story that should be celebrated by the club and fans.

Young footballers face an extraordinarily rocky road, and few capture the randomness that awaits once a player signs a professional contract as Mason. In the past seven years, Mason has been an academy prospect and loan traveller, fringe talent and midfield mainstay, England international and rarely-used squad player.

Aged 23, after mixed loan spells in which he flashed both talent and susceptibility to injury, Mason found himself back at Hotspur Way in the summer of 2014, but firmly in the departure lounge. He’d made just five first-team appearances in a Spurs shirt, in the Europa League and League Cup, and this was surely destined to be his limit. The arrival of Mauricio Pochettino offered one final chance to impress.

Mason did enough on the pre-season tour of North America to secure a place in the first-team squad, but remained an afterthought for everybody, with the exception of the head coach. In late September, with Pochettino already growing exasperated by the expensive but underperforming midfield options such as Paulinho and Etienne Capoue, Spurs found themselves a goal down to Nottingham Forest in the League Cup third round with an hour played. The Argentine sent on first Harry Kane, and a minute later Mason, and the impact was almost immediate. Within eight minutes Mason had slammed home the equaliser, and Kane would tap in the third to wrap up the win.

“It’s a cliché,” Mason told the Telegraph. “But I had dreamt of that. I had always dreamt of scoring at White Hart Lane and to score a screamer…”

Such was the paucity of options, that cameo was enough to persuade Pochettino to give Mason a chance in the league. It was a daunting first assignment — away at the Emirates — but Mason performed with immense credit.

“It was weird,” he said about making his debut. “But, in my head, I’ve always felt I deserved a chance. I’d done well, I’d done well in training and I scored that goal. Still I think 90-95 percent of managers would not have put me in, they would have shied away from it and gone for someone with a lot more experience. But he showed faith in me.”

Mason went on to play 37 times for Spurs in 2014/15, and on March 31 he made his debut for England. In total, he played 70 times for Spurs, scoring four times.

But as much as his appearances, Mason was a symbol of what was changing at Spurs off the pitch.

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Along with Nabil Bentaleb, Kane, Andros Townsend, Kyle Walker and Danny Rose, Mason was part of a core of young players that were creating a new feeling of togetherness at the club. It was, so the story goes, Mason and Kane who faced down the “Kaboul cabal” after the dismal home defeat to Stoke in the autumn of 2014, creating a new spirit of unity and commitment that would allow Pochettino to begin to implement his methods and changes without resistance.

The “one of own” chant is sung for Kane, but Mason was every bit as important in reconnecting fans and players. There is nothing more satisfying as a fan than seeing local boys out there on the pitch. It scratches that itch we all feel — that part of our support that rests on the fantasy that it might be (or at least could have been) us out there. Mason was out there living our dream, and the fact he’d got there as much through perseverance as God-given talent made it resonate even more.

Of the group that emerged under Pochettino, Walker and Bentaleb were the only ones who had previously shown the talent levels required to become regular starters for Spurs. Like Rose, Mason was having to adapt to a new position and more defensive responsibilities, but instead of having a year to mature at Sunderland, Mason had to learn on the fly, starting at the Emirates. The ability of Mason to adapt to both a new position, and a new system, is a testament to his footballing intelligence and Pochettino’s coaching ability. The Bentaleb-Mason midfield partnership wasn’t pretty, but it proved — just — sufficient for Pochettino to emerge unscathed from his first season in charge.

The third of Mason’s four career goals for Spurs came against Sunderland at the start of the 2015/16 season. Spurs had failed to win the first four games before the international break, and the failure to bring in players in the summer window meant the fanbase was simmering with frustration.

For 80 minutes, Spurs had played well but failed to score against a highly beatable Sunderland team, and the temperature was starting to rise. But with the game drifting to a draw, Mason exchanged passes with Erik Lamela, then set off towards the box, arriving at the perfect time. He chipped the ball over Costel Pantilimon to win the game, but in the process sustained a knee injury.

By the time he returned in late October, the Spurs midfield had changed. Eric Dier had emerged as a holding midfielder par excellence, Dele Alli had emerged as a superstar in the making, and Mousa Dembele, finally, had discovered a way to harness his immense natural talent. After starting four of the first five league games, Mason started only four more the rest of the season. Talk about the vagaries of football.

Mason did little in his sporadic appearances last season to suggest he could break back into the starting XI. Particularly harrowing was the Europa League outing in Dortmund, where Mason and fellow academy graduate Tom Carroll were hopelessly exposed by a Champions League calibre German outfit. It was a clear signal that better midfield options would be needed with Champions League beckoning for Spurs in 2016/17.

As a holding midfielder, Mason lacks strength and height, meaning he will never be the defensive option Spurs need alongside Eric Dier, that Victor Wanyama now is. As a box-to-box midfielder, Mason’s finishing has never been good enough — think of that guilt-edged chance at Stamford Bridge that would have kept Tottenham’s title dreams going for another week. As a playmaker, Mason’s passing is too mechanical and pedestrian.

But, mentally, Mason is as strong as they come. His high footballing IQ enabled him to understand the system, and earn Pochettino’s trust. He is a leader, and was selected as captain against Fiorentina last season in the Europa League. He is also a fighter — his Spurs career, short at is it, should by all logic have been shorter, had he not stuck at it so doggedly.

If you watched the preseason games, you saw the Mason conundrum as clearly as crystal. Against Atletico, Juventus and Inter Milan, Mason knew exactly what he was meant to be doing, offensively and defensively, but he couldn’t always execute it. Chances were spurned, passes were missed, the pressing was not quite tight enough. Simply put, Mason isn’t quite good enough at football for a team that is aiming for the title and competing in the Champions League.

That means Mason is open to criticism by fans, and to being sold by the club. This is the Premier League, and it’s a tough environment. But when I see comments on social media like “I never want to see Mason in a Spurs shirt again”, it makes my skin crawl with embarrassment.

Mason is a homegrown player, a local boy who came good. Few players in recent Spurs history have been so visibly proud to wear Lillywhite, and he has been a pivotal part of the transformation in the club’s culture since Pochettino took over. It would be wonderful if he was a better player, but he has maximised his talent and is a symbol of so much of what is right about the club. If he was 0.1 percent better, he’d still be with us; if he was 1 percent worse he’d be playing Sunday League and watching Spurs from the stands. These are the margins. If you find yourself hating a guy like this, you fundamentally misunderstand what is happening at Tottenham. You may be happier supporting Manchester City.

If you want to know how much Spurs means to Mason, you only have to Google it. It’s clear in pretty much any interview he has given. This was to FourFourTwo:

“I’ve been at the club since I was seven. I’m from north London and so, yes, the club is very much a part of my childhood. At first the football is just fun but as you progress it becomes a dream to try to reach the first team. From the age of about 14 you want to walk out at White Hart Lane on a Premier League matchday. I had to wait a very long time for my chance but it was worth it, and maybe the wait made it sweeter.”

Few clubs match Spurs in the ability to produce footballers. The Premier League and lower divisions are littered with former Spurs youngsters who have thrived away from White Hart Lane. The club is able to raise millions through the sale of academy graduates such as Alex Pritchard, Townsend, Jake Livermore and so on. This funds future development work, and creates a virtuous circle.

The fact that Spurs have secured a large fee for Mason — believed to be around £10 million — and his place in the squad is being taken primarily by Harry Winks, another homegrown player four years his junior, shows that Spurs as a football club is working. This is what is supposed to happen.

Mason is one of our own, and always will be. While the current eight-year-olds entering the academy will dream of being Harry Kane, the example set by Ryan Mason is just as important, and arguably more realistic. Persevere, work hard, maximise your talent, and you might get to play for Spurs and England.

I hope he goes on to achieve great success at Hull and beyond. If his body holds up, I have no doubt that he will.

Godspeed, Ryan Mason.

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.

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

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

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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.

Nabil Bentaleb: Tottenham’s next superstar

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Last season, us Spurs fans revelled in the extraordinary transformation of Harry Kane into a mega star. As the new season nears, I believe another of our young core, Nabil Bentaleb, could be about to hit superstar status.

Looking back now, Kane’s development was as rapid as it was unexpected. Be honest now, how many of you will admit that you were worried at the start of last season over the prospect of Kane as the third choice striker in case either Roberto Soldado or Emmanuel Adebayor got injured?

Kane’s rise lit up what was otherwise a solid but unspectacular season. The jury is still out on whether Kane can repeat the trick, but personally I don’t think it was a fluke. Simply, I don’t think you can fluke a 30-goal season.

So dramatic was the Kane story, however, I wonder if it overshadowed another monumental event that took place through the course of last season, namely Bentaleb’s rapid growth.

A midfielder’s development is never going to be as sudden as that of a striker as there isn’t one single measure to gauge success like you can a striker with goals. But Bentaleb’s journey, in less than 18 months, from remote prospect to lynchpin at a Top 5 club, is pretty astounding in its own way and has few rivals in the English game at the moment.

I’ve been trying to think of recent comparisons. Jack Wilshire? He started with a bang but never really kicked on and has been slowed by injuries. Aaron Ramsey? Not as quick, and his breakout season was about goals anyway. I can’t think of any development of central midfielders at the Manchester clubs, Liverpool or Chelsea. Everton have Ross Barkley, but he is an attacking midfielder really, while Jack Rodwell is more typical of the path that young midfielders take – promise, a big transfer, lack of fulfilment, a move to Sunderland. My point is, what is happening with Bentaleb is RARE.

In his first half-season, Bentaleb proved that he had talent. Last season, he proved that he belonged as a Premier League midfielder. This season, my belief is that Bentaleb will prove that he has the potential to be a world-class midfielder.

Now, at this point any self-respecting blogger in 2015 would crack open the player radars and undertake a deep dive of the advanced stats to prove that Bentaleb is indeed the bastard child of Yaya Toure and Andrea Pirlo. I love the work of Spurs supporting stats guys like Michael Caley at CFC, James Yorke at Statsbomb and the people at Spurs Statsman, but sadly I don’t know where to even look for advanced stats, let alone gather them and draw any meaningful conclusions.

So, until I up my game, I’m stuck with the cognitive dissonance of old-style, say-what-you-see assessment of a player, and trying to sculpt the potentially conflicting conclusions into what is in all probability a subconsciously preconceived narrative. But for Bentaleb, and where Spurs sit at the moment with a young team and a manager like Mauricio Pochettino, I actually feel there is something to be gleaned from what can sometimes be dismissed as the “intangibles”.

I remember watching Bentaleb’s debut against Southampton, and the collective “Who?” from all Spurs fans bar Windy as he came off the bench with 40 minutes left to replace Mousa Dembele. But in the game, it was immediately apparent that he had something. His passing was very efficient and I don’t think he gave the ball away once. He seemed big and athletic, a real man, not scrawny like many prospects when they first appear. He appeared very calm, and didn’t shy away from involvement.

Bentaleb’s route into the Spurs first team is instructive. Unlike many coddled young wonderkids who populate academies, Bentaleb had to overcome rejection by his hometown club, Lille, before wandering to Mouscron in Belgium and then Tottenham in search of a place on the football ladder. Ask the likes of Alan Shearer what rejection at a pivotal age did for them: it can fuel a fire that burns for a whole career. Bentaleb himself has talked about the pleasure in gaining revenge.

Tim Sherwood’s repeated attempts to get credit for the emergence of Harry Kane have been extremely embarrassing, but no-one would begrudge Sherwood taking the credit for giving Bentaleb his chance. Ironically, the notion that Bentaleb was a Sherwood pet and consequent coldness from the White Hart Lane crowd became another thing that Bentaleb has had to overcome.

Bentaleb is, by every account, a beast in training. With typical hyperbole, Sherwood described Bentaleb as “training like every day was the last day of his life”, but this has been born out in every report and ITK account of how things play out at Hotspur Way on a daily basis. Reports that Deli Alli is going toe-to-toe with Bentaleb in the training stakes are hugely encouraging.

So why does this training attitude matter so much? It’s because in Pochettino, Spurs have a head coach who values training performance more highly that anything. Train well, and you will get the opportunities to play well. Bar Harry Kane, no-one has exemplified this simple philosophy more than Bentaleb.

In the quest to be just a little less Spursy, we need guys like Bentaleb

One of the joys of being a football fan in 2015 is being able to use social media to get access to players. Most players are, sensibly, conservative in what they put on Twitter, but even in limited interactions you get a glimpse of their personality. Harry Kane comes across as level-headed, polite but ambitious, even as his world has utterly transformed in the past 12 months. Ryan Mason appears to be a bit of a football obsessive — he was the one Spurs player tweeting about the Women’s World Cup, for example. Eric Dier comes across as wry and intelligent.

However, Bentaleb is my favourite Spurs tweeter — after every game, he does his #SoldiersNeverSurrender bit, and you can just feel that hunger for revenge bubbling away. In the quest to be just a little less Spursy, we need guys like Bentaleb.

This may be sorely overanalysing just a few tweets, I accept. But in sport, character matters — and in talent identification, character is both one the most important factors, and one of the hardest to assess.

I thought one of the most instructive games last season was the miserable defeat away to Manchester United. It was a dreadful showing — Pochettino was terribly slow to react to Louis van Gaal’s use of Fellaini, leaving Kyle Walker, Ryan Mason and Eric Dier horribly exposed. In this game, Bentaleb contributed to the mess by giving the ball away for a simple goal.

However, once Pochettino belatedly switched Bentaleb onto Fellaini, Spurs improved markedly. The game may have been all over, but still Spurs’ performance in the second half wasn’t too bad. They competed, they stuck at it, and avoided embarrassment. I was disappointed in getting so soundly beaten, and frustrated by Pochettino’s slow reaction, but overall philosophical — inevitably, with a young team, you are going to get matches like this.

The fact that Spurs recovered their poise in the second half, and that Bentaleb managed to draw the sting of a rampant Fellaini, I feel taught us more about the team and Bentaleb long-term than a bad 45 minutes did. Add this character to Bentaleb’s other assets — efficient passing, good ball retention, top-class athleticism and a wand of a left foot — and even an untrained eye such as mine can see that Spurs have something truly special to work with.

Going into the new season, Bentaleb is now the key man in the midfield. We await eagerly a further recruit to the Spurs midfield — but it is clear they are being signed to play with Bentaleb. Last season he had to prove to a new manager that he was a serious player and not just some political pawn in the game between Sherwood and Levy. Bentaleb saw off Capoue and Paulinho, again, and also Stambouli. This season, the path is clear: it’s now about proving not just that he belongs, but that he belongs at the top table.

Of course, as Bentaleb rises up in the footballing world, there may be issues ahead. He’s already been linked, albeit v loosely, with PSG and Barcelona. His contract negotiation felt prolonged and spilled into the public domain. We shouldn’t forget that, while he has come through the academy, he doesn’t have the same connection with the club as the likes of Kane and has seen how cold the world of football can be.

But with his new contract now signed and his status as one of the main men at Spurs, I feel confident in predicting that Bentaleb is going to have a huge season ahead, and us Spurs fans can revel in the glow of not one, but two, budding superstars.