|New Training facilities at Bulls' Cross, Enfield|
The evidence in the previous blog, 'Where Have All the Tottenham Academy Players Gone?' suggests that in the past twenty years only six players who have passed through the Academy/youth system at the club have developed into a regular member of the Premier League team at White Hart Lane. While hundreds of youngsters can claim to have played for Spurs, a very small percentage have managed to make a career even in football's lower Leagues after leaving the club. Why have there been so few success stories over the past two decades at Tottenham while other top clubs have produced players through their youth scheme? Manchester United built the foundation of their Premier League successes on the young players who developed through the exceptional youth team which produced a list of international stars - David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville. Even smaller clubs who have slipped out of the Premier League in recent years have seen their youth system produce players of a very high calibre. Southampton have brought on Gareth Bale, Thoe Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Leeds United had to sell a number of their best youngsters to ensure their survival, including Aaron Lennon and Danny Rose while Nottingham Forest's youth system has seen players like Michael Dawson and Jermaine Jenas be sold on to clubs in the Premier League.
What is Wrong at Tottenham?
The young players in the Tottenham Academy are expected to play their football in the 'Tottenham' way - being able to pass and move, being confident on the ball and prepared to play football from the back. The youth teams are required to play in a fashion similar to the senior team with the coaches aiming to develop their skills to play football as it should be played.
These players are given top class coaching and play for the Academy teams against other Premier League clubs. They also have the opportunity to participate in tournaments around Europe so that they can compare and test themselves against the very best young players and teams. The recent success at the Eurofoot tournament and in other competitions in the past shows that the Spurs Academy is producing quality players at their level. Spurs often include under-age players in their squad for these tournaments so as to broaden the experience of the players and the level of competition they are facing. For the club, the winning of such tournaments is not the chief goal, rather it is the experience that the young players gain from the competition although developing a winning mentality is also important.
Tottenham Hotspur have excellent facilities at Spurs Lodge and are developing a new training complex at Bull's Cross, Enfield for the first team and the Academy.
The club employs qualified and experienced coaches to oversee the development of the young players and have a nationwide scouting network. The scope of the scouting operation is no longer restricted to these shores as the introduction of young players from oversees in to the Academy is becoming an important aspect of their work.
Everything would appear to be in place for Tottenham to produce high quality young players for the first team but why do these highly regarded 'prospects' who do so well at schoolboy and youth football not make those final steps up to the next level?
The answer, perhaps, lies with some of these considerations:
- Tottenham Hotspur as a club are too impatient for success to wait for the final development of their Academy players. They require instant success so choose to purchase a player from another club rather than put their trust in one of the youth team.
- While the Academy players are provided with numerous opportunities to play competitive football up to the age of eighteen, their chances of games after that become more limited as the club no longer has a team in the Premier League Reserve competition. Young players now play in 'friendly' matches arranged for the Spurs XI or go out on loan to clubs in the lower Leagues.
- Over the past two decades, Tottenham has been a club which has changed their manager every few years. Every new manager brings his own ideas and requirements so their has been no element of stability within the club and this would have an effect even at youth level. Each new manager has been aware that he is required to bring success to the first team and so that has been the focus of his attention to the detriment of players coming through from the Academy and so restricting their opportunity for development in to the first team squad. If the manager is under threat he doesn't have time to wait on young players and can't afford to put his confidence in them as they learn their trade in the first team, as mistakes could cost him his job.
- During the Premier League years Spurs have been a team which has been struggling to free itself from mid-table mediocrity. A club which constantly feels it should be doing better but finding it difficult to break out of the constraints it finds itself in. The senior players, in the many cases, have been under pressure to perform at a higher level than they've been capable of and so have not been in a position to nurture and support a young prospect taking their first tentative steps in the first team. Ideally, a young player making his debut wants to go into a team that is playing confidently with senior players who are able to support and give them advise during a game. Unfortunately, Tottenham Hotspur have not had a team like that - they have on occasions been more concerned with trying to avoid relegation or struggling to achieve a place in Europe, constantly playing catch up - nearly there but falling short. Even with the improvement in recent years, it has never been easy, nothing has been guaranteed and there's been no room for a mistake. Every match has been vital in the race for a Champions League place and the manager has relied on his experienced players.
- The Premier League teams have so many players in their squads that rarely is their an opportunity for a young player to get in to the team. A top team can have seven internationals sitting on the bench as substitutes and some may not even have been included in the full match squad. Both Spurs and Manchester City struggled last season with surplus players - David Bentley, Alan Hutton, Robbie Keane, Wayne Bridges and Emmanuel Adebayor. This greatly restricts the playing opportunities for all young players.
- The increasing number of overseas players in all divisions of English football is restricting the opportunity for young players to develop. Prior to the arrival of Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa clubs in England had players from the four home countries and Ireland. The introduction of players from overseas developed slowly from that point but now it has taken over and fewer 'home' players are playing in any of the Leagues.
- Tottenham tend to look for a particular type of player for their youth Academy. Players who are highly skilled but many of them are lightly built and their stature and physique may be a hindrance when it comes to that final step up in professional football.
- The expectations placed on the young players are very high and any player who is rated highly through international representation at their age-level and outstanding performances for the Academy teams will come under the spotlight even more which will fuel the supporters expectations even more. Of the current group of young players at Spurs, Harry Kane who is only 18 years old has received high level recognition among fans because of his great goal scoring record for the youth teams. This has brought him into consideration for the first team in the Europa League with his debut coming against Hearts.
- Young players who are taken on by top clubs are footballer with natural ability are the outstanding players in schools' football. Playing football has always been easy to them and they were confident in their ability, winning trophies with their school and on a personal level. For some the step up to the Academy and professional football will come a s a shock to them. For some they will no longer be the best player around and it will become a struggle and they may not be prepared for the application that is required to meet that situation. These players may discover players who have had to work much harder in their younger days overtaking them through their hard work and endeavour. Also players who mature early will be taller and stronger than those they are playing against at school level but when others catch up, the difference in level of ability may even itself out.
- Everything is laid on to help the Academy players in their development and some come to take this for granted and so lose the desire to push on and make the further sacrifices and effort that are needed to reach the highest level.
Hopefully, the current group of players coming through the Academy and the young professionals who are highly regarded will be able to overcome the many obstacles which stand in their way to becoming a top class footballer with Spurs. With the required application and endeavour and the good fortune that is essential some of them must have an opportunity to have lengthy careers in football. To the outsider, it looks and seems glamorous but for those young men who are working their way through the system, there will be uncertainty and many disappointments but in the end if they achieve their life long ambition, it will all have been worth it.