Thursday, September 08, 2011

Why Does the Tottenham Academy Produce So Few Successful Players?

The Tottenham Hotspur Academy spends vast sums of money annually in the search for talented youngsters who will develop into successful players at the club.  Why do they have such a low success rate?
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. 
This has always been an issue for Spurs.  Even in the successful era of Bill Nicholson, the FA Youth Cup winning team of 1970 produced only one long-term player for the first team - Steve Perryman.  Other members of that team made some appearances for the first before leaving for other clubs, including Graeme Souness, Barry Daines, Phil Holder, Mike Dillon.  Others left without any first team experience but had successful careers - Mike Flanaghan and Ray Clarke.
  • 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.
The use of a Spurs XI, rather than having a reserve team, with young players going out on loan is a recent innovation so it will be interesting to see if it is any more productive that the previous system.
  • 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.
It is widely speculated that Harry Redknapp will become the next England manager when Fabio Capello steps down next summer.  If that is the case then Tottenham's recent history of manager changes will continue.  There has also been the move away from the Director of Football role which the club had implemented for a number of years with David  Pleat,  Frank Arnesen and Daniel Comelli who each brought a different perspective to the position. David Pleat concentrated on bringing young players from other English clubs which saw the likes of Matthew Etherington, Michael Dawson, Simon Davies and Gary Doherty come to the club.  Frank Arnesen had wide contacts across Europe concerning youth football while Comelli brought in players from the Continent like Adel Taarabt.
  • 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 senior team has lacked a dominant leader, an inspirational player who in times of adversity has taken the game by the scruff of the neck and turned it round for Tottenham.  The role that Dave Mackay thrived on and that Steven Gerrard does so well for Liverpool.  Younger players need a player like that to look up to and follow their example. It is a long time since Spurs have had such a player.
  • 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. 
seven named substitutes, three to be used but no young players make it on to the bench.  Spurs have off-loaded some of their surplus players in the last transfer window, players who were taking up those positions but were very unlikely to be in the team on a regular basis.  Some younger players may now be given an opportunity late in a game to experience the pace and intensity of Premier League football as part of their development. Too many experienced players seeing out their contracts, leaves young players frustrated and feeling that they will never be given a chance to show their worth.  It was this sense of frustration that led to Spurs losing one of their brightest prospects in the early 70s.  Graeme Souness faced with Alan Mullery, Martin Peters and Steve Perryman ahead of him couldn't wait to be given a chance and created such a nuisance of himself that Bill Nicholson lost patience and sold him to Middlesbrough and the rest is history - Scottish international, captain of Liverpool's successful team of that period and winner of five League titles, three European Cups and four League Cups.
    • 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. 
    Young players from overseas are now being courted by the major clubs in England and this tendency will only increase in the years ahead.  The problem for these young players is being able to settle in England without feeling home-sick and clubs have lost promising youngsters for this reason with Paul-Jose M'Poku returning to Standard Liege during the summer after two seasons with Spurs and a promising period on loan with Leyton Orient last season.
      • 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.
      Good players will show through whatever their build - as the old saying goes, 'If you're good enough, you're big enough.'
      • 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.
      Great things were expected of Steve Perryman when he arrived at Spurs in 1967, similarly with Glenn Hoddle and both went on to make it and fulfil their outstanding potential.  Today with the internet, messageboards, twitter and media fans are so much more aware of young players.  Previously, if a young player were doing well in the youth team or reserves, it would only have been those who attended matches and read the programme who would have an inkling of this young players success.  However, fans are now more aware of the young players at the club and how they are progressing.  The arrival of the young players who were signed during the summer may take the spotlight off Harry Kane and allow him to continue his development at an appropriate pace.
        • 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. 
        As the young players are growing up they have the support of their parents and family who take them to training and attend matches each week.  However, as they get older they have to make decisions for themselves, especially if they are away from home and have a greater freedom.  Will they continue to show the discipline which earned them the opportunity at the football academy?  If they don't then their progress may be compromised. 
          • 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.
            Even the best players can find things too comfortable and need to guard against complacency.

            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.



            1. Anonymous1:20 pm

              My son plays in the foundation group of elite players at the spurs academy at bulls cross new training centre. He is currently too young to sign with the club.
              I've been able to see first hand that spurs are indeed creating world class players for the future. The U9 to U14 groups are jaw dropping to watch,the technique and speed is had to take in for kids so young. What will these lads be like at 18 years old? exciting times ahead if you are a spurs fan (i am not) the new training facility is world class and currently the best in the country no question so it will attract the best talent.

              1. That's great to hear. I was talking to two parents recently who have sons training with Tottenham and they too were delighted with the way Tottenham has been developing their Academy in recent years.

                I have seen the Spurs Under-16 team at the NI Milk Cup over the past three seasons and every player has been very comfortable on the ball and all are expected to play football in a passing and controlled way. It was very impressive to see the boys competing against older boys and holding their own.

                I am told the new training facilities are fantastic and they will be of great benefit to players of all ages. I have been offered the opportunity to see around them and I hope that I can arrange that soon.

                Thank you for replying to this blog. I would be very interested in hearing more from you about the Academy and if you would like to contact me by e-mail, please do so at: (

                Best wishes to your son, I hope he enjoys the experience and does wel with Tottenham.

            2. Anonymous7:56 pm

              My son is in the u9 squad at Spurs. The facilities will attract the best talent and the coaching (although frustrating to watch sometimes) is consistent and very well planned.
              What is also overlooked is the fantastic set up for Goalkeepers at Spurs. I have yet to see better talent at any other academy. I guarantee they will produce a world class keeper in the next 10 years.

              1. Thanks for your comments - they are very interesting. I hope you're right about the goalkeeper it's about time Spurs produced another top-class goalkeeper.

                Hope all goes well for your son in the coming season.

                I up-dated the article on my new blog and included your comment.

            3. Anonymous1:41 pm

              the new facility is already paying off for the academy boys, in particular with recruitment at the foundation stage. Previously the club would fight the likes of Arsenal and Chelsea for the best players within their catchment area and this could be a real battle. Now with the world leading facilities and the extensive recruitment of more qualified coaches they can attract the best players. Where as previously Spurs may sign 16 boys at U9 only 5-6 of these boys would have been on their initial hitlist the remaining 10 would be the best of those left from not being signed by Arsenal and chelsea. Now it's the other way round the best are picking spurs, then leaving Arsenal and chelsea to pick up the best of the rest. I've seen first hand the current U7's & U8's (pre-academy elite boys) at all of these clubs and trust me Spurs have the most impressive looking boys technically. They might not be match winners at this age but you can see their squad already have some kids that have core skills that would embaress most decent adult players. With Arsenal & Chelsea they seem more attracted to bigger match winning players now rather than looking forward long term. Ajax in their hayday made a point of signing smaller technical players at a very young age to perfect their ball control under pressure, when they caught up in size at age 12/13 they destroyed any opposition in their way as their ball control was just too good and too quick for the opponents who didnt have to work as hard as these smaller boys had to work because their physical size and strength meant they didn't have to.
              Spurs have picked up on this, look at the spanish players now, none of those players would have been signed by EPL players at academy level as they would have been too small and thats a fact, we are years behind in this country to recognising talent early and progressing it for the long term results not short term rewards.
              a good future ahead

              1. Many thanks for your comments. It's very interesting to hear the thoughts of parents who have experience of their sons at the Spurs Academy and to know that the facilities are of benefit to the young players and the club.

                Best wishes to your son in the coming season.

                See my latest up-dated article, inspired by and including your comments, on my new blog, HotspurHQ:

            4. Anonymous11:43 am

              Sorry but I disagree with most of what have been said above.
              My son been offered by Spurs but we declined and gone with Chelsea instead. Chelsea do not only signed big players as mentioned above nor do most Spurs boys turned down Chelsea in preference to Spurs. So please get the facts right even though I can see the bias given that your sons signed for Spurs.
              The reason we chose Chelsea was because Spurs development focused on skills at a younger age which is good if your sons lacked technical abilities and the type of players that don't like passing. Chelsea on the other hands focus on what abilities the kids have and let them play their natural way.
              BTW - Spurs results are atrocious before pre-U12, of course results should not be the be all and end all but just say that their results are better than others at the younger ages.
              No doubt Spurs has the best facilities at the moment though and no one can argue with that.