The principals of a youth system at a football club all seem relatively simple enough. Find the youngsters, train the youngsters, then play the youngsters. The reality of the academy at a Premier League club however, is far more complex, involving the scouting and poaching of talent from all across the globe. And one such club who cannot be accused of putting the time and money into unearthing their next generation of stars, is Tottenham Hotspur. The only problem being, they’ve not really developed anything for themselves.
On both a national and domestic level, English football is beginning to wake up the harsh realities that faltering youth developments systems play. Much has already been made of our country’s fabled inability to keep a ball controlled adequately and culturally, this is an issue that has only been found necessary to be addressed, after going 46 years without actually winning anything. But a common misconception is that it is the responsibility of a nation to nurture all of its talent.
Nationally, the deficit of bread-and-butter footballing skills is coming at a very young age, not when they’re 19 or 20 and ready to break into a first team- it is far too late by then. Before the kids break into the academies at say an Arsenal or a Manchester United, the ability has to come from somewhere and it is the national coaching philosophy that adorns our football at local and county level, which is preventing enough talented kids going to the big academies.
But as much as the national press would like to scaremonger us otherwise, English football’s current predicament doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of talent out there. Of course, a nation the size of England, just in sheer population terms, should be producing far more talent. But that’s an argument for another day. What’s happening to the talent when it gets into the big academies? With the likes of Financial Fair Play coming in to take effect, clubs should be more determined to start developing their own talent instead of paying for proven. In fact, as is now common practice, Spurs even pay considerable sums of money for someone else’s half-developed talent. So where are they?
In 2007, Spurs signed then 15-year old midfielder Dean Parrett from QPR for a rumored £1million fee up front, rising to nearly double that in add-ons and extensions. But what happened to the man who was believed to be one of English football’s brightest prospects, courted by Manchester United and Chelsea? At an age where the youngster needs to be playing football, he has made only a very sporadic 37 appearances whilst on loan at various lower-league teams, whilst failing to play a minute of Premier League football for his parent club. Indeed, a precocious talent and still only 20, but even now, Parrett’s Spurs future doesn’t look particularly bright.
John Bostock, again only 20, was heralded as one English football’s brightest prospects after making his debut for Crystal Palace when he was only 15. But since Spurs fought tooth and nail to acquire him, his development seems to have stunted. Of course, he developed relatively early and there have been rumors of a negative attitude. But at a time in his life when he needs regular first-team football, he has been farmed out to four clubs in four years, making only 26 league appearances- again, none of them coming for Spurs in the Premier League.
Bostock and Parrett are the two-most high profile examples, but the examples go a lot further. Foreign talent brought in at a similar age and for similar money, has also suffered the same fate. Czech striker Tomas Pekhart never played once in the league after being farmed out on loan twice- the now 23-year-old is currently floundering at FC Nuremberg in the Bundesliga. Dorian Dervite was highly rated and although he suffered a serious knee injury, the Frenchman was never given a chance. For all his faults, a certain Adel Taarabt was never given a run of games in the senior side. It can’t be denied that there have been other motivating factors in these players not developing quite as planned, but it is an awful lot of talent that took a lot of time and money to acquire, which just haven’t been given the chance to shine.
So what about the current crop in Spurs ranks? It seems amazing that Harry Redknapp can moan about squad size and fail to rotate with such promising talent lurking in the ranks. Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll, Harry Kane and Massimo Luongo all have bags of potential to go on to great things. Ivorian striker Souleymane Coulibaly was signed from Siena after bagging the golden boot at the Fifa Under-17 World Cup. Real Madrid, amongst others, was interested in the 17-year-old and the man dubbed the ‘next Drogba’ is a special talent. But as brutal as it sounds, is he and all of his younger colleagues, all just wasting their time at Spurs?
It is difficult to gauge Harry Redknapp’s potential to develop young talent. If it wasn’t for his seeming contempt for the Europa League, it is unlikely we would have seen the likes of Kane and Carroll in a Spurs shirt this past season. People will point to his time at West Ham, and without taking anything away from Redknapp, the Tony Carr produced talent was surely so good, it would of prospered regardless of Harry’s presence or not. However, as already mentioned, it was Redknapp’s penchant to moan about fatigue and squad strength that drapes the future of Spurs’ youth in potential pessimism. The 65-year-old was seemingly dismissive of the notion that his young starlets How can the likes of any the above mentioned succeed, if the manager would rather turn to someone like Ryan Nelsen in the transfer window, in times of weakness?
Another interesting side-note, was Redknapp (and the coaching staff’s) decision to leave the Premier League Reserve League in 2009. At the time, Spurs fans greeted the decision with glee, panning the structure and relevance of a league used to keep the deadwood happy. Except that’s not what their rivals seem to use it for. Manchester Untied, Arsenal and Chelsea seem happy to play in it and field their youngsters, but not Redknapp and Spurs? The loan system is important and nothing can match genuine game time. But Manchester United would rather develop the likes of Danny Welbeck in house and then loan him out to Sunderland- teach him the United way. The Tottenham way, seems to consist of loan, after loan, after loan.
The talent is there in the Spurs youth ranks, both English and International. But potential is nothing if left unfulfilled. Youth development is fraught with difficulty but Tottenham need to find a way of utilizing it their advantage in football terms, not just to boost the bank balance.
Why aren’t Spurs promoting their youth talent? Does the fault lie with Redknapp? Or are the kids just not good enough? Get involved with the discussion for all things Spurs on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus