When Harry Redknapp announced that Tottenham would not be entering a reserve team in the Barclays Premier Reserve League for the 2009/10 season, it was a decision that was met with general commendation by Tottenham fans. Players such as John Bostock, Jonathan Obika, Adel Taarabt, Ryan Mason and Andros Townsend all had big reputations at Tottenham, and by sending the players out on loan to Championship and Football League sides, the youngsters could go out and experience first team football, rather than play in an uncompetitive league, with little exposure to the rigours of the English game. However, after seeing Bostock’s loan to Brentford FC end without the option of an extension being taken, is Tottenham’s decision to loan players out to the back end of nowhere really going to work?
Harry told the Metro upon news of the decision to scrap the reserve team that,
‘I just think it gives you the option of fixing up a game where and whenever you want rather than being tied to a fixture schedule… The youngsters need to go out on loan and get playing like they did last year…It was a great experience for those lads who went out so we will be looking to do the same again this season.’
However, would Tottenham’s bright young things not benefit from training day-in-day-out with, if not the Tottenham first team, then coaches who can monitor their progress in a bid to develop players that will one day hopefully represent the first team? If a skillful central midfield player such as Bostock is sent to League One to learn his trade, will the experience be of great benefit? No disrespect to League One football, or the Griffin Park faithful, but the gulf between the Premier League and League 1 is so vast that the experience may simply be an irrelevance. The skills players need to get out a club promoted out of the Football League are totally different from that required to be a success in the Premier League. If Bostock was to have been a success there, he would only have learnt how to run harder, kick longer and tackle stronger. These are skills one acquires with age, and will hardly be enough for Premier League competition. Further, if the player is not an instant success, the nature of the game means players will invariably be left out, as clubs at all levels of football are in a results business, and will not have patience with under-performing young stars.
Would players not be better off training everyday with world class internationals in the first team, under Premier League class coaching staff who can develop players at the club’s academy or training ground. Whilst Taarabt’s move to QPR for example, may be good experience for a player who simply needs first team football to progress, players still learning their trade may not learn much from a stint at Yeovil Town, as they would learning their trade within the confines of a Premier League club. Certainly, when players are ready to leave the reserve team, but cannot get first team football, as seen in Jack Wilshere at Bolton, Michael Mancienne at Wolves, or even Jamie O’Hara at Portsmouth, they may even have the opportunity to ply their trade in the Premier League. This is the true test of a player’s ability, perhaps to a lesser extent, Championship football also. However, the chasm in class between the Football League and the Premier League is such,that one must consider whether the players are gaining meaningful experience at these lower league sides. This is especially the case when players come back with their confidence dented, as with Bostock’s stint at Brentford.
Perhaps this is an unfair evaluation of Tottenham’s decision to scrap their reserve team, as the academy will instill their values on a player from the moment he joins the club. However, until a player emerges in the Tottenham first team that benefitted from a loan move to a Brentford or Yeovil Town, the jury will be out on Tottenham’s approach to youth development.