The sale of Steven Caulker to Cardiff City saw the most promising Tottenham academy star in recent times leave the club. A deal that appeared strange by way of exposing the bare bones of an ailing Premier League defensive line; it also begged serious questions about the faith the club places in its youth setup. Do Spurs take their academy system seriously?
Spurs’ academy appears to be in the best shape in recent memory. A recent move to the state of the art Hotspur Way has provided the ultimate proving grounds for the next crop of talents. A U-21 Premier League final and an impressive run by the U-18s in the European NextGen series would suggest that prospects are very much on the rise. But if you look back at the last 10 years who has really ever made it? Club legend Ledley King appears to be a one off, and currently the only player to be retained beyond their early 20s is Jake Livermore. Hardly the class of player to get fans pulses racing is it?
The issue for me is either that the academy simply isn’t good enough, so in that case scrap it, or that it just simply isn’t being utilised in the right way. It would be unfair of me to pass judgement on the current pool of players’ futures because they are all at early stages in their careers. However, what I do know is that Spurs have a long history of seeing future talents placed on the lower league scrapheap. The likes of Johnnie Jackson, Dean Parrett and Lee Barnard are names that are never likely to be heard again at the summit of English football.
My view is that in general the academy players just simply aren’t used or integrated properly. Too often a loan to lower league opposition is deemed sufficient, but in my mind there comes a point where this stops being effective. Players like Jon Obika and Adam Smith appear to just be on a continual cycle of loans, when will their time ever come?
This isn’t a dig specifically at Spurs because I believe the majority of academies are guilty of the same failings. In an era where instant-gratification dominates club policy, it is easy to see why that multi-million pound instant hit is the more enticing ahead of an academy graduate who may take a number of seasons to grow into a role. The hope is that the inception of FFP may go some way to changing the onus back towards an academy focus, but I believe the willingness must be there from clubs as well.
Or perhaps the perception of an effective academy needs to be changed? Do players necessarily need to make the first team squad to be deemed a success? A number of players have made their name for other clubs having graduated from Spurs and the Caulker transfer just represents the most financially fruitful of the lot. Personally I don’t see the financial or footballing benefit to the club being enough to justify the investment as it stands. So what can be done to help encourage academy players into the first team?
It would be ridiculous to suggest that 18-year-old academy players should be fielded for 90 minutes in games, as that would probably do more harm than good for their future. What I do think is pragmatic is a phasing in of prospects over a number of years. Currently the academy just looks like a road to nothing apart from maybe a career down in League 2.
I think it will be interesting to see how the career of Tom Carroll progresses in this regard. Probably the most promising that remains of academy graduates, his first team opportunity has been on the increase in the last few years. My worry is that he will eventually hit a wall where he becomes no more than a second string squad player. For a man of Carroll’s ability this would be a waste and would no doubt see the young Englishman move on.
So no of course Spurs do not take advantage of their academy, millions of pounds invested to see only a tiny return on that investment is actually quite bizarre. It sometimes occurs to me that an academy is just a PR requirement of any football side these days, but its use is not a necessity. The rumoured link-up with Swindon Town could be curious in this respect. Would having Swindon Town as a feeder club act as a replacement to an academy if the relationship were to grow?
Spurs along with the majority of top English clubs fail to capitalise on the plethora of talents their respective academies afford them. As much to do with the environment as individual club beliefs, the current situation is a sad indictment of our game.
Should Spurs be making better use of their academy system?
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