Tottenham Hotspur: Should Villas-Boas Have Made More Use of Youth Prospects?
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Andros Townsend's loan spell at Queens Park Rangers is, so far, going as all concerned parties would have hoped. The winger has made a positive contribution to the Hoops' survival effort and has scored twice in his last two games. All the while, the 21-year-old is gaining valuable Premier League experience that should hopefully stand him in good stead in years to come.
For his parent club Tottenham Hotspur this is all well and good. Except, they could probably use Townsend's services right about now.
Andre Villas-Boas' decision to loan Townsend to QPR was good in theory, but it did not anticipate his own squad's possible need for him down the line. A concern that has come to pass with Aaron Lennon currently missing matches with a groin injury.
The Townsend situation has summed up an inconsistency in approach by the Tottenham manager to how he involves the club's promising young players.
Villas-Boas has, just about, shown more willingness to play them than previous boss Harry Redknapp did (ironic considering he is the one playing Townsend at QPR).
Steven Caulker was promoted to the first-team from the start of this season. Still green in some aspects of his game, he has performed solidly enough in a campaign full of lessons, following on from his loan spell with Swansea City.
After Redknapp gave him his chance last season, Jake Livermore is someone Villas-Boas has trusted to deputize in midfield on several occasions. Though not strictly a Spurs youth product, Kyle Naughton has been given opportunities too.
Others like Townsend and Tom Carroll were previously reserved primarily for cup games, but this year have been called upon in the Premier League too.
Up to the turn of the year there was little to fault in Villas-Boas' approach here. The Portuguese's judgement in 2013 has been more questionable though.
Prior to the implementation of the U21 Premier League this season, Tottenham had not been operating a reserve squad (that is, above the level of the club's many age group linked teams). Instead, graduates of the club's youth system who were not yet deemed ready for first team involvement were sent out on loan. Occasional friendlies would be organized, when needed to give returning senior players match practice, in which they would play.
Even with the U21 league in full flow, Spurs have continued to loan out young players. A sensible decision considering the benefits and lessons the likes of Livermore and Caulker received plying their trade in the Football League. Having impressed in youth competition in recent seasons, highly-touted youngsters like Alex Pritchard (at Peterborough United) and Souleymane Coulibaly (Grosseto) are getting their first taste of senior football
As well as these, Villas-Boas has also sent out others who have previously been on loan— the likes of Townsend, Harry Kane (currently at Leicester City) and Jonathan Obika (Charlton Athletic). Here is where there has been an issue, seeing as they have been players in positions who many Spurs fans could have been genuinely contributing.
Townsend would have been a practical player to have around. Not only as cover for prospective injuries like that which Lennon has suffered, but as competition in the form of a fresh(er) and motivated young player keen to make his mark. In showings already this season for Spurs (Swansea in the league, Carlisle in the cup particularly stand out), he had certainly shown hints of the form he is now showing at QPR.
Loaned to Norwich City to get a sample of Premier League action, Harry Kane was unfortunately injured early on and unable to make an impact. Though it did not work out, his recall in January seemed like good timing given Emmanuel Adebayor and Jermain Defoe's struggles with form and injury (plus the former being on international duty). With Obika scoring frequently in the U21 league, between him and Kane it seemed like Spurs could use one at least as a different option to their regulars.
Though Townsend is performing well at QPR, there was admittedly less certainty Kane and/or Obika could contribute. It might turn out they benefit from their current loan spells. Right now though, a tiring and (in the last few games anyway) slightly uninspired looking Tottenham are suffering for not being able to call on these guys.
One player still around is Carroll. The intelligent and sprightly young midfielder has been involved at various points in recent weeks after a period when he was not utilized. Against West Ham United and Fulham he was a genuine breathe of fresh air.
Carroll is a player who could yet give this team a timely boost, one who offers Villas-Boas one of his only real chances to try something a little different at this stage of the season.Though not the answer to all Spurs' problems, the 20-year-old may make a difference.
Villas-Boas will have learned a lot for the future about how he works with younger players. For now, he will be hoping his management of them this season will not ultimately have hurt Tottenham too severely.
Featuring several players mentioned in this article, click here for Frank Wagner's look at the Tottenham youngsters to watch in 2013.
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