Youth Investment Key To Sustained Tottenham Success?
Tottenham Hotspur Academy beat Chelsea Academy 5-3 yesterday afternoon in a training ground friendly at Spurs Lodge in a match played at a high tempo in front of a legion of scouts from Championship and Premier League clubs.
The watching visitors will have no doubt been impressed by the quality of the football, with the likes of John Obika, who scored four goals for the home team, Dean Parrett (pictured playing for England Under 16s), and Steven Caulker, a loanee to Yeovil Town this season sparkling against a Chelsea side full of expensive talent.
Apparently, the game was arranged as an exhibition match, designed to attract loan bids from lower league clubs who are looking for an injection of youth and enthusiasm next season.
Despite Daniel Levy overseeing a program of heavy investment in the club's academy personnel and set-up over the last decade, no homegrown player has broken into Tottenham's first-team squad—much to Levy and the fans' chagrin.
Instead, former Sporting Directors Frank Arnesen and Damien Comolli have reverted to spending relatively large sums of money to cherry-pick promising youth players from abroad and lower league English clubs.
Even then, many of the imports have failed to settle down at White Hart Lane, and struggled to impress the string of managers which have come and gone under chairman Levy.
The transfer of many of these was talked up at the time, often being described as 'major coups.' Names such as Rodrigo Defendi, Dorian Dervite, and Thomas Pekhart spring to mind immediately.
Defendi, now 24 years old, is languishing in Palmeiras' reserve team. Pekhart plays for lowly Czech team FK Baumit Jablonec. Dervite, still at Tottenham, was substituted at half-time of a pre-season friendly defeat to Celtic, after a performance short on confidence and quality.
Such players were signed with a view to playing first-team football in the medium-term but, despite international exposure for their national sides and loan spells, a large majority has since inconspicuously moved on.
So where in the process of scouting, recruitment, and development does the problem lie?
Did Tottenham buy the wrong players? Does the youth set-up at the London club leave much to be desired? Did the managers overlook the club's long-term prospects in favour of short-term gains?
Although Tottenham's struggles at the start of the 2007-08 and 2008-09 league campaigns did not allow the management to offer youth team players much playing time, in troublesome times, several managers showed little faith in players such as Dervitte and El-Hamdaoui—now attracting much attention for his scoring exploits in the Eredivisie. Instead, Jol and Ramos in particular, opted to stand by under-performing players or asked players to play out of position.
Any young players who have forced their way into the first team have received a large part of their formation elsewhere, with Spurs wooing the likes of Michael Dawson, Tom Huddlestone, Aaron Lennon, and Jamie O'Hara with the lure of regular top-flight football.
Despite their poor track of developing young players and turning them into Premier League stars, Tottenham continue to draw the envy of many rivals by their ability to attract coveted youth internationals such as John Bostock, Dean Parrett, and Paul-Jose M'Poku to North London.
Perhaps these players are charmed by enticed by the prospect of training in a state-of-the-art centre at £30 million training facility at Bulls Cross. Perhaps many look at the achievements of Dawson, Huddlestone, and Lennon, all due to join up with the likes of Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney at England's pre-World Cup training camp in Austria.
But Tottenham cannot keep up this level of investment in young players, even if the team managed to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League next autumn.
Despite posting encouraging financial results, Levy will need to find funds for a new 56,000-seater stadium which is expected to replace White Hart Lane within four years. The savvy businessman will expect a healthy return on his investment, and will hope that he does not have to rely on his powers of bargaining in the transfer window, as was the case during Dimitar Berbatov and Robbie Keane's transfers to Manchester United and Liverpool respectively.
With this in mind, Academy Director John McDermott, Under 18 coach Alex Inglethorp, headhunted as a coach from Exeter City, and new Technical Co-Ordinator Tim Sherwood will have the onus of turning the darling buds of May into blooming Danny Roses.
McDermott has already blown winds of change through the youth structures, increasing his teams' participation in prestigious international youth tournaments such as this season's Dallas Cup, in which an inexperienced and weakened Academy side lost out to Cruzeiro in the tournament's semi-final.
Having scrapped the club's participation in the redundant Reserve League, there is an emphasis on Tottenham's young professionals focusing on quality not quantity in a bid to broaden their horizons and accelerate their footballing development. This season, when the likes of Bostock, Obika, and Parrett were not on loan in the football league, they were training with the first team.
As Tottenham's first team has made a giant leap forward in finishing fourth in the Premier League, it will be even harder for their academy players to establish themselves in the squad but players such as Steven Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and Paul Scholes have proven the adage that if you are good enough, you are old enough.
If Tottenham's teenagers need any inspiration, they could even take note of the exploits of youngsters Nicolas Bendtner, Gael Clichy, and Alexandre Song, all of whom have broken into Arsenal's first team over the past few years.
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