Tottenham: Has recent success limited future youth development?

Will Tottenham's continued progress stop them finding the next Harry Kane?


REUTERS/Carl Recine

Dubbed a ‘mini Messi’ by Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, Marcus Edwards -who made just one appearance on loan at Norwich City in 2017/18-, is reportedly seeking to leave the club after accepting the fact that his chance of a breakthrough into the first team has gone.

Having played just 15 minutes for the Spurs senior side, Edwards is still widely revered as one of England’s brightest youth prospects, but Pochettino does not believe that he’s capable of making it into the first team in the immediate future.

Whilst Edwards’ often criticised attitude might yet have a bearing on his current standing in Pochettino’s hierarchy, it does raise an interesting question:

Has Tottenham’s rapid rise in stature inhibited the chances of youth players breaking into the first team?

A changing landscape

Cast your mind back four seasons ago when Harry Kane made his fantastic breakthrough season into Tottenham’s first team, scoring 21 goals in 2014/15. Even before then, Kane already began to turn heads with three goals in as many games at the back-end of the 2013/14 season.

The landscape at the club was drastically different, however.

Kane donned the number 37 shirt with Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado ahead of him in the pecking order. The latter duo, though, mustered just 17 goals in 49 Premier League appearances ahead between them.

Tim Sherwood managed the club in the hellish purgatory between the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas and Mauricio Pochettino, with Spurs labouring to a sixth-placed finish.

In fact, the last time Spurs earned a Champions League spot prior to 2015/16 was under Harry Redknapp in the 2009/10 season – Chelsea won the competition to deny them a place, despite finishing fourth, in 2011/12.

Therefore, in a limbo between Europa League and Champions League, with under-performing stars -Adebayor and Soldado scored five Premier League goals combined in 2014/15- there was ample opportunity for Pochettino bed Kane into the starting XI, as well as the likes of Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb in central midfield.

Hence, Kane’s meteoric rise began.

The cusp of success

When Pochettino arrived, therefore, Spurs were on the outside looking in. The landscape has since changed and the Lilywhites are now on the inside looking out, with the pressure to push for major honours almost unbearable.

Therefore, as a result of limited chances for risk-taking in the pursuit of silverware and consistent top four finishes, there’s consequently less opportunity for youngsters to forge a career in the first team.

If you were seven out of 10 four years ago, you were going to have the possibility to play. But now we have said to them that they need to be an eight or an eight-and-a-half. – Mauricio Pochettino.

Due to Spurs’ rapid progress into a top three side -with chances to win the Premier League title in 2015/16 and 2016/17- youngsters on the brink of first team opportunities are held to a significantly higher standard than was necessary four seasons ago.

This has seen the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Josh Onomah sent on loan to Ipswich Town and Aston Villa, respectively.

REUTERS/Darren Staples

Dele Alli and Harry Winks constitute a different case, as Pochettino clearly deemed them to have sufficient quality to play in the first team immediately. But, the point is that this is the standard by which youth must measure themselves.

The standard of schooling Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in passing across two undefeated games against Real Madrid in the Champions League, or ten goals and nine assists in a debut Premier League season at 19 years of age.

The future of youth development

It’s a stretch to say that this recent progression will altogether stop Spurs finding another Harry Kane as, simply, there probably won’t be another Harry Kane, or a player that makes such a drastic rise at the club.

Moreover, it doesn’t mean Pochettino will abandon his reputation as the champion of youth, a manager fearless in blooding youngsters.

What it does mean, though, is that youth players will likely see more loans than opportunities in the first team, which doesn’t have to be problematic as long as they continue to perform, with sights set on self-improvement and first team roles.

It also means that these youth players are exposed to a higher quality of player on a more frequent basis, which can only be positive for their development.

Perhaps the route to the first team is blocked -with experienced internationals or ready-made players preferred to one of their own, given Spurs’ current standing-, but this is for players of Onomah and Carter-Vickers’ sub-par calibre.

If someone’s good enough, then they’re good enough and Pochettino isn’t scared of acknowledging that. The route isn’t blocked for those capable of succeeding. The only change is the perception of what constitutes ‘good enough.’

If they’re not, well, they’re unlikely to stay at the club as long as previously.

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Oli Stein

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Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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