This feature is part The Academy Way
IN A WORLD FULL OF UNITEDS AND CITYS, there is only one Hotspur. Tottenham Hotspur is a club with a long and illustrious history; the first in the 20th century to achieve the FA Cup and League double in 1961. Spurs were also the first British club to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1963, and the UEFA Cup in 1972. Not content with an impressive historic record, Tottenham Hotspur have recently taken steps to guarantee that the club will continue to challenge in the future, both on the domestic front and beyond.
In September 2012, the club opened its new training centre at Hotspur Way, Enfield. The Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre is a state-of-the-art facility which is home to both the first team and the academy, and houses a hydrotherapy complex, gymnasium and 15 grass football pitches. It fosters an emphasis on unity and developing a group of players who train together to the same philosophy.
The club motto, To Dare Is To Do, stands as a statement of intent at the main reception. The club vision is to become one of the world’s leading, with a focus on developing local talent and building a strong association with its community. It has pedigree of doing so in the past; historically, the Tottenham Hotspur academy has produced some fine talent.
Ledley King, a central-defender of the highest calibre, was a product of the academy; were he not afflicted with a cartilage-less left knee, he may have gone on to be one of the finest central defenders to ever come out of England. Other notable alumni include David Beckham, Sol Campbell and Glenn Hoddle, all of whom were highly decorated later on in their careers.
The 2014-15 season offered a glimpse of what Tottenham Hotspur aim to achieve with their new centre – through the promotion of academy products Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb. Emmanuel Adebayor and the misfiring Roberto Soldado were replaced by Harry Kane, who scored 31 goals in all competitions.
His rise has been meteoric, and he is talismanic to the Tottenham fans. Mason and Bentaleb brought incisive passing, relentless pressing and tenacious energy to the midfield. Danny Rose and Andros Townsend – though present in previous Tottenham teams – further developed in their season under manager Mauricio Pochettino, with the pair achieving their highest goal tallies for a season under the Argentine.
Harry Kane is perhaps the epitome of what the Tottenham academy aims to achieve. Born and raised in Chingford, a stone’s throw away from White Hart Lane, he progressed through five years in the academy, made his debut in the first team and captured the hearts and minds of supporters. Named in the PFA Team of the Year, voted as PFA Young Player of the Year, and scoring on his England debut – this is the sort of player that Tottenham Hotspur are aiming to produce with consistency.
Pochettino, like his compatriot Diego Simeone, is heavily influenced by the Marcelo Bielsa philosophy. Bielsa the purist, El Loco, drew his inspiration from the Dutch model of totaalvoetbal in the 1970s; his system (and the philosophies of his alumni) promotes an aggressive, high-intensity pressing style which seeks to exploit space between and behind the opposition lines of defence. Pochettino was first exposed to this football philosophy as a player under Bielsa at Newell’s Old Boys, and it has become his own philosophy as a manager.
This system can be rigorous; it is physically and mentally demanding. For such a system to be applied successfully it requires two conditions: firstly, that the players are in prime condition in terms of physical fitness and secondly, that the players must be tactically intelligent. Youthful energy is as important to the system as footballing nous, and the integration of younger players and academy prospects into the first team, with their shared style of play, makes the transition easier.
The integration of this philosophy and playing style, demanding as it is, requires consistency and application from the top down. That the first team and academy teams train at the same site allows for such consistency to be fostered and promoted, and the playing style of the first team becomes the standard footballing style, applied across the hierarchy of the squads. Of the fifteen pitches at the training centre, one is built to the exact same specifications as the pitch at White Hart Lane. This feature, the attention to detail, is part of just such a bid to ensure that consistency is transferred directly from the training ground to match-day.
As well as training, academy players are exposed to competitive football to accelerate their development and their readiness for the first team. Tottenham’s participation in the NextGen Series no doubt helped to develop the youngsters. The NextGen Series was the forerunner to the UEFA Youth League. The competition was designed to recreate the conditions of the Champions League, thus priming and preparing academy players for a type of football that is technically and culturally diverse from domestic competition.
The competition ran for two consecutive years – 2011-2013 – before it was superseded by the UEFA Youth League, though in its first incarnation the clubs who took part were selected on the quality of their academies. In the 2012-13 season, Tottenham met with Barcelona at White Hart Lane in the group stage of the competition; Nabil Bentaleb and Alex Pritchard were in the match-day squad. Of the two, Bentaleb is now an established first-team player, along with fellow academy graduate Mason. Pritchard was one of the standout players of the Tottenham team which participated in the 2011-12 NextGen Series; he was their top scorer with four goals, three of which were scored against the competition winners Inter Milan.
In the 2012/13 competition he scored another four goals, one of which came in the 4-1 victory away to Barcelona in the group stage. Pritchard has continued to develop since then; he has been on loan, to Swindon Town in 2013-14 – making 36 appearances and scoring six goals – and in the 2014/15 season, to Brentford (under Mark Warburton, one of the founders of the NextGen Series), making 45 appearances and scoring 12 goals.
Aside from Pritchard – who has appeared on the fringes of the Tottenham team, making his debut as a substitute in the 2013-14 season against Aston Villa, and making the substitutes’ bench for a match against West Ham United – there are a number of prospective academy players who could make the step-up to the Tottenham squad in the coming season. Several players have shown promise, with Cameron Carter-Vickers at the top of that list.
The 17-year-old has been capped for the USA at under-23 level, and was the youngest player included in the squad. He has also been capped at under-20 level, taking part in the CONCACAF Championship over the winter of the 2014-15 season, and the New Zealand under-20 World Cup, reaching the quarter-finals of the competition before being knocked out on penalties. Carter-Vickers’ international teammate, Maki Tall, highlighted his strengths:
“He’s physical, powerful and he has great skills too. I go up against him in training and it’s hard scoring goals against him.”
Carter-Vickers is from the same mould that shaped Ledley King and Sol Campbell – an exciting defender who has been praised for his ability to read the game. That he has been called up to the USA under-20 team at the age of 17 speaks volumes of his technical ability. Alongside Pritchard and Carter-Vickers is Miloš Veljković, who made his first-team debut during Tim Sherwood’s managerial tenure at Tottenham.
The 19-year-old has been capped for Serbia from under-17 to 21 levels, and was part of the team that knocked out Carter-Vickers’ USA at the quarter-final stage. The under-21 European Championship is underway, and Gareth Southgate has called up Alex Pritchard and Tom Carroll to his England squad, as well as Harry Kane. It is undeniably the case that participation in footballing competition is what allows academy prospects to develop as players and gives them the experience they need at a vital stage in their careers. That academy players have delivered promising performances during loan spells – Tom Carroll at Swansea, Nathan Oduwa at Luton Town, Veljković at Charlton Athletic – and the participation in international competition, is a promising sign for Pochettino and his management.
The importance of Mauricio Pochettino to this progressive set-up cannot be overstated; he places emphasis on promoting youth players from within the hierarchy of the club. In his time at Espanyol, Pochettino gave debuts to 23 players from the cantera in just four short years. Similarly, his time at Southampton was characterised by the blooding of academy players. The Southampton academy is famous for having produced some stellar talent prior to the Argentine’s arrival, but his insistence in promoting academy players is what brought him accolades during his time on the south coast. Tottenham is looking to emulate that success.
That Pochettino was given a five-year contract upon his arrival at Tottenham indicates that the implementation of his philosophy is only the beginning. Consistency – and with it, longevity – is of paramount importance in football. The length of his contract gives him the time to ensure that the correct structures are in place and allows for him to monitor the development of the academy players under the style of football which he believes in.
Pochettino should be able to recreate some of the success he had at Southampton now that he has been reunited with Paul Mitchell. Mitchell, who was head of recruitment at the Saints, joined Tottenham in November 2014. The pair will seek to emulate the success of Southampton in terms of developing academy players into first-team regulars.
Kane, Mason, Townsend and Rose were all key components in the Tottenham team that secured European football and reached a domestic cup final this season. Substitute Rose for Kyle Walker, and you have a contingent of Tottenham players who played together for England against Italy. Townsend scored the equalising goal against the Azzurri and was mobbed by his teammates in celebration. Kane scored on his England debut at Wembley.
Pochettino’s belief in his academy players has not only helped his club teams, but has also helped to revitalise the England national team – Lallana, Shaw, Kane and Mason have all stepped up to the senior team after playing for Pochettino. The promotion of talented young players has helped to foster genuine enthusiasm around the England set up and the promotion of youth players to the domestic club set-up has helped to reignite something that was thought to be lost.
The game today is a far cry from what it once was. Long gone are the days of the Lisbon Lions, when a team of players came from within 30 miles of their stadium. Football today is a trans-global game and the make-up of many teams reflects that fact;,however the introduction of Financial Fair Play, alongside the extant Homegrown Player Quota, has helped to ensure that youth academies – and their graduates – are beginning to feature more and more prominently. This spells success, domestically, internationally, and beyond. The future is bright around Hotspur Way.
By Conor McArdle. Follow @conormfmcardle_