By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Thursday, February 21, 2013
Andre Villas-Boas says Tottenham are keen to develop their own players through their new academy, and has likened Spurs’ youth policy to Barcelona’s.
But the Spurs boss has warned the Lilywhites’ young stars that they will only be promoted to the first team if they are good enough to hold their own in the Premier League – and he concedes that that it is a tall order at a club which is aiming to finish in the top four for the third year since 2009-10.
The Lilywhites’ intention to build a conveyor belt of young talent was underlined by their £45million investment in a new state-of-the-art training centre, which opened at the start of this season and houses the club’s academy as well as the first team – and there are already encouraging signs, particularly in the European NextGen Series.
The Lilywhites’ Under-19s reached the semi-finals last year, before having to drop out due to an accidental breach of the rules, and they beat Barcelona’s juniors 4-1 in Spain in the group stage of this year’s tournament.
It was a notable victory, given that Barca have developed the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta at their famous La Masia academy – and Villas-Boas can see similarities between the two clubs’ philosophies.
“Different clubs take different options,” he said. “Barcelona is one example and Tottenham has that example too. They often get great satisfaction over the promotion of young talent, making the break through into the first team and establishing themselves as a first-team player – but other clubs take other routes.
“For example I think Porto and Manchester United are the same. They invest high budgets on bringing in young players who are 17 or 18 years old.
“They don’t bring them all the way through the ranks to the first team, so they can’t be considered a product of their schools, but a product of other schools who eventually make the jump up to their first team.
“Some clubs invest heavily on the scouting structure, while other clubs invest heavily on the youth system.
“It depends on the philosophy from club to club but I think it’s more gratifying for Tottenham when they make it all the way, and I think scouting on the youth levels has been immense here.”
Despite the positive signs, there are few genuine success stories when it comes to players who have emerged from Spurs’ academy and gone on to become a regular first-team player.
Ledley King is the obvious example, and there are high hopes for Steven Caulker, who has made 23 appearances for Tottenham so far this season.
However, the 21-year-old has gained the vast majority of his first-team experience elsewhere, during loan spells with Yeovil, Bristol City and Swansea.
“The jump up to the first team has not gone directly, but more through loans,” said Villas-Boas. “I think it has worked fine for Tottenham so far. It is also intimately related to the objectives that the team wants to achieve. The higher the objective, the more difficult is the jump for the young players to the first team.”
Spurs’ young players would probably agree with that analysis – particularly Danny Rose, Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll and Harry Kane, who have all been unable to hold down a regular first-team spot.
Jake Livermore enjoyed a breakthrough year last season and appeared for the Three Lions at the start of this campaign, but the 23-year-old has not started a game since the Capital One Cup exit at Norwich in October.
Rose, Kane and Townsend have all been on loan this season to secure first-team football and Alex Pritchard – one of the stars of the Under-19s’ victory over Barcelona – joined Peterborough in January before suffering an injury and returning to Spurs.
Townsend recently admitted that Tottenham’s young talents face an uphill struggle to make an impact, and hinted at his frustration with life at the Lane.
“Ever since I was 17, I’ve been told I’m unlucky, because I have two of the best wingers in the world, Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon, ahead of me,” he said. “But I’m 21 now. I’m not a youngster any more.”
Meanwhile, 21-year-old Ryan Mason has joined Ligue 1 side Lorient on loan, and he admitted this week: “I don’t think I’ve made as many appearances for Spurs as I should, or maybe I’ve deserved. By 21, I definitely expected to have made more than four.”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs