Youth football at Tottenham Hotspur is a growing interest point amongst fans. Always keen to keep an eye of the next next Ledley King, we're eager to usher in players such as Tom Carroll and Andros Townsend, hoping that our youth system is good enough to create players ready to excel in the first team. New site feature writer Ray will be specialising in covering the Tottenham youth set-up for us, reporting on players that have impressed him and matches that he's been to. In order to contextualise what we'll be learning about over the course of the season, here's a beginners guide to the competitions we'll be taking part in, and a small mention for some of the players we should be keeping an eye and an ear out for.
Last year the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) introduced by the FA and Premier League meant that there was an overhaul of the youth training setup across English football. The purpose of it’s introduction was to help progress youth talent through both club and national ranks to aid their journey toward the senior England side.
It introduced a classification system of training grounds rewarding those that had better facilities for youth development. All those in the ‘Top Class’ could play in the Premier Academy League and also the new Premier U-21 league.
Small clubs could not afford the costs of getting the accreditation so it was left to the top 22 clubs to form the new league while the rest went into a lower level leagues. Like athletics the better the club performs the more money they receive, which will increase the gulf in quality between the top and the bottom clubs, driving more boys to go to the better teams for the best training and chance to succeed.
While Spurs run teams from U-8 upwards, the academy sign up potential players from aged 16, calling them “scholars”. They are sent to school or college as normal, and I’ve seen them enrolling at Southgate College in North London where they receive a full education alongside top quality football training.
Under the umbrella of the Premier League, clubs complete in an U-18 league competition with an U-16 group playing alongside them. Child protection controls prevent spectators watching the younger group games and no information is released to the public. There have been continued changes to the set-up of the league over the last couple of years, the biggest change happened some time ago when they moved from having U-17 and U-19 leagues (which is standard all over Europe) to the current age groups. The lads now get their first contract at aged 17, which appears to be younger than in the rest of Europe, but clubs continually complain about the poaching of their young talent who aren’t under contract.
The Premier League rolled out a new set-up last season as discussed under the EPPP, which despite it’s success, some further changes have been made for this season. Previously they had moved from regional to national groups, but his year we are reverting back to regional groups, with a north and south group of eleven teams.
The clubs play each regional group member once home and away while, whilst additionally playing each team from the other national group once, either home or away. This culminates in the top two in each group entering a play-off to find the overall league champion. The change means most clubs will play five more games than they did last year. Without doubt, this will mean that clubs will be using more younger players to make up their U-18 sides during the season, which will affect the quality of the football, but benefit the bigger clubs with larger squads.
Last season, Spurs just missed out on qualifying for the play-offs, largely because they had to play their last two games within 24 hours. They beat Sunderland on a friday but lost to West-Brom the following day, meaning Sunderland took the last place by just a point.
Having seen a pre-season friendly at Hotspur Way and been to the Eurofoot Tournament, it’s clear that we will continue playing a 4-3-3, and the players to look out for within those sides are names such as Cameron Carter-Vickers, Filip Lesniak, Anthony Georgiou and Emmanuel Sonupe. Games are played on saturday mornings and are open to the public, although some clubs restrict access to their training grounds.
Most clubs complete in tournaments at different points in the year around the world where they play teams from other countries to gain better experience. Personally, I’ve seen them play in Germany, Northern Ireland and most recently at Eurofoot in Belgium. This december they are off to Mexico and the US to play in what are usually U-17 or U-19 tournaments, which means that Spurs will field young teams.
The Under 21s
Like the U-18 the U-21 leagues, the format for the competition has changed from last season. This season all 22 teams will play each other once, either home or away, playing a total of only 21 matches, which is five less than last time. Last season it was played in two stages, with Spurs winning both rounds comfortably before losing out to Manchester United in the play-off final.
Most of the players who where involved last season can play again this time around, although some look likely to go out on loan, and some already have. Having watched four Spurs XI friendly matches they look well set for the coming season, with Shaq Coulthirst likely to become the main striker stepping up from the Academy. The first game of this season has already been played with Spurs beating Chelsea 4-2 away at Aldershot.
Spurs have not fixed up a stadium to play their home matches in yet so have listed Hotspur Way as the home venue. This should change as the League rules are designed to ensure stadiums are used. Spurs have home advantage against Arsenal, Everton and both Manchester clubs in upcoming fixtures, with the Arsenal and Manchester United matches to be played at White Hart Lane. The only tricky away games are Liverpool, Southampton and the long trip to the North-East for Sunderland, but having already beaten Chelsea it looks good for us again this season. Matches are mainly played on Friday or Monday evenings, but the games at Hotspur Way usually kick-off around midday.
The ‘NextGen’ Series
This private initiative masterminded by Mark Warburton started with the support of the FA and UEFA as a competition to give young players experience in playing European Cup football, ingesting and experiencing all of the traveling and different lifestyles of the countries visited and/or involved. Playing in front of crowds at stadia is aimed to give them experience for when they play in their respective first teams. Interestingly, sponsorship from Qatar helped get the competition off the ground initially, as they payed for travel and hotel expenses.
The finals in the first year were due to be in Qatar, but Manchester City's failure to get out of the group stage led to the final being played at Griffin Park instead. Last year it expanded from 16 teams to 24, with the future of the competition likely to involve 32 teams, including a couple from the Middle-East.
Spurs have reached the last 8 in both of the last two years, beating Inter Milan 7-1 and Barcelona 4-0 on the way. This was originally an U-19 competition, but because of it's success UEFA have muscled in with their own European U-19 competition, so the NextGen organisers have moved it up to an U-20 competition.
We’re still waiting for the fixtures to be released for this years tournament and will have to wait and see how the UEFA competition will effect this years event. Spurs will play a mix of U-18 and U-21 squad players in this competition, with matches are usually played on Wednesday. Some previous games have been played at White Hart Lane, but most were at Hotspur Way during the day. Originally we were going to use Leyton Orient as the venue but they pulled out due to the uneconomic kick-off times involved. When we eventually sort out an U-21 venue, their games should be played there in the evenings as well. Last season in this age group and tournaments mentioned, Alex Pritchard was our outstanding player.
Name - Ray Lo
Twitter - @RayLo18