Mike Hewitt - Getty Images
Tottenham are finally starting to turn out some impressive prospects. What should we expect from these kids this season?
With the appointment of a new manager over the summer accompanied by far-reaching changes to playing style, transfer policy and of course youth development plans, every Spurs fan’s mind must eventually be starting to turn towards wondering where the club’s young prospects fit into the revised project for Tottenham’s future. With new ideas comes new ways of looking at what our Academy graduates can offer, and with many of our younger stars reaching pivotal moments in their career, the time seems right to begin to pose the question of what comes next for the next generation of Spurs.
Among the ex-Academy and Reserves players who seem the most primed to prove their potential worth for Spurs right now if ever, it seems obvious to name-drop Harry Kane and Danny Rose before moving on. With both receiving Premiership loans that promise weekly minutes, Kane and Rose both now have the chance to get their faces in the sun and really prove their worth to the backroom staff at Spurs- look for both to start making immediate impressions this season. As a striker and left-back respectively, both fill gaps Spurs need to address going forwards- yet from both, the consensus seems to be that more is needed to demonstrate that both can perform consistently for Tottenham’s senior squad. As a second striker playing for a club which favours a line-leader, Kane now needs to demonstrate he can finish as confidently as he can hold up play and assist others, while Rose needs to tighten up his often-lapsing defensive efforts- points which have been practically agreed around these parts this year.
By contrast, a less obvious shout for making his senior mark this year is Ryan Mason, the 21 year-old Number 10 who’s coming into this season off the back of a disappointing loan spell with Millwall. I wouldn’t blame Mason at all for his lack of success at this level, purely because the Championship is a rough- and-tumble league that set the conditions for a highly distorted representation of his skills. If anything, in this respect, I think the departure of the loan- favouring Redknapp will mean Mason will have a bigger role this season. That AVB threw him on in our most recent Europa League match against Lazio is a highly encouraging sign that his development is instead being continued in- house, a general policy for Spurs for this season going forward signalled by Tim Sherwood during the summer. Mason is a highly talented attacking player to add to Tottenham’s stock of options in the future, and I would look for him to make few more appearances in Europe going forwards this season to start to cement his reputation as a decent prospect.
Among the more longer-term prospects, I’m personally excited about Massimo Luongo, currently on loan with Ipswich Town, who has impressed with his well-rounded passing and defensive skill sets. Being a part of team and getting minutes this year, it seems Luongo’s path is fairly set at the moment, and thus bears less consideration in this piece. Instead, it seems more important to devote some attention to Thomas Carroll, a player with an excellent dribbling game and strong passing skills who excited Spurs fans last season with a couple of solid Europa performances and seemingly checked the box for moving up to the next level, a point seemingly confirmed by his recent signing of a new contract. As a player possessing something of Luka Modric in his ability to beat his man and pick a pass, it seems on paper initially obvious that Carroll could play the role of a long-term creative force for Spurs from centre mid going forwards, perhaps as an understudy and ultimately a rotation option in later seasons for Moussa Dembélé.
Going forward beyond this season however, I have to say that I feel Carroll may eventually find himself in something of a dogfight for a place in Tottenham’s first team with the immensely talented Alex Pritchard, another ex-Academy player who has lit up the first few games of Tottenham’s NextGen campaign this year with a couple of commanding and influential performances. In a highly similar fashion to Carroll, Pritchard has shown that he can forgo the genetic tendency towards ball-hoofing and physicality with which every English player is born for positive, driving attacking movement. Though Pritchard has thrived in more advanced roles than Carroll, neither lack for creative inspiration, and their shared comfort in cutting in from wide positions invites comparison which puts pressure on the more senior Carroll to prove his merit.
Carroll has also suffered from the same loan-spell syndrome I mentioned earlier of being ill-suited to the league to which he was sent, with his most recent spell at Derby County in the Championship fizzling out into a wasted final few months. Because I still feel that Carroll has too much of a touch of class with the ball at his feet not to feature in our long-term plans, however, I’m going to peg him as a figure to look out for again in the Europa League this season. As teams from farther afield attempt to lengthen their stay in the competition by going into defensive shells, Carroll will have the perfect chance to demonstrate those lock- picking abilities for which he has developed his exciting reputation. Even if AVB continues to take the season as seriously as it seems he might from our opening lineup against Lazio, Carroll could still yet shine in a strong Spurs team, and will thrive on the continental stage.
Though I similarly feel that Pritchard could be a viable option going forward, I predict a different career path for him going forward, and in fact am willing to stick my neck out and say look out for a League One loan coming his way this season. Even if the club is leaning more towards in-house development from this season onwards, it seems to me that Pritchard’s game is sufficiently physical for him to succeed at that level, and he’s getting to the point where getting minutes on the clock will become increasingly important. I personally feel Pritchard could cut it at the next level, a point reinforced by the interest he drew froms clubs such as QPR over the summer, and I feel he can prove his worth now by stepping up to the challenge.
Before I close off this roundup, I want to take a quick look at some players I’m fairly agnostic about at the moment. Pre-eminent amongst this group is Adam Smith, who started to win my attention proper when he signed on a season-long loan for one of my more local-ish clubs, the MK Dons. Having seen Smith play competently on both the right and the left, it seems clear that he has a talent for bombing up the flanks and would on paper fit nicely into AVB’s overlap-heavy system in the future. However, at 21, it interests me that we’ve not seen his name come up as an option for a loan, a Europa League spot or a substitute appearance. Either he’s being primed for something bigger, or Smith hasn’t really demonstrated yet that he’s fit for anything other than Twitter dress-offs with Andros Townsend so far this year. Only time will tell for a player whose career could go anywhere from the tipping point he’s reached, and we need to see more from Smith before we can really tell if he’s a viable option going forward.
Similar points could be made about Tottenham’s young keeper Jonathan Miles and Jordan Archer. The former impressed with heroic shifts during the NextGen series last season, while the latter impressed AVB enough to included on our preseason tour of America over the summer. Both, however, have the misfortune to be young keepers at a club which is already trying to phase in a new number 1 in Hugo Lloris, and it is doubtful either will want to waste any career time hanging around receiving zero minutes, thus making the futures of both less easy to predict going forwards.
A few final words on the figures on the youngest end of our spectrum of prospects. In the next few NextGen games, I look on with interest to Shaquile Coulthirst ,who has maintained an excellent scoring record last year with goals coming from all over the pitch yet hasn’t really shown he can cut it as a lone forward in a three-forward system yet, putting him in contrast with the much more settled and well-rounded Souleymane Coulibaly. Dominic Ball has shown early signs of becoming a good ball-playing defender in the opening NextGen games, and Kevin Stewart has impressed a number of observers with his leadership of the squad so far. While it’s clearly too early to comment on how any of these players could figure in Tottenham’s future, they represent arguably the picks of our up and coming talents, and I will endeavour to write more detailed analysis of their performances in coverage in NextGen and U21 League games in the future.
In all, the future looks fairly bright for a youth academy that has already provided us with Jake Livermore and Andros Townsend for the first-team squad going forwards this season. In figures like Luongo and Pritchard we have supremely talented prospects who could be set to break through this season to claim a spot with more established faces such as Mason and Carroll. If AVB wants to phase in a new generation of talent at White Hart Lane in the coming years, it seems clear that he has plenty of homegrown options to choose to base his efforts on.