Youth development is an issue that seems to transcend our game; and the general consensus is that we just aren’t good enough at it. Whether clubs like Tottenham are trying to develop the next Gareth Bale or simply make a quick buck from a player sale, clearly the onus is now on improving academy prospects.
The problem has been that academy football in the past has largely been a means to nothing, too often players are hitting the first team glass ceiling and subsequently finding themselves falling perilously down the divisions.
For Spurs fans they only know this too well, the likes of Marney, Bostock and Jackson painful reminders of a failing youth system. Yet it is for reasons like this that the clubs decision to change things is so refreshing.
There is yet to exist an official club partnership between Spurs and Swindon Town, but for those keen on youth football will be well aware of the links that exist between the two clubs. Dean Parrett, Nathan Byrne and Massimo Luongo all spent time at the County Ground last season, and the likes of Alex Pritchard and Grant Hall have subsequently joined them this term. Clearly a mutually beneficial agreement of some kind exists here, written or unwritten and going on the successes of last season it is clearly something Spurs are content with.
Spurs are keen to get their most promising young starlets regular football league experience, the academy leagues are a great starting point but insufficient to prepare for the rigours of the English league. Of course the club has used the loan system heavily in the past, Yeovil Town was a previous favourite for the North Londoners. The problem is though that too often players are moved on with no guarantee of how much they will play, what standard the football will be and what sort of coaching they will receive on arrival.
Having a feeder club and a special relationship with a club like Swindon means that Spurs can be much more forthright in what they desire and expect from their loaned players. Ryan Mason last year was shipped off to Lorient in France last year and barely kicked a ball, for a club like Spurs avoiding these wasted jaunts is a priority.
Now don’t get me wrong, this relationship works both ways. Swindon get the cream of the crop of Spurs’ young stars to bolster their side, and no doubt pay a fraction of the players’ wages, for a club in League 1 with serious financial constraints this is a blessing. Add to this potential first option clauses that have seen them already take Luongo and Barthram permanently and you can see why such a relationship might flourish.
Swindon are a side that play an excellent brand of football and look set to push for Championship football in the near future. Close proximity to London relative to many other options and a highly respected coaching set-up make this the stand-out candidate for Spurs when looking for a feeder club. Tim Sherwood has already reportedly lavished praise on their set-up under previous manager Kevin MacDonald, and it looks like Spurs continue to be satisfied with the operation.
The efforts appear to be paying dividends, the likes of Pritchard and Hall flourishing in their new environments. Pritchard has already scored a couple of sensational free kicks and has 14 appearances to his name so far; and this seems to be the theme with most of Spurs’ loanees getting the game time they so desperately require.
The criticism of Spurs in the past was that they didn’t make the most of the talents they had at their disposal. It isn’t a question of every youth player being a Premier League star, but more avoiding that potentially quality player slipping the net. For Spurs the move towards a feeder club in Swindon is both an interesting and potentially beneficial one.
It is impossible to tell whether Pritchard and other will ever make it at this stage, but as long as Spurs help them reach their potential they have done their job. Success for the academy is about maximising what they’ve got, be that a league 2 quality player or something better. Selling a player for £500,000 rather than £50,000 is as much a success as making a half decent Premier League player a quality one.
The Swindon experiment appears well conceived and potentially a tactical masterstroke by the club.
Are Swindon the ideal feeder club for Spurs?