Stars of the fu­ture can gain from Tro­phy time

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

WHEN Tot­ten­ham’s U21s lined up against AFC Wim­ble­don in the Check­a­trade Tro­phy in mid­week, you won­dered if some of them would live to tell the tale.

It ap­peared to be lit­er­ally ‘men against boys’. You feared one crunch­ing tackle from the pow­er­fully-built Dons mid­fielder Tom Soares could snap diminu­tive Spurs mid­fielder Oliver Skipp in two.

Yet amid the land of the giants, the north Lon­don club’s tal­ented prospects showed what they could do in a game even­tu­ally won 4-3 by the hosts with an in­jury time win­ner.

The likes of Spurs striker Shilow Tracey, 19, at­tack­ing left­back Keanan Ben­netts, 18, Skipp, 17, and left-winger Sa­muel Shashoua, 18, all showed their po­ten­tial.

In­deed, Skipp, wear­ing num­ber 71, seemed to get stronger as the game wore on and made some ex­cel­lent surg­ing runs in the last 20 min­utes.

Ter­rific

A ter­rific game of foot­ball also saw a num­ber of the Dons’ young play­ers get the chance to im­press man­ager Neal Ard­ley. Egli Kaja, 20, Toby Sib­bick, 18, Al­fie Egan, 20, and An­thony Har­ti­gan, 17, were among those to seize the op­por­tu­nity.

The Check­a­trade Tro­phy has had its knock­ers for a va­ri­ety of rea­sons and the de­ci­sion to in­vite 16 academy sides to take part was al­ways go­ing to be con­tro­ver­sial, but there is lit­tle doubt that it can pro­vide young play­ers with valu­able match ex­pe­ri­ence.

There is a ma­jor prob­lem in this coun­try with tal­ented young­sters at the top clubs not be­ing given first-team op­por­tu­ni­ties. The clubs stock­pile th­ese kids, de­velop them – and then don’t play them.

What they do play is academy foot­ball, but the com­mon con­sen­sus is that this isn’t ‘real’ foot­ball where wins mat­ter and liveli­hoods are at stake. Those Tot­ten­ham young­sters will prob­a­bly have got more out of last Tues­day night’s game than they would have from a num­ber of academy games.

They were up against vastly ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers like AFC Wim­ble­don’s Paul Robin­son, 35, Dar­ius Charles, 29, Soares, 31, and Cody McDon­ald, 31.

Wayne Bur­nett’s Tot­ten­ham kids did make mis­takes at times. They over­did it play­ing out from the back, they got caught in bad ar­eas, they lost con­cen­tra­tion. They also found it dif­fi­cult to deal with the more phys­i­cal Dons at set-pieces.

But those lessons could prove use­ful in the long-run and boost their chances of mak­ing it into Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s first team. And to be fair to the Ar­gen­tinian boss, he’s been more in­clined to give youth a chance than many other Premier League man­agers.

One of the ideas be­hind the Foot­ball League Tro­phy re­vamp a lit­tle over a year ago was to as­sist with the de­vel­op­ment of the very best young play­ers in English foot­ball.

And that is hap­pen­ing to a cer­tain ex­tent. Last sea­son, of the 1,529 play­ers who ap­peared in the com­pe­ti­tion, 381 were English and un­der the age of 21, 212 were English be­tween the ages of 21-23 and 138 play­ers from in­vited teams were English and un­der the age of 21.

In­vited

Let’s not for­get, too, that the com­pe­ti­tion was hardly set­ting the world alight in its for­mer guise. Yes, there was in­ter­est in the clos­ing stages when Wem­b­ley grew near, but not a lot be­fore that. There are still many peo­ple out there boy­cotting matches be­cause they don’t like academy teams from Premier League and Cham­pi­onship clubs en­ter­ing a com­pe­ti­tion for League One and Two clubs, but it’s here to stay for this sea­son and next. If you haven’t been to a game yet, it might be worth a try. True, you don’t get a 4-3 thriller ev­ery day of the week, but you might get the chance to see some stars of the fu­ture – from your team and the op­po­si­tion.

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