Stars of the future can gain from Trophy time
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.
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.
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.