Mauricio Pochettino has often been lauded for his tendency to give young, English players a chance. He did it so successfully at Southampton, and is seemingly continuing it as part of his football philosophy since taking over at Tottenham last summer.
It might be Harry Kane who has rightly grabbed all the headlines for his sensational form this season, after all this is a man transformed from someone who looked destined to wind up playing in the Football League to Premier League powerhouse, but another under the radar player has emerged from the periphery at Spurs to become a crucial cog in Pochettino’s White Hart Lane machine.
That is a certain Ryan Mason. Handed a solitary appearance in the early days of Harry Redknapp’s tenure in 2008, Mason looked set to be another example of a player, with clear talent, to fall by the wayside into English football’s doldrums; another harsh reminder of our tendency to break talent, not nurture it. This has been a prevalent talking point since the Premier League’s inception in 1992, as to whether the top tier of the game is helping or hindering the national side, something brought back into our consciousness with Greg Dyke’s ambitious announcement last week to introduce a quota on the number of foreign players in the Premier League.
Some might dismiss it as merely an attempt to try to justify the shortcomings of the national side. Others may argue that England’s ‘golden generation’, that featured the likes of David Beckham, Gary Neville, Michael Owen and Paul Scholes, should have delivered more success, and is proof of the Premier League’s ability to allow talent to flourish.
It could be argued that the talent is there, but just not a willingness to develop it, with several clubs opting to import talent from overseas for a fraction of the price. The concern remains though. With the Premier League more of a business venture than a professional football league in this day and age, the incentive for clubs to develop players is not as great as it once was. Clubs, desperate for success and immediately, are more likely to splash the cash on a foreign star than nurture their own. This has to change.
However, a few clubs, namely Spurs and Pochettino’s former employers, Southampton, are a couple that defy the trend. It goes without saying that we should be doing more, and demanding more of our clubs, to develop young players that are able to contribute in the first team. In the Football League, for some clubs, they have no option but to develop their academies due to budget constraints. In the Premier League, there is a worrying lack of clubs willing to do this. The result is a large amount of talent that never reaches its full potential.
One may recall the incredible hype that surrounded a young David Bentley during his Arsenal days, where many proclaimed him to be the new Beckham.
Unfortunately, after a combination of injuries and, after falling out of favour, Bentley cut his career short at the age of 29. Who is to say Kane may not have fallen down the same path had Tim Sherwood not given him his first team debut?
Elsewhere, Mason’s rise is evidence of the possibilities. Pochettino was willing to put his faith in a 23-year-old who had largely spent his career in the lower reaches of the Football League, scrambling for game time to aid his development. Now, Mason is an England international having received his first call-up last week.
A remarkable turn of events unquestionably, yet it highlights not only the inherent weakness of English football, but the potential of it too. Clubs are either unwilling to develop talent, or are merely content to send players out on loan. A change in attitude is needed to prolong the future of the English game, and Dyke’s proposal is the first step to achieving that.