Has he lost faith in using young, home grown players? Are the latest batch simply not good enough? The fact is that this is nothing especially new for Pochettino.
Pochettino is one of the best managers in the Premier League right now; he’s definitely top three. We could debate that, but that’s not the point I am trying to make, which is: as a Spurs fan, I think the world of Pochettino, and I wouldn’t change him for anyone.
But as a believer in the Academy system and as a fan of the way in which the club have invested in it, I feel that this is one area in which Pochettino could improve.
Having made a reputation for developing young talent at Southampton, Pochettino will have appealed to Daniel Levy. Levy had just invested mega-bucks on one of the finest training grounds in world football and with the impending stadium costs weighing heavy too, someone who could save some money by promoting from within must have been an attractive proposition.
At Southampton a number of young players made great strides under the Argentinian: Nathaniel Clyne, Calum Chambers, Luke Shaw, James Ward-Prowse, and Matt Targett all spring to mind. He didn’t give them all their debuts, but he developed them significantly. As an aside, older players like Adam Lallana, Jay Rodriguez and Rickie Lambert improved to the degree where they were given England debuts.
At Tottenham, Pochettino could cite Dele Alli and Eric Dier: these are two players whom he has developed from potential first team players to elite stars and England regulars.
The strides that the two have taken over the past two years have been staggering. Pochettino also gave Ryan Mason a long run in the team, earning him England appearances, but that was a little different, as he was already a reasonably well established first team squad member.
There is an important difference between improving existing talent and giving talented players their initial break and, at Tottenham, Pochettino’s role in bridging the gap between Academy and first team has not always been what I hoped it might be.
He certainly talks the talk. Pochettino has consistently name-checked young players since arriving at Spurs. In the January transfer window in 2016 he stated: “We have enough quality, we have younger players in our academy with a lot of potential like Shayon [Harrison] and Kazaiah Sterling.
“I can give a lot of names that are very young and are hungry and can help us to achieve everything.”
In September of the same year he likened Marcus Edwards to Lionel Messi, saying: “His qualities … it’s only looks – his body and the way that he plays – remember a little bit from the beginning of Messi”.
This May he said of Carter-Vickers, Walker-Peters and Onomah: “Yes, we expect that they will be involved next season more than they were this season.”
But then youngsters’ chances have come and gone. Midfielders Tom Carroll and Alex Pritchard were in their early twenties when Pochettino arrived, and did not last long; clearly neither was trusted. The aforementioned Onomah has been used a number of times by Pochettino, but mainly in positions that he has not been used to playing in, and he has clearly not won his trust either — not that his first team appearances have necessarily been deserving of it.
Slovakian Filip Lesniak made his debut at the end of last season before being sold in the summer. Cameron Carter-Vickers has had a handful of appearances, but seems to still be well down the pecking order. Shayon Harrison (expected to go out on loan), Anton Walkes (already on loan at Atlanta United in the MLS) and Marcus Edwards (who has not yet played in pre-season) have each made a single substitute appearance.
Indeed, myself and many other fans were clamouring for more involvement for Edwards and, whilst he suffered from injuries at unfortunate times and was potentially in the doghouse over contact negotiations, there were good opportunities to include him on the substitutes bench.
We have seen 21-year-old Will Miller and 20-year-old Anthony Georgiou used in pre-season matches, but it is questionable as to whether they are seen as viable options. In fairness to Pochettino, neither has particularly stood out in Under-23 football and season-long loans would seem the most obvious route for both players this season.
And then there was Milos Veljkovic, who was a contract rebel who was not used at all, despite in my opinion, clearly being ‘ready’. He would not sign a contract because he would not be promised opportunities, and he would not be given opportunities because he would not sign a contract.
Subsequently he was sold, and is now getting regular games for Werder Bremen in the German top flight. Meanwhile, we could do with another ball playing centre-back; what a pity.
Ultimately if Pochettino doesn’t feel that the young players at his disposal are good enough to get games in a team that is amongst the best in the league, then he will not use them for the sake of it. But one must wonder about the message this sends, and whether something needs to change.
The one player who has had his chance and absolutely taken it is Harry Winks. Winks is 21, and has been training with the first team squad, on and off, for five years. He bulked up fairly rapidly in the period leading up to his debut, giving him the ability to hold onto the ball under pressure to add to his impressive intelligence and technique.
Such have been the levels of his performances that people are talking about him breaking into England’s World Cup squad; if he continues at the rate he has been improving, he could even break into the team, let alone squad.
Clearly it is not easy to risk youth players when trying to challenge for the league and various cups, but Pochettino needs to focus on the good of Winks’ transition into the first team, rather than the struggles of finding a position for Onomah, or seeing Carter-Vickers look a little rough around the edges.
There is plenty of talent to pick from, at least when compared with the fringe players who otherwise make up the Spurs bench, and hopefully some of these young players can be integrated across the forthcoming season, or we risk becoming a graveyard of talent much like our West London neighbours