The Perils Of Buying Young: Why Spurs Should Avoid More Like Cristian Ceballos

Hopefully Tottenham Hotspur newcomer Cristian Ceballos does not wind up being the second-coming of Adel Taarabt. (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)

I swear, I'm usually not such a downer or a malcontent. But seriously, I'm nonplussed by Tottenham Hotspur's signing of ex-Barcelona youngster Cristian Ceballos. He was cut loose by Barca, he had a trial with Chelsea (who subsequently passed on him) and now he signs with Tottenham. If Ceballos didn't have Barcelona attached to him he wouldn't be nearly as exciting to people. I made the point yesterday that if they player had been from Southampton or Portsmouth we'd be much less excited about him.

However, it never hurts to stockpile free young talent. Perhaps he'll wind up more like Ledley King and less like many of the other young prospects to come through the Tottenham ranks in recent years. Since Ceballos was free and assuming that he's on relatively low wages he poses no more risk than any other Tottenham youth prospect, thereby making him a better investment than John Bostock or Adel Taarabt.

In football, everyone one is enamored with young players, wonderkids if you will. Maybe it's the Football Manager culture of fans that influences this. Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp seems to be the exception in that he favors experience an seemingly abhors youth. Every transfer window teams fight it out over the "Next such-and-such" look at Romelu Lukaku, Connor Wickham, David De Gea, Phil Jones, etc. Teams want to bring this players in and either develop them or have them contribute right away, but only a handful ever really make the impact the club had envisioned. 

There's this sort of myth surrounding development of youth development. And maybe I look at this from a more logical point of view (which is clearly a flawed idea), but I'm not interested in buy 18 year-olds, ever. Look at Olympique Lyonnais. They became the dominant force in French football by doing very well in the transfer market (don't believe me? Pick up a copy of Soccernomics). They did this because, according to club chairman Jean-Michel Aulas, "We buy young players with potential who are considered the best in their country, between 20 and 22 years old." Why do they have this philosophy? Because at such a young age, there's still too little information to judge these players on.

Let's look at the list of Golden Ball winners from the FIFA U-17 World Cup since 1989. In chronological order they are: James Will, Nii Lamptey, Daniel Addo, Mohammed Kathiri, Sergio Santamaria, Landon Donovan, Florente Sinama-Pongolle, Cesc Fabregas, Anderson, Toni Kroos, Sani Emmanuel, and, most recently, Julio Gomez. Admittedly the names of late have gotten better, but very few of those players went on to successful football careers. James Will wound up a policeman in his hometown in Scotland. It's very much a crapshoot for players at this age and the arguement could be made that only Fabregas has truly lived up to the hype though Anderson and Kroos may yet be great players.

Take a look at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship over the same list and you'll see a much better list of players that includes: Luis Figo, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo, Petr Cech, Alberto Gilardino, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Royston Drenthe, Marcus Berg, and Adrian Lopez. Again, perhaps those last few aren't that impressive, but some of the earlier players are legends. It seems a player over age of 20 is much more projectable to stardom than one who remains a teenager.

So, Tottenham Hotspur, if it's not too much trouble, let's buy some really good 20-22 year old players, kind of like what we did with Luka Modric and Sandro, and try to propel the club back to the Champions League.

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