Do you remember the last Tottenham Hotspur academy product to play significant minutes for the club before Jake Livermore? If you guessed Ledley King, you're correct. I'll give you half of a point if you guessed Peter Crouch, but only because, technically, he was a Spurs academy player.
Yes, that's right. Since Ledley King debuted for Tottenham Hotspur in 1998 very few first-team players have been produced by our academy. Sure, we bought some players when they were young and cheap, but none of them came all the way up through the ranks like Ledley. Until last season, when the Europa League gave us a chance to see some of academy products in action. We got to see glimpses of a group of players that could be a big part of the future of Tottenham Hotspur in one way or another.
Coming into the 2012-13 season Spurs have six former academy players at the club who could see first team minutes in one competition or another. There is the aforementioned King (currently not under contract) and Livermore, along with Tom Carroll, Harry Kane, Steven Caulker, and Andros Townsend. This influx of homegrown talent is very important to the club for several reasons.The first reason why these players are important to the club is because of the Premier League's new(ish) home-grown players rule. Starting last season each 25 man squad needed to include eight home-grown players. A home-grown player is defined as a player who "rrespective of nationality or age, have been affiliated to the FA or Welsh FA for a period of three seasons or 36 months prior to 21st birthday." UEFA has a similar rule for continental competitions, but it stipulates that of the eight home-grown players, four must have been trained at the club.
As you can see, having young talent that has been trained at the club certainly makes life easier in putting together a 25-man squad for competitions. I doubt any of these young players will play much outside of the Europa League, aside from Livermore and Caulker, but that doesn't diminish their importance to the club.
The second reason why this youth movement is good for the club is solely monetary. If you're developing young players you don't have to buy them. Look at clubs like Barcelona and Ajax. Both have stellar academies and both are able to sell their academy products to other clubs for big money. Giovani dos Santos, Bojan, and Pepe Reina are good examples of this. These players didn't have a place in the Barcelona first-team, but they were still able to help the club by being sold.
Additionally, not only can developing youth prospects raise money for the club, but they can also save the club money. I think we would all like to have a player like Xavi at Tottenham Hotspur, but there's no way that the club could afford to pay a player of his caliber's transfer fee and wages. What is much simpler is to develop that player. Obviously, this is an oversimplification. Players like Xavi and Andres Iniesta don't just grow on trees, but you get the idea.
Finally, in my opinion, players that come through a club's academy are often more committed to the club. I obviously can't back that assertion up with any data, but I equate it to Cesc Fabregas's "Barca DNA". Few would argue that there has been a player we, as fans, identify more with Tottenham Hotspur than Ledley King and to have more players of his ilk in the squad can only be seen as a good thing. It's my view that a team can never have enough players that "love the shirt", and not in the faux-badge kissing way that has become somewhat prevalent in modern football.
So, the big question is what chance do any of these players have of making a real impact for the club. It would seem that Caulker and Livermore are the best positioned to hold down spots in the first-team either as starters or frequent substitutes. I think we would all be fairly comfortable with the idea of either of those players start 10-15 league games (and more in other competitions). It's the remaining three that I am uncertain about.
Harry Kane already has a little cult following here. I'd like to think I helped start that, but we all know that it was really a certain community member and his excellent short story that really elevated the legend of Kane. It didn't hurt that Kane scored and looked a bit promising in his Europa League run-outs and then followed that up with a successful loan spell at Milwall. At this point Kane is one of only two strikers in Tottenham Hotspur's first-team. Presumably, that will change soon, but until it does Kane looks to be in line for at least some minutes for the club this year.
Tom Carroll was, to me, the most impressive young player we got a chance to see in 2011-12. He made 7 appearances for the club looked fairly decent in most of them. Carroll just turned 20 and after 14 league appearances in the Championship last season it's hard to imagine him being ready for the Premier League. I expect another similar season from him. Hanging around at Tottenham for the early part of the Europa League campaign before returning to the Championship on loan in January, hopefully to get more than 14 games this time. Carroll's passing ability excites me and of all these young guns, I think his development may be the most important to the club.
Finally, there's Andros Townsend. Townsend is probably the most ready of these three to contribute in the league. If there is any truth to Danny Rose's rumored departure then Townsend suddenly become Gareth Bale's primary backup. The pacy left-winger should be at the club full-time this year and hopefully he shows us more of the flashes that have excited many of us before. If nothing else, he can always fall back on his singing career.
Developing young academy players is going to become increasingly difficult for Tottenham Hotspur once the Elite Player Performance Plan takes effect at the beginning of this season. Mostly because Tottenham Hotspur won't have a Category 1 academy, but we can discuss that in greater depth some other time. For now, Tottenham should continue its focus on its focus on youth development in order to keep the club in the upper-echelon of English football.