In the last few days of the January transfer window Tottenham Hotspur made a few interesting loan moves with some of their promising youngsters. The three most interesting were the moves of Ryan Mason, Yago Falque, and Souleyman Coulibaly. Unlike the rest of the loanees, these three players were sent abroad.
Loaning players abroad isn't something new for Spurs. Giovanni Dos Santos and David Bentley have both gone on loans to foreign clubs, but the club has not, at least in recent memory, shown any interest in sending it's youngsters abroad. Other big clubs, namely Chelsea, have sent a lot of their promising youngster abroad. Vitesse has a number of Chelsea loanees and Kevin de Bruyne is plying his trade in the Bundesliga.
Perhaps Tottenham was trying to emulate Chelsea. Why wouldn't they? Many of the Chelsea youngsters seem to be prospering. Patrick Van Aanholt and Tomas Kalas are thriving at Vitesse, Thibault Courtois is one of the best keepers in Spain, and De Bruyne has had a stellar season at Werder Bremen. Clearly, getting playing time against top flight opposition in any league, foreign or domestic, is the goal of this loan strategy. If that is the goal, how have Tottenham done in accomplishing that goal?
Well, first of all, only one of the three international loans that Tottenham made was to a top flight club. Ryan Mason joined Ligue 1 side FC Lorient, who are currently 8th in the table. At the time he was sent to France it looked like Mason would be in line for a considerable amount of playing time, given the injuries to players at his position. However, since joining on January 31, Mason has yet to appear for Lorient and has been named to the bench only once.
In that regard it would seem that Tottenham's plan is failing. Mason has not played for Lorient, but he's training. If he were at Spurs he wouldn't be playing either. So, is the implication here that training at Lorient is more beneficial than training at Spurs? I know that Lorient have a reknowned youth academy, but is that enough?
The other two players, Falque and Coulibaly are playing in the second division in Spain and Italy respectively. Falque is getting considerably more minutes, but that's not surprising given that Falque is 23, fully five years older than Coulibaly (and only a few months younger than Gareth Bale). I posited back in February, that Falque's loan may be a way of setting him in the shop window for Spanish clubs. I still believe that. In his 8 appearances Falque has one goal, 3 assists, and has twice been named man of the match.
Falque is Spanish and his return to Spain, either to the Segunda or to a lower side in the La Liga seems logical. At 23 Falque isn't a prospect anymore. He is what he is. I doubt he can ever be a big contributor to Tottenham Hotspur and as such his departure seems likely this summer.
Coulibaly seems to be the more interesting case. Tottenham acquired him from Sienna off the back of an impressive performance in the U-17 World Cup. Since then he's been impressive in Tottenham's academy, but at 18 he still hadn't been sent out on loan, even when other younger players were being loaned out. Coulibaly's first move was back to Italy, back to a country he has called home since he was 13. Grosseto is only an hour from where Coulibaly began his football career. This was a move home.
At Grosseto, Coulibaly has featured six times, five as a substitute. He has scored no goals. Some, on this site (Mechanick) seem to believe that Coulibaly is the striker of the future, but I have always been skeptical of the 5'7" Ivorian. He had a good tournament at the U-17 World Cup, but that doesn't make him a bonafide superstar. Thus far in his career he hasn't done much to distinguish himself. He certainly doesn't seem better than any of our other young strikers. Shaquile Coulthirst has performed incredibly well for the U-21's this season and Harry Kane seems ready to be at least a bit contributor to the first team. So, perhaps this loan move, like Falque's, signals the end of Coulibaly's time at Spurs.
So, in pursuit of the goal of getting their young players top flight experience abroad, Tottenham Hotspur aren't doing a very good job. However, most of their most promising talents (Tom Carroll, Cristian Ceballos, Jake Livermore) have stayed with the club due to lack of depth. Had some of those players moved abroad, who knows what would have happened. I can see Livermore be a midfield enforcer in the Bundesliga or Tom Carroll being a playmaker in the Eredivisie. However, those things didn't happen.
Chelsea have a huge squad and they tend to buy a lot of young talent and then stash them on loans abroad for a few years. Tottenham don't spend money like that, but I think we can all agree that we'd love for our best talents to be playing against top-flight competition week in and week out. Hopefully, Tottenham will acquire more depth in the offseason and then some of the youngsters will be able to go players where they can substantively contribute and further their development.