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Spurs spark a reserve revolution

Harry Redknapp may have kick-started a revolution when he made the bold move to abolish Tottenham's reserve team last summer. Every Premier League club is granted access to the top-flight reserve league designed to promote youth development and also give out-of-favour star names or returning injury victims some match action to get their teeth into.

Yet there are only 19 teams taking part this season, with the southern section lacking the presence of one of its traditionally powerful competitors after Tottenham declined their invitation to participate.

Redknapp's decision to pull Spurs out of the reserve league in favour of sending his shadow squad out on loan spells to Football League clubs has resulted in 18 of his players being shipped out to exotic locations such as Yeovil, Exeter, Cheltenham and Aldershot in recent months, with the manager convinced they will get more out of a spell in the Football League than playing reserve games lacking competitive bite.

"You are restricted when you have reserve fixtures set in stone and it means some players are rushed back from injuries or played in games they could do without," he begins. "What we have now is a little bit more control over what we want to do with our players.

"The lads we sent out on loan last year benefited greatly from their experiences and came back to Tottenham as better players. That's the target we have for this season. Young boys need to get games to improve and playing in a competitive league is more beneficial for their development."

Redknapp makes a solid case for the defence, but the prosecution may offer a couple of flaws in his stance, with first being the perception that are Tottenham using historic Football League clubs as a makeshift stage on which their up-and-coming stars can audition.

The top teams in Spain have long used the lower leagues to promote their young players by entering a B team into competitive leagues, but such a proposal is abhorrent to the majority of supporters who follow English clubs with lengthy and proud traditions.

Redknapp and Tottenham have found a way around that animosity, ensuring they will reap the rewards of any of their farmed out talent and in return, the recipient clubs get an instant benefit from the deal. However, loan players now dominate so many lower league starting line-ups in England and their loyalty to their temporary club will always be, naturally, a fragile commodity.

The other downside affecting Redknapp right now is that the star names not getting close to the Spurs first team are without an outlet to show they are worthy of a recall. David Bentley, Gareth Bale, Roman Pavlyuchenko and Alan Hutton cost Tottenham around £47 million to buy and yet all four are full-time bench warmers who are relieved to get a first-team chance in games such as this week's Carling Cup tie against Everton.

A game against Dagenham & Redbridge at Spurs Lodge training ground last week saw a Spurs XI packed full of internationals take to the field eager for some much-needed match practice, but Redknapp has few qualms about the plight that established and highly-paid stars Bentley and Pavlyuchenko find themselves in.

"A club of Tottenham's stature should be competing at the top of the Premier League and it means we need a big playing staff," continues the Spurs boss. "The door is not closed on anyone in the squad. When the lads who have not been in the team get their chance, they have to take it.

"The players out of the team have their opportunity in the Carling Cup games as we need to get some football into their legs. They have not been getting into the first team because we have some good players here and it may seem like there is no light at the end of the tunnel. I'd say they have to take their opportunity when it comes.

"While it is difficult for high profile players like Pavlyuchenko and Bentley, they have to show they are up for the challenge when their chance comes. They are top performers, so they have to show it."

It is a point of great frustration for all associated with Tottenham that despite heavy investment in the club's youth setup, Ledley King remains the last great homegrown star and he burst into the first team a decade ago.

They are clearly hoping this revolutionary plan of spreading their talent across the nation will change the course of failure in the Tottenham junior ranks and they have some bright stars that could sparkle in the first team if they develop at a decent pace.

Enfield-born teenager Jon Obika is one to keep an eye on during his loan spell at Yeovil and midfielder Danny Rose, currently on loan at Championship side Peterborough, is another local product with a big reputation. Spurs are also waiting for the raw talent of John Bostock to explode after his contentious move from Crystal Palace last year.

Midfielder Jamie O'Hara has proved, to an extent, that it is possible to bypass the big money signings and make it into the Tottenham first team and yet he is currently on loan at Portsmouth. In the time he has been away, Nico Kranjcar has arrived at Spurs and seemingly shoved O'Hara even further down the pecking order.

So could it be that Tottenham are edging towards a change of mindset as they develop their youth setup, with the possibility of turning it into a sideline business a very real possibility? If they succeed, we could rapidly get to the point where Premier League clubs work a two-tier structure where the first team functions on its own and the second string are snapped up at a young age before being prepared and packed for sale at a later date.

If the youth products are bringing in a few hundred thousand pounds per sale on a regular basis, a profit can be made on their investment. Essentially, clubs would be getting themselves into the commodities market, with footballers the stock they are trading in.

It's hardly what the game's authorities had in mind when they promoted the Academy system with such vigour, believing it to be the solution to the dearth of emerging English talent, and Redknapp admits the lack of rising English stars is alarming. "The players in our national team at the moment are the best bunch we have had for some time, but I wonder whether we will have a group as good to follow on," he adds. "We look around for English lads, but they are not easy to find and it's a major worry.

"Tottenham have worked with a lot of English players in recent years, but there is no point just trying to do a favour to the local lads if they are not good enough. The best players should be in the Premier League and that's the way it's always going to be."

Coming from the manager who gave Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Jermain Defoe, Michael Carrick their starts at West Ham, it is a damning verdict and the decline in the traditional supply line from the lower leagues may be the primary reason why homegrown talent is being edged out the English top flight.

Lower league clubs used to survive on the profits of the sale of their best talent to the Premier League giants and now the roles are being reversed. The football landscape of England may change forever if Tottenham's mass loaning experiment proves successful.


Carlo Cudicini
Gareth Bale
Michael Dawson
Vedran Corluka
Alan Hutton
David Bentley
Jermaine Jenas
Niko Kranjcar
Giovani dos Santos
Peter Crouch
Roman Pavlyuchenko

TOTTENHAM'S ON-LOAN TEAM (4-5-1 formation)

Ben Alnwick (Norwich)
Kyle Walker (Sheffield United)
Sam Cox (Cheltenham)
Steven Caulker (Yeovil)
Troy Archibald-Henville (Exeter)
Jamie O'Hara (Portsmouth)
Adel Taarabt (QPR)
Danny Rose (Peterborough)
Jake Livermore (Derby)
Jonathan Obika (Yeovil)


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