PAOK Salonica vs Tottenham: The Kids Are Alright. But Only Alright

Arry sent out Tottenham's babies to face Salonika in the Europa League last night including former Barca kid Giovani and a new loan signing from Juve. The senior team won't be quaking in their boots this morning in training.
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Arry sent out Tottenham's babies to face Salonika in the Europa League last night including former Barca kid Giovani and a new loan signing from Juve. The senior team won't be quaking in their boots this morning in training.

The Kids Are Alright. … But frankly, that’s all they are. Alright. Yes, Tottenham’s tots negotiated an awkward evening in a Greek cauldron without being (legally) breached, but there wasn’t much on show to suggest Spurs have finally harvested their own golden generation.

While the North Londoners certainly aren’t the only Premier League heavyweight to yield a poor return on their youth systems, a consistent lack of homegrown first team-botherers must irk a notorious bean-counter like Daniel Levy. In terms of high end Premier League performers, Nicky Barmby, Sol Campbell, Stephen Carr, Ledley King, Peter Crouch and (at a push) Jamie O’Hara remain the only notable alumni in over twenty years. And most Tottenham fans have violently exorcised Sol’s 255 appearances.

To counter this failure, Tottenham cast themselves as savvy child-snatchers. Trawling the country for talent, they liberated Aaron Lennon from Leeds and stole a march on Manchester United to snare Southampton’s Gareth Bale. Michael Dawson arrived as the slimmer half of the Andy Reid double deal with Nottingham Forest, Derby County take credit for Tom Huddlestone, while Sheffield United received platitudes and nearly £10m for the two Kyles, (Walker and Naughton). The White Hart Lane Finishing School has proved a tangible and financial success, but Tottenham fans still crave blue chip prospects of their very own.

Of course, it’s incredibly harsh to entirely dismiss a crop of youngsters who just grabbed a useful away point at full-strength European opposition. After all, Tom Cleverley is nearly four years older than 18-year-old striking hope Harry Kane. Jake Livermore – man of the match against PAOK – has the build, engine and occasional fleet of foot to suggest his is a Premier League future. And while not attempting to beat one man too many, masquerading as a left back and looking like Lewis Hamilton’s laidback brother, Andros Townsend shows immense promise as a fleet-footed impact winger.

But scan the Spurs squad. Livermore will turn 22 in November, the same age as Tottenham’s Brazilian international Sandro. Few would suggest Livermore possesses the raw ability required to displace him. Or Scott Parker, Luka Modric, or even Tom Huddlestone, (himself still just 24). Which means either waiting for an injury crisis – the sort that recently provided Livermore gruesome, first-hand evidence of the power lurking inside Manchester and Harry Redknapp cold, hard proof that Livermore’s not top percentile quality – or hoping for a lifeline elsewhere for Premier League experience.

The same goes for Townsend. Tottenham are notoriously impatient nurturers of young talent, but in today’s Champions League rat race, Spurs can’t afford time, or passengers. And sadly, that includes players like Livermore, Townsend and Kane. Players who, if given a pressure-free run of 20 games could emerge as genuine top flight performers.

It’s at this time of year Giovani “King of Pre-Season” Dos Santos has Spurs fans pleading with Redknapp to allow the Mexican an opportunity to replicate his international form.

Elsewhere, you had Tom Carroll putting off his first shave to busily prod and probe alongside Livermore and wideman Ryan Fredericks following up his debut against Hearts with a wholly forgettable ten minute cameo. The impossibly slight Carroll looks like Luka Modric without the ability to wriggle his way out of inevitable central midfield trouble, while Fredericks visibly wilts when presented with a full back. Here’s a bold prediction: neither will play league football for Tottenham. Both will become serviceable Championship performers.

Aside from the academy younglings, supporter interest was piqued by the more exotically named faces. It’s at this time of year Giovani “King of Pre-Season” Dos Santos has Spurs fans pleading with Redknapp to allow the Mexican an opportunity to replicate his international form. And after rejecting a £10m move to Udinese and being denied a Spanish return with Sevilla, last night provided Giovani with his upteenth chance to stake a claim.

Meanwhile, the club’s most baffling summer signing made his debut. Iago Falque is a 21-year-old left-footed Spaniard on loan from Juventus (where he’s yet to make an appearance) after a successful term spent with Villarreal. No, hang on, Villarreal’s B Team. He also signed a new contract with Juve before arriving at Spurs, meaning there’s little chance of a permanent transfer. And on last night’s form, he’s unlikely to be see much action beyond Thursday nights. Tentative on the ball and without the jets to breeze past defenders, he looks, at best, a homeless man’s David Silva. It’s probably best not to wonder what the point of signing him was. Your brain will start hurting.

And what of the renaissance man? Could Giovani issue a statement performance and sound a warning to Aaron Lennon? Not really. He showed flashes in the first half – skipping past a few challenges here and firing neat balls into space there, but there was little impetus. Playing at full tilt, Giovani could have ripped through PAOK’s mediocre backline. But, as usual, he jogged about largely disinterested, his talent again at half-mast. Things got worse in the second half. Visibly tiring and refusing to drop deep to influence possession, he showcased some trademark petulance after being easily pickpocketed by one defender. Instead of sprinting after his assailant, he instead just raised his arms, resigned and quietly amused. I could feel Joe Jordan’s blood pressure soar from my sofa in Bethnal Green.

So, Tottenham’s babies have taken their first steps on the Road to Bucharest (there’s a sobering Europa League reality for you, Spurs fans). And they should make the most of it. Because for many, it’ll be their best opportunity to prove me wrong.

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