Pochettino Has the Loan System Wrong at Spurs—and Badly

Mauricio Pochettino’s comments regarding loans for youth players have garnered much attention of late. The Argentine has maintained that he does not prefer his most promising starlets to come under the influence of the coaching methods of others, and so keeps those with the most potential at Hotspur Way. This is the reason why the likes of Marcus Edwards and Josh Onomah haven’t been sent out on loan, with a loan often signaling the end of a youngster’s future at Spurs; the likes of Shayon Harrison, Will Miller and to a greater extent Connor Ogilvie have all had their long-term futures at Spurs questioned.

Initially, it makes sense. The systems implemented by Pochettino are complex, and so require time to learn; meanwhile, maintaining the team spirit at Spurs will only be done by properly blooding future stars with current ones. Moreover, any instance of bad coaching at lower league clubs may seriously hamper a player’s development, especially if they return to Tottenham with a different attitude or style of play from what is required. The youth setup at Spurs is widely regarded as one of the best in the country, so it also makes sense for the younger players to stay under the guidance of elite-level youth coaches. Finally, being in and around Hotspur Way gives younger players the chance to look up to experienced superstars; the likes of Christian Eriksen, Harry Kane and Toby Alderweireld are undeniably world class and provide good role models for those in the academy.

In spite of this, allowing players to go out on loan lower down the league pyramid could actually reap greater benefits. Dele Alli is a prime example of a player who has learnt from the lower leagues; his physicality and tenacity are testament to his upbringing, where he first broke into the MK Dons first team aged just 16. At a Premier League club, he would not have been anywhere near the first team at this point; the revered Marcus Edwards debuted at 18, while Harry Winks has only made a serious impact on the squad at 21.

The advantage this has given Alli is that he’s much more physically prepared for life in the Premier League than other players his age, having plied his trade in the lower divisions of English football. This is especially obvious when compared to the standard of the ‘PL2’—or the U23 league—where the technical ability of players is evident, yet the physical nature is a clear step down from the Premier League; none of the centre-backs I’ve watched in the league look like they could even compete with the numerous targetmen in the top division, from Salomon Rondon to Andy Carroll. They are therefore ill-equipped for life in the top division, and the likes of Christian Maghoma could benefit hugely from being exposed to veterans of the English game lower in the divisions.

Illustrating this weakness is Cameron Carter-Vickers, one of the most highly-touted youngsters at Hotspur Way, who recently struggled against Adebayo Akinfenwa of Wycombe Wanderers. Akinfenwa might be one of the strongest players in the professional game, but his technical ability does not even come close to that of Carter-Vickers. Yet Akinfenwa still frequently got the better of the American, revealing the importance of learning to deal with physical players lower down the league pyramid.

Naturally, this should be done on a case-by-case basis and players should not be discarded as the result of a poor loan spell—Harry Kane’s loan at Norwich was underwhelming at best in the few months he spent there, and where would Spurs be without his contributions in the past three seasons? But it is ultimately naïve of Mauricio Pochettino to totally neglect the benefits of loaning players out lower down the divisions, for the experience they gain could prove vital in their future development.