Pochettino admits it's harder than ever for youngsters to break into his Spurs squad

El Real Madrid se ha fijado en Harry Kane para superar la falta de gol de sus delanteros esta temporada. El inglés del Tottenham fue el máximo artillero mundial en 2017 y con 24 años se ha confirmado como uno de los grandes delanteros del planeta. (Foto: John Walton / AP).

It is almost five years to the day since Mauricio Pochettino arrived in England with Southampton, who host Spurs on Sunday, and in that time he has become synonymous with youth development on these shores.

The Argentinian’s passion for introducing young talents into his first team on the south coast, while playing successful, attractive football, made him a perfect fit for Tottenham as they sought to capitalise on the investment in their own academy.

“In the past at Espanyol, I said to my sporting director, president or chairman that, rather than have 25 professionals, I would rather have 20 or 21 and give four or five places to younger academy players,” said the Spurs manager ahead of his return to St Mary’s.

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“If we have 25 senior player it is so difficult to find the space and provide the youngsters with the space to play.

“If you save money, like we did at Espanyol by signing three or four players less, you can invest more in the rest of your squad, your academy, and can provide the possibility every week to train with the first team and the possibility to play because of injuries or suspensions.

“When we arrived here [at Tottenham] three and a half years ago, we had 33 professional players. How do you provide younger players with possibility to play?”.

Pochettino reduced the size of his squad to make room for the likes of Ryan Mason, who was the first Spurs academy product to benefit from the new manager’s arrival, making his Premier League debut in September 2014.

Since then, Harry Winks, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Josh Onomah have also moved up from the junior section to the senior set-up, with varying degrees of success.

Meanwhile academy graduate Harry Kane has become a global star, and Pochettino has additionally overseen the progress made by other homegrown players such as Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier.

When Winks made his debut for Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions against Lithuania in October 2017, he became the 12th player to be coached by Pochettino at the time of their England bow. It is a record Pochettino is proud of, and is key to his whole philosophy.

Yet it is currently looking rather difficult for promising prospects to get first-team action at Spurs, and there are unlikely to be any surprises when Pochettino’s 18-man squad is announced at St Mary’s this weekend.

Kyle Walker-Peters has struggled to get game time this term and, while the 20-year-old was on the bench against Everton last weekend due to Danny Rose’s knee injury, he was surrounded by senior internationals – Michel Vorm, Trippier, Moussa Sissoko, Victor Wanyama, Erik Lamela and Fernando Llorente.

Pochettino may have an enthusiasm and a reputation for youth development. But he concedes that, given Spurs’ progress, it is now harder than ever during his time in England for a youngster to make the jump from the academy into his matchday group.

“If you were seven out of 10 four years ago, you were going to have the possibility to play,” he said. “But now we have said to them that they need to be an eight, or an eight and half. That is more demanding for them.

“We have built a very strong squad and a very strong starting 11, and it is difficult to get the possibility to play. Now it is not only about quality, it is not only about showing something good. You need to show quality, mental strength, physical condition and everything if you want to get the possibility to play in the first team.

“In the last two years we have been competing for the Premier League title, for the top four, and I think we have reduced the gap with the top four. Now the demands are higher than before.”

The result is that more young players are being loaned out. Onomah is at Aston Villa, Carter-Vickers has just swapped his spell with Sheffield United for a period with Ipswich, and the highly rated Marcus Edwards – who won the Under-19 European Championship in the summer – has joined Norwich.

“Marcus is a very talented player but now he is in a moment where he needs to move on to step up,” said Pochettino. “An opportunity has arrived at a very good club like Norwich. I think you can see, they played against Chelsea and they played very good football.

“It’s a great opportunity for him to step up, move there and try in three and a half months to try to get more mature and try to compete, after spending maybe half his life in Tottenham’s academy.

“He now has the possibility to be a man, to be more mature and to help himself to achieve all that we believe he can achieve. It’s a process and, for us, he must be positive.”

Edwards is the second winger to temporarily leave Spurs during this January transfer window, with Georges-Kevin Nkoudou also departing on loan to Burnley.

It remains to be seen whether it is an area Tottenham will seek to improve, either immediately or in the summer.

There is interest in Bordeaux’s Brazilian wide man Malcolm, but Pochettino has stated – not for the first time – that he is not simply searching for speedy attacking players. He joked that, if he was, he would simply sign the fastest man in the world.

“Our football is playing football, it is not counter-attack, it is not transition,” he said. “I think Usain Bolt is free, I think he’s available. But his dream is to play at Manchester United. I feel sorry for him because he’s a Man U fan. It’s impossible to be faster than him.”

Asked specifically about Spurs’ plans with regards to Malcolm, Pochettino replied: “He has been linked with different clubs. I don’t want to speak about players that are in other clubs.”

Instead, Pochettino praised the progress made by one of his summer recruits – right-back Serge Aurier, who is looking like an increasingly suitable replacement for Walker and set up Spurs’ opening goal in last weekend’s 4-0 home win over Everton.

The Ivorian has seemingly moved ahead of Trippier in the pecking order during the festive period and is likely to keep his place against Southampton on Sunday.

“I’m happy with him, his performance and behaviour,” said Pochettino. “The people around the stadium were worried a little bit [when he arrived], after a few things in Paris Saint-Germain, but in six months his behaviour is perfect.

“He adapts himself into the group and the club very well and for me his performances, from the day he made his debut against Dortmund in the Champions League, I am happy about him.

“I remember I said to him [at the start] ‘you are going to have problems if you don’t behave well’. But we’ve had good feelings from the beginning. We had a good chat with him when we signed him and that’s the way it is.”

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