Ryan Mason warns Tottenham youngsters there is ‘no easy route’ to first-team opportunities
Tottenham’s acting head coach Ryan Mason has told the club’s academy players they must earn the right to play for the first-team.
It has been a superb end to the season for Spurs’ youth sides, with their Under-17s and U-18s both winning the Premier League Cup in their age group, raising hopes of another golden generation coming through the academy.
A late bloomer, Mason was one of a crop of young players to break through under Mauricio Pochettino, also including England captain Harry Kane.
Spurs’ have had less success at blooding young players since Pochettino left the club -- although Oliver Skipp is a key player and Japhet Tanganga is part of the squad -- but Mason defended their record and suggested he is not going to give young players an easy route to the first team, despite his history.
“Of course I see the value in the academy and having homegrown players, especially here in England,” Mason said. “We’ve seen in the past the importance of that. But at the same time players have to be good enough. They have to earn that opportunity. That’s the most important message to any young player. They have to work hard. It’s not an easy route to the top, especially at a club of this size.
“Sometimes it can be a long road. My experience shows that. My Premier League debut came at 23. That’s my message, it’s not about me, it’s about the environment and whether academy players can help get results on the pitch.
“That period [under Pochettino] we had players that were ready,” he added. “We had five or six players that had 100 league games under their belt.
“That makes the decision a lot easier. He trusted us but we also earned the right. It’s a fine balancing act. I think every manager would say the same: it’s important you have players from the academy part of the squad. Most clubs do it. It drives certain things, it creates a different energy and feel.
“We have many players from our academy in the squad now. On matchday we have players starting from our academy in our first team. It’s a big thing, it has been a big thing for the last 6 or 7 players and I’m sure going forward that trend will continue.
“It’s good for everyone. The feeling it creates inside, with the fans as well because when you grow up supporting a team you always have that dream you can represent them. As fans we do and if we young players doing that I think it’s great.
“We’ve had that here. We still have that. We have academy players playing in our first team. I don’t know what will happen here but hopefully that trend will continue. But players have to be good enough, work hard and earn the right to wear the shirt.”
Spurs’ U-17s thrashed Nottingham Forest 5-1 at the City Ground last month to win the Premier League Cup and the U-18s matched the feat with a 3-1 win over Aston Villa on Thursday.
“Of course we have hope for many of them but at 16 and 17, it can be a long road and it can be difficult,” Mason continued.
“Sometimes people develop earlier than others and sometimes players seize the moment. Hopefully some of them can make the step up in the coming years. From a timescale point of view, it is very difficult to put a time on it but historically this football club has always valued that and we continue to do that now.
“It is part of being at this football club and you need to understand and feel that as a player there will be competition, so you need to be the best version of you every day and keep improving. That is not just for our academy boys but also our first-team lads. That is part of playing for Tottenham.
“In terms of that pathway or route, I don’t believe a pathway exists in academy football, I just believe you have to work hard, be the best player and continue to be the best player and hopefully make an impact on first-team coaches. That has always got to be the plan and hopefully our players can do that.”