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Ray Lo's introduction to Spurs' Youth football 2013-14
Courtesy of:- Ray Lo, and the Spurs List
[e-mail Ray Lo]

Ray Lo's introduction to Spurs' Youth football 2013-14

The Academy

Last year the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP), introduced by the FA and Premier League, meant the overhaul of the Youth training set-up in English football. It was not for everyone, but was designed to develop the best talent through to the first team. It introduced a classification system of training grounds rewarding those that had better facilities for youth development. All those in the top Class could play in the Premier Academy League and also the new Premier U-21 league.

Small clubs could not afford the costs of getting the accreditation so it was left to the top 22 clubs to form the new league, whilst the remainder went into a lower level league. Like athletics, the better the club performs, the more money they get. This will increase the gulf between the top and the bottom, driving more boys to go to the top clubs for the best training.

While Spurs run teams from under-8s upwards, the Academy sign up boys from the age of 16 calling them “scholars”. They are sent to school or college, as they are now known. I have seen them enrolling at Southgate College in North London where they receive a full education alongside football.

Under the umbrella of the Premier League, clubs complete in an under-18 league competition with an under-16 group playing alongside them. (Child protection controls prevent spectators watching the younger group games and no information is released.) There have been continued changes to the set-up of the league over the last couple of years.

The biggest change happened some time ago when they moved from U-17 and U-19 leagues (which is standard all over Europe) to the current age groups. The lads get their first contract at aged 17, which appears younger than in the rest of Europe as clubs there complain about the poaching of their young talent.

The Premier League trumpeted a new set-up last season under the EPPP which was so successful that changes have been made for this season. Last season they moved from regional to national groups. This season we are back to regional groups with a north and south group of eleven teams. The clubs play each group member at home and away while they will play each team from the other group once (either home or away), before the top two in each group play off to find the overall league champion.

The change means most clubs will play five more games than they did last year. Without doubt this will mean that clubs will be using more of their younger lads to make up their under-18 sides during the season which will affect the quality of the football, but will benefit the bigger clubs with larger squads.

Last season Spurs just missed out on qualifying for the play-offs for the finals when they had to play their last two games within 24 hours. They beat Sunderland on a Friday but lost to WBA the following day. (Sunderland took the last place by a point).

Having seen a pre-season friendly at Hotspur Way, and also going to see the Eurofoot tournament in Belgium, I can say that Spurs will continue playing 4-3-3 and the players to look out for include Cameron Carter-Vickers, Filip Lesniak, Anthony Georgiou and Emmanuel Sonupe.

Games are played on Saturday mornings and are open to the public although some clubs restrict access to their training grounds. Most clubs complete in tournaments at different times of the year around the world, where they play teams from other countries to gain better experience. I have seen them play in Germany, Northern Ireland and most recently at Eurofoot in Belgium. This December Spurs are off to Mexico and the US. Alas I cannot go as it is in the middle of the season. These are usually U-17 or U-19 tournaments which means that Spurs tend to field young teams.

· This season's Under 18 fixtures

The Under-21 Team

The U-21 format this season has also changed from last season. This season it will also be different from the U-18s. This season all 22 teams will play each other once – either at home or away. This will be a total of only 21 matches, which is five less than last season. Last season, the U-21 competition was played in two stages with Spurs winning both stages comfortably before losing out to Manchester United in the final of the play-offs.

Most of the players who played last season can play this year, although they are likely to go out on loan. Some have already been loaned out. Having watched four Spurs XI friendly matches they look well set for the coming season with Shaquile Coulthirst likely to become the main striker, stepping up from the Academy.

The first game of this season has already been played with Spurs beating Chelsea 4-2 away at Aldershot. Spurs have not fixed up a stadium to play their home matches in yet so have listed Hotspur Way as the home venue. This should change as the League rules are designed to ensure stadiums are used. Spurs have home advantage against the gooners and both Manchester clubs and also Everton. The gooners and United will play at White Hart Lane. The only tricky away games are Liverpool, Southampton and the long trip to the north east for Sunderland.

Having already beaten Chelsea, it looks good for us again this season. Matches are mainly played on Friday or Monday evening. At Hotspur Way the games are around midday. The day and times of fixtures means I can get to most of the games.

· This season's Under 21 fixtures

The NextGen Series.

This private initiative, masterminded by Mark Warburton, started with the support of the FA and UEFA as a competition to give young players experience in playing European Cup football, sampling all the travelling and different lifestyles of the countries visited.

The tournament has led to some games being played in front of crowds at stadia to give the youngsters experience for when they play in their respective first teams. The sponsors were from Qatar who pay travel and hotel expenses, which helped get it off the ground.

The finals in the first year were to be in Qatar but Manchester City's failure to get out of the group stage led to the final being played at Griffin Park, Brentford. Last year the tournament expanded from 16 teams to 24 with the future prospect of having 32 teams including a couple from the middle east.

Spurs have reached the last 8 in both of the last two years beating Inter Milan 7-1 and Barcelona 4-0 on the way. This was an U-19 competition but because of its success UEFA has muscled in with their own European U-19 competition so the NextGen organisers have decided upon an U-20 tournament.

At the time of writing (15.08.13), we are still waiting for the fixtures to be released and will have to see how the UEFA competition will affect this year's event. Spurs will play a mix of U-18 and U-21 squad players in this competition. Matches are usually played on a Wednesday.

Some games were played at White Hart Lane but most were at Hotspur Way during the day. Originally Orient's ground was the venue but they pulled out due to the un-economic kick-off time. When Spurs sort out an U-21 venue then these games should be played there in the evenings as well. Alex Pritchard was our outstanding player last season. I will have to check dates against our Europa League fixtures in case of clashes, unless they are in the same city or country.

Latest news stories suggest this series has been suspended through lack of funding

· Nextgen games will be included here when known.

Ray

· An extensive archive of Spurs Odyssey Youth match reports can be found here

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