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Thursday, 28 July 2016

Under-21 football isn't about winning

Under-21 football isn't about winning

There is an interesting point made on a Spurs forum which shows the difference between how a fan thinks, despite what they may say, and how a club thinks, or a coach thinks.

Someone said they were surprised Ugo Ehiogu was retained as the Under-21 coach as results and performances were poor, plus too great an emphasis on criticism.

His primary role is not to win football matches or produce quality performances, although there is no harm in doing so, but to develop players. Barcelona B were relegated from Segunda Division in 2014/15 having finished third the previous season. Last season they finished 11th in Segunda B. Player development in Spain is far more important than team results.

Therein lies the difference between coaches and fans. Fans think you have to be winning games or producing performances to develop players, you don't. In Spain for instance, a player plays in each position during his development, a centre-back will play as a striker to give him an understanding of the role, obviously at a lower level than Under-21 football. We have just played against Juventus where we saw 20-year-old William Miller, an attacking midfielder, playing at left-back.

Players learn from making mistakes, you can't learn if you don't make mistakes so how you perform under pressure is more important than how you perform if you are simply winning every game. It can have great benefits for a coach to break up a winning team and throw on other youngsters to make the players think instead of going through the motions effectively, with players they have formed a strong unit with.

In other games, you will ask them to concentrate on specific areas within the overall game. That might be asking a defensive midfielder to block off opponents, put a leg across them so they go to ground. You are asking them to learn to make fouls and find out what is acceptable and what isn't. That may involve them getting a red card if they get it wrong. That in itself is a useful exercise because now as a coach you see the other 10 under pressure, how do they cope, do they go into their shell, do they drop back and defend or do they still have belief in themselves. Players will react differently which will upset the system perhaps, again, how do they cope with that.

I have always found Ehiogu to raise points that the lads need to work on, what they need to take from games and seen no problem with his communication through the media at all. Those fans taking that as criticism are placing a wrong emphasis on it. Of course, youngsters sometimes need criticism, you want to see how they react to it as a coach, again it is a valuable educational tool.

Let's face it the Spurs crowd are going to criticise when a mistake is made and you want to know how a player is going to mentally react under pressure. Is he going to only think of himself, is he going to blow a fuse like Andros Townsend or is he going to get too big for his boots, arguably the Bentaleb problem when demanding massive wages.

It isn't all about what you do on the football field, you have to develop the character and the mentality of youngsters. Tottenham are not the charity some fans think. When you go to the first team you have to prove yourself in training every day, if you don't you don't play. To suggest a player hasn't been given a chance, like people say of Alex Pritchard, is nonsense, he is training in front of Pochettino every day, he is showing him what he can do and it isn't enough.

Youth footballers breaking into the first team is a cut throat business. It's fine when there are not many of you, you'll get chances, but the bigger the pool the fewer opportunities you are going to get and the more important it is you make an impression. That impression might simply be that you can be trusted to produce a competent display in a position at first. That will build trust with the coach and afford you further opportunities. When a coach doesn't trust you or doesn't know what you will produce he has a problem, as putting you on the field is a risk to the other 10 and can have a detrimental affect on the system and thus result.

Under-21 football is all about development, it isn't about winning a trophy or putting out your best XI each game. The initial remark from a fan about poor results demonstrates a fan looking at matters in the wrong light.


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