Should Spurs learn from Belgium?

Belgium are 5th favourites for the World Cup yet they are not one of the major leagues, not one of the major countries, only have 34 professional clubs and a population of 11 million.

Should Spurs learn from Belgium?


How can they then produce such a stellar cast of names? Thibaut Courtois (Atletico Madrid, on loan from Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Toby Alderweireld (Atlético Madrid), Vincent Kompany (Manchester City), Daniel Van Buyten (Bayern Munich), Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal), Jan Vertonghen, Nacer Chadli, Moussa Dembélé (Tottenham), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Kevin De Bruyne (Wolfsburg), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Adnan Januzaj (Manchester United), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Kevin Mirallas (Everton) and of course a player missing our Christian Benteke (Aston Villa).

What do they do that Spurs may learn from?

Their secret is they focused on youth. Michel Sablon, Belgian federation technical director formulated a blueprint that Bob Browaeys, who has coached Belgium youth teams at every level, played a major part in putting together.

“You have to know that at the end of the 90s in Belgium, they all played with individual marking, sometimes with a sweeper, it was 4-4-2, it was even 3-5-2, we got a lot of results with our A team, because we played very organised. But it was defensive, a culture of counter-attack."

The blueprint proposed that every club adopt 4-3-3 for their youth teams to produce a totally different type of player.

“It was a massive shift but we believed that 4-3-3, at that moment, was the strongest learning environment for our players. We felt that we had to develop dribbling skills, we said at the heart of our vision was 1v1, the duel. We said when a boy or girl wants to start playing football, you must offer first the dribble, let them play freely.”

This change was only accepted because a study had filmed 1,500 youth matches and statistics showed that children playing at under 8 and under 9 level only touched the ball twice in 30 minutes. That is just the sort of analysis Tottenham need to be undertaking, if they are not doing so already. The club certainly has to play the same way right the way through the academy with the emphasis on developing the player.

Now whether you do that through training or through playing and learning is a debatable point. In Spain they learn through playing and produce team players more aware of their surroundings, players more able to read a game and therfore anticipate rather than react.

The Belgian studies agreed that one of the main problems was the same problem we have over here, that winning was more important than developing the player. All that does is make teams concentrate on the more developed players and neglect the rest. In that system if you are born at the wrong time of year, around April, then you are physically weaker in the school year and would be the weaker link in a team, thus you would see less of the ball. Lionel Messi was born in April, how would he have fared in that system?

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In Belgium they had to overcome the same problem people have here. When they introduced 4-3-3 results suffered and the dissenting voices were heard, development had taken on more importance than winning but at the first hurdle people wanted to give up.

Tottenham have employed a new manager with a history of youth development. That development needs to stretch all the way through the club and a new Head of Player Development needs to be appointed to build on the excellent work Tim Sherwood did. That appointment and that of the Head Coach need to be long term, they must be given time to implement new ideas.

If Belgium had given up they wouldn't have produced the generation of talent they now have.

Tottenham need to take that same long term approach, with a uniform playing style that has an emphasis on development all the way through the youth ranks.

Does it change with each new manager? Does it remain the same despite what each new manager would like? One reason I was in the Frank de Boer corner was bringing Dutch thinking to White Hart Lane, not just for the first team but throughout the coaching structure of the club.

I'd like to know how deep his appointment will go within the club or will he be restricted to the first team and the development squad. If that is the case then the appointment of the new Head of Player Development takes on an even more important role.



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