When Tottenham Hotspur F.C. and A.C. Milan took to the U.S. Bank Stadium field on Tuesday ahead of the 1-0 victory for London club Tottenham, 16 of the 22 players who started the game were under the age of 25.
For at least one coach during this International Champions Cup, so many youths and two few stars has been an annoyance.
During this summer preseason U.S. tour as part of ICC tournament, Manchester United coach Jose Mourinho has lamented both the quantity and quality of players at his disposal, with many of his big names still on a break post-World Cup. He’s even called on some to cut their vacations short in order to help the team prepare for the English Premier League opener Aug. 10.
Manchester sent 11 to the World Cup. Tottenham sent 12 and had the most players of any club in the World Cup semifinals at nine. Milan sent eight. But the managers for Tottenham and Milan didn’t fully agree with Mourinho’s complaints.
Tottenham coach Mauricio Pochettino said clubs can’t compromise the physical and psychological well-being of their players, who played competitive soccer for nearly 11 consecutive months. Instead, clubs should grant players time to spend with their friends and families and then just work hard to help them regain their fitness as soon as possible.
“It’s a reality we cannot change,” Pochettino said. “Of course, I understand him. But I’m not complaining. I think we knew that that was going to happen. … It’s difficult to find a resolution because the players need rest, at least 20 days. They are not machines. You cannot negotiate about that.”
Milan manager Gennaro Gattuso said in Italian through a translator that even if the heavy hitters aren’t participating in this ICC tournament, there is still a benefit for the clubs participating and the fans watching.
“Kids are playing to great levels even though there aren’t any real champions, and what that does is, it gives them the opportunity to develop,” Gattuso said, adding he’s just sorry he hasn’t yet been able to play all his young players. “It’s not all about putting out the champions. It’s about giving the kids the opportunity to grow and to experience these levels.
“Even if you see eight-11ths of Barcelona, it’s beautiful to see,” Gattuso said, referring to the 2-2 draw in the tournament on Saturday between FC Barcelona and Tottenham. “The people that came to see the game in Los Angeles I’m sure had a great time. So it’s not to be all thrown away.”
Both Tottenham and Milan orchestrated several exciting chances in the scoreless first half of the exhibition despite relatively inexperienced lineups. Tottenham scored the breakthrough just after halftime in the 47th minute from 23-year-old midfielder Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, who has seen scarce playing time in the EPL.
An announced 31,264 fans turned out. A sellout crowd of 64,101 took in the ICC game two years ago when Chelsea and Milan broke in the new Vikings stadium.
Tottenham defender Cameron Carter-Vickers, 20, said any time young players have the opportunity to play in front of the first-team manager, they have to seize it. Even forward Son Heung-Min, 26, who has played a lot for Tottenham and been to two World Cups with South Korea said this was a big experience to play against top clubs.
Tottenham will travel back to London on Wednesday and welcome its World Cup holdouts back to practice Monday ahead of its league opener Aug. 11. But Pochettino said he came away from this preseason tour happy with how his young players stepped up on and off the pitch.
“They show that they have the potential to one day be consistent on the first team,” he said.