At the time of writing this, Gareth Bale only within the past hour and a bit was stretchered off the pitch, rolling his ankle horribly at the close of Tottenham's Europa League tie against FC Basel. It's currently unclear exactly how long this development will sideline him for, but it seems pretty much a certainty that the Welsh wizard won't be featuring for the side for at least another few ties.
This state of affairs leaves Andre Villas-Boas in something of a pickle as Spurs hurtle towards the climax of the season. Bale's injury, along with the question marks hanging over the match-readiness of Aaron Lennon who was also hauled off during the Basel game in what was hopefully a precautionary benching, leaves him with no natural wide players left in the side--though Gylfi Sigurdsson, Lewis Holtby and Mousa Dembele have been repurposed there in recent weeks, it seems pretty clear that none of them are at their best away from the centre of the pitch. The same could even be said for Clint Dempsey, who has been utilized mainly as a withdrawn forward since signing for Spurs. And even if a coherent formation can be fudged out of the shuffling of these players, it seems pretty likely the the resulting beast will probably only limp through some important final fixtures with everyone used in unfamiliar roles.
Perhaps, however, whistling a cheery farewell tune to Tottenham's hopes of finishing in the top four whilst making plans for imminent self-immolation might not be necessary quite yet. There remains, perhaps, one important figure within the Spurs setup who could possibly come into the side and do a job for Spurs whilst allowing the rest of the team's key players to remain in the positions which suit them best. That man is the youngster declared too hot for Barcelona at a young age (in my mind anyways) and shipped off to instigate a quiet revolution in this year's rampantly successful Spurs U21 side, Cristian Ceballos.
At 20 years old, Ceballos is yet to have been shipped off on one of Tottenham's trademark loans to a lower league side, usually the last stage for players soon to start making taking strides towards first team action (though, as the cases of John Bostock and Dean Parrett illustrate, this is far from a universal rule). He hasn't even played minutes for the team at a senior level. On the face of it, throwing him straight into a Champions League-chasing run of fixtures seems like total insanity.
Before settling with this conclusion, however, contemplate for a minute the ways in which AVB could utilize the versatile youngster to prop up the rest of the team. A naturally left-footed player, Ceballos has shown over the past two years that he is best deployed cutting in from the right as an inside forward. In slotting him in in that position, AVB would be able to use Gylfi Sigurdsson on the left flank, where he has at least been passably effective in 2013, as a crossing-winger/inside forward double threat and Lewis Holtby in the middle of the park as a natural number 10. Perhaps having a proper creator rather than a second forward playing off behind him might even help Emmanuel Adebayor to pick up from where he left off with the goal that sparked Tottenham's resurgence tonight. Mousa Dembele would be able to put in his usual shift carrying the ball forward from deep, and Clint Dempsey is kept in reserve to deploy if a late garbage goal is needed.
Then there's the factor of Ceballos' form. With his goal in Tottenham's recent defeat of Liverpool, the Spaniard took his tally for the U21s this season to 13, having also chipped in with 8 assists. This impressive record speaks to how much of a focused and deadly goal threat Ceballos has been for the juniors in recent weeks coming in from wide angles, a factor that would be incredibly important for anyone entering the side to replace Bale. Put bluntly, without the Welshman producing his moments of magic, this Spurs side has never really looked likely to dig out many goals against all manner of opponents- bringing a new forward into the side who has consistently proven himself hungry to find the net thus surely couldn't hurt.
This is the part, I imagine, where if I was relaying all of these ideas to most of the posters here in real life, someone would put a fatherly Redknapp-like arm around my shoulder and say with a rueful smile: "that's all lovely. But you said it yourself at the very start that Ceballos hasn't even made a debut for Spurs yet. It's just fantasy that he could come into the side and play well right away". All I can say in response is that I remember forming a similar assessment of another manager who gambled on handing a debut to a youngster at an unbelievably important moment of last season- Roberto Di Matteo, who gave Ryan Bertrand his first Champions League game in the final of the whole competition last May. Out of position, no less.
The results then spoke for themselves. It's acrid to even say as a Spurs fan now, but Di Matteo gambled then on an energetic, promising starlet who allowed him to field the team he needed to field at the time when it came to the crunch. It paid off. Maybe in light of that utilizing Ceballos, one of the jewels of Tottenham's best U21 crop for many, many years, might not seem like such a crazy idea after all.