Our young right back is knocking on the door of the first team. After a mixed year on loan at Millwall, what does next season have in store?
Who is he?
Adam James Smith is a 22 year-old right back from London who's been capped for England at every level from U-16 to U-21. He first burst onto the stage as a 16 year old, starring for the Spurs U-16 and U-18 side and even got called in to play with the reserve team (basically the equivalent of our U-21 side now). He went on to sign his first professional contract with the club in 2008 and after another excellent U-18 season, Smith has spent the bulk of his Spurs career out on loan.
He had solid spells at League Two sides Wycombe and Torquay before getting his chance in League One with Bournemouth in 2010. He immediately became a fixture in the side, racking up 42 appearances for the club. He had another successful loan spell at MK Dons the first half of the 2011-12 season, before he was moved on to Leeds in January to have his first crack at the Championship. Unfortunately for Smith, Simon Grayson, the manager who signed him, was sacked almost immediately thereafter, and playing time looked limited. Coupled with an injury to Walker back home, Spurs decided to recall him prematurely from his loan.
Last season was almost a breakout year for the youngster. Over the first half of the season, he excelled on loan at promotion-chasing Championship side Millwall. He flourished as their starting right back and even notched a game-winning goal. His strong form prompted inquiries from Roberto Martinez to take him to Wigan for the second half of the season, but consistent playing time must have been more important to the Spurs coaching staff and he stayed at Millwall. But rather than push on, he had one game of derpitude, and that was basically the end of his time at Millwell. Coach Kenny Jackett never seemed to forgive the mistake, and decided to barely let him see the pitch over the rest of the campaign.
(Karma being what she is, Millwall only won 5 of their last 23 games and nearly got relegated, prompting Jackett's resignation at the end of the season. Serves you right. Nobody likes you, Millwall)
What can he do?
He's basically good at all the things Kyle Walker was so bad at to begin the season, and bad at all the things Walker was good at, like being really fast. I've described Smith in the past as being excellent without looking spectacular. And I mean this in the best way possible. He doesn't have the pure physical attributes of Walker and isn't going to blow anybody away with barnstorming runs up the right flank (though he does have a penchant for the occasional wonder-strike). Where Adam Smith really excels is his intelligence and positioning. He reads the game phenomenally well on both sides of the pitch. He plays with his head up and always seems to know what he's going to do with the ball before he receives it. He passes incisively and generally makes the right decision in possession.
Lacking the recovery pace of Walker, he compensates for it by making better decisions and making sure he is in the right place at the right time. But when he does get caught out upfield, he's not going to win a footrace against many EPL wingers and he will be punished for it. He's solid defensively, but he's not as strong in the challenge or as good of a technical ball winner as Walker is.
Where can he go?
Before Walker turned his season around with an amazing finish, I was ready to bring Smith into the first team in January. Now that Walker seems to have sorted out his mistakes, Smith's opportunities look limited. He can play on the left to some extent, and it may be that his role next year is similar to what Kyle Naughton's was this past season while we sell off Naughton who will be 25 in November. If he's not happy to be a backup, a Premier League loan would suit him well. He could start for almost any team outside the top six and it would be a wonderful chance for us to see just what he's capable of, or at the very least put him in the shop window.
Smith is very unfortunate to be at a club with one of the best young fullback talents in the world right now, because he's already a Premier League caliber player. He's a permanent fixture in the England U-21s and typically outshines his Premier League colleagues (though to be fair, you or I could outshine Jordan Henderson and Jonjo Shelvey). This season we'll see if he has what it takes to compete for a first team spot with Walker, or possibly prepare to let him go as he looks for a chance to become a first team player in an EPL side.