Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing and ranking the top 15 youth prospects at Tottenham Hotspur to see which players have the best potential to follow players like Harry Kane, Ryan Mason, Andros Townsend, and Nabil Bentaleb into the Tottenham first team. The rules for inclusion are as follows:
- The player had to be 21 or under on January 1, 2015
- The player cannot have seen significant match time with Tottenham's first team
Next on our list is 17-year-old attacker Ismail Azzaoui.
Who is he?
Ismail Azzaoui is a product of the Anderlecht Academy, the same one that produced Adnan Januzaj, who joined Tottenham in 2014 when he turned 16. He's a Belgium youth international who has represented his country at the U-15, U-16, and U-17 levels. In fact, he played for Belgium's U-17 team at this summer's UEFA U-17 Championships, where his team lost in the semifinals to eventual champion France. Azzaoui was the competition's fourth leading scorer with three goals.
At Spurs, Azzaoui has played mostly for the U-18's, but did make three appearances in the U-21 Premier League, playing less than seventy total minutes, but nabbing an assist in the process.
What can he do?
The Tottenham website lists Azzaoui as a left winger, but since joining Spurs he's been playing mostly as a right winger or striker. Azzaoui has a great eye for goal and plenty of pace. Since he's played primarily for the U-18's there aren't readily accessible stats to go with the match reports the team posts or various YouTube highlights. That said, every time I see Azzaoui I come away more and more impressed with his skill level.
Azzaoui is the kind of hard-working, pacy inside forward that could, ideally, thrive in current manager Mauricio Pochettino's system. While we mostly have matches against his peers to go on, Azzaoui looks to be well ahead of them in terms of his reading of the game. He often makes intelligent runs from the flank to get in behind defenders. Once he receives the ball in those positions, his touch is good enough to allow him to get into space for a shot.
Watching his highlights, he strikes me as somewhat different than Andros Townsend or Nacer Chadli. He seems to be a combination of a lot of their good attributes. The pace, and dribbling of Townsend, mixed with the intelligent runs and finishing inside the box of Chadli. If he can avoid developing some bad habits, like taking speculative shots from distance, and improve upon his current attribute set, then he could become quite good.
Where can he go?
Azzaoui won't be 18 until January, so he's gotten to this point based largely on the potential he has displayed playing against his peers. He's not Cameron Carter-Vickers who is playing well against players significantly older than him, but Azzaoui has look sufficiently better than other players his age to say that he has a pretty high ceiling.
For Azzaoui, this season probably represents a big turning point. If he sees more regular playing time with the U-21 team, then we'll have a better idea of just where he's headed. The biggest things going in Azzaoui's favor is that there aren't a lot of other inside-forward-type attacking wings at the club. Sure, Kenny McEvoy is still at Spurs, but he's getting older. Other wide players are more creative or are simply strikers being forced to play wide. Azzaoui can already play on either wing and has demonstrated that he could, possibly, fill the "Jay Rodriguez role" for Spurs.
I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that Azzaoui could follow the Alex Pritchard/Tom Carroll development track over the course of the next few years. At 22 and 23 years old respectively, those two players look set to take on roles in the Premier League. Azzaoui has five years to get to that point and I don't see any reason why he can't make it there.