Since the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham Hotspur have quietly grown into a legitimate force to be reckoned with in the Premier League. And during this ascent, scarcely a week has gone by where one of Spurs' crop of young players has not featured in the round-up of the weekend's action.
If Dele Alli has scored a world class golazo, then Harry Kane has proven that he's not a one year wonder for the fifth week in a row. If Ryan Mason hasn't gotten a last minute winner, then Nabil Bentaleb is impressing us all with his poise. If Eric Dier isn't becoming the defensive midfielder England needs, then we're positively drooling over Josh Onomah's potential.
Tottenham Hotspur is experiencing a renaissance built on some of the youngest players in the Premier League. It is a cruel twist of fate that Andros Townsend, the man who started it all, won't be around to reap its rewards.
In the mid 2000s, Tottenham's academy would, on occasion, give us a rare glimpse of a player who would catch our eye with a dash of top flight quality. Jamie O'Hara, Steven Caulker, and Jake Livermore all captured our attention for a brief moment in time. But we all knew, outside of our drunkest moments basking in that post-match victory glow, that these players were not good enough. Tottenham was a club with Champions League ambitions and it seemed that these young players would never amount to more than supplemental income for our transfer budget.
Andros Townsend changed all that.
Townsend has been a part of Spurs since he was eight years old, and devotees of our youth teams whispered about him as the kind of player who just might be a part of Spurs for years to come. When the rest of us first got a chance to see him in action, he wowed us with a debut goal in a Man of the Match performance against Charlton in the FA Cup back in 2011. Subsequent Europa League outings fueled the flames of our excitement, but it was in 2013 when he really grabbed our attention. On loan at Queen's Park Rangers, former manager Harry Redknapp reinvented him as an inside forward, cutting in from the right to devastating effect. For the rest of the season, Townsend terrorized defenses with his pace and a powerful shot. At a time when Spurs were built around a world class attacker who could sprint for days and score goals from thirty yards out, Andros Townsend's future seemed bright as Gareth Bale 2.0. Add in two stellar performances for England that helped them qualify for the 2014 World Cup, and Townsend's future as Spurs' next homegrown star seemed assured.
And then it wasn't. At a time when Andros Townsend should have been the poster-boy for the new Tottenham Hotspur, he instead found himself alone in the cold.
Starting with Tim Sherwood, but really taking root under Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham began to build itself around a core academy prospects, a core from which Andros was notably absent. Players that Townsend grew up with and played alongside in Spurs' youth ranks, such as Harry Kane, Ryan Mason, and Nabil Bentaleb became the centerpiece of the new Tottenham. In Pochettino's second season, even more of Andros' former academy peers like Tom Carroll and the injured Alex Pritchard have finally gotten their shot in the team, while teenagers like Josh Onomah and Harry Winks are earning a place with the squad. Even the club's transfer policy has shifted younger. Gone were the days of veteran signings like Rafa Van Der Vaart and Scott Parker. Instead the club was getting the most out of dynamic young talents like Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen, Eric Dier, and Erik Lamela - all of whom are younger than Andros Townsend.
But despite the new focus on the explosive potential of youth, where was the young man who exploded onto the scene first? At a time when Spurs' trust in youth was paying off in dividends, the man who showed us our first tantalizing glimpses of what younger players could offer us was lost on the sidelines.
You could point to many reasons why this was the case, from managerial turnover to stylistic unsuitability to the fact that maybe he was just never that good in the first place. The precise diagnosis is hard to make. Since 2012, Andros Townsend took 113 shots from open play. 102 of those shots were from outside the box. Was this AVB trying to mold a young Townsend into an English Gareth Bale, or a player who just couldn't understand that shooting from closer to goal was better? Whatever the reason, in 93 appearances for Spurs, he only ever managed to find the back of the net 10 times, and one of those goals was almost certainly supposed to be a cross. His profligacy played him out of the team, and he never seemed to adapt.
Mauricio Pochettino's appointment, whose youth-focused approach should have been a boon for Townsend, proved to be the final nail in his coffin. At first, injuries limited Andros' chances in the Spurs team when a spot was up for grabs. Then, as Spurs came to grips with Pochettino's coordinated pressing play, Townsend either couldn't stay healthy or never seemed to catch on. When he was fit, which wasn't often enough, he could run all day, but that never seemed to translate into the kind of pressing that of Pochettino's system demands.
Last summer, rumors swirled around the English press that Andros wanted to leave the club to find first team minutes, but like the 15 years previous he started the season a Tottenham player. And there was promise in that start. It seemed that a spot in Spurs attacking band was up for grabs between him and Erik Lamela. However, Townsend's luck being what it is, he was denied that final chance at Spurs by injury. Lamela started the season in dreadful form, but due to Townsend's injuries, Lamela was able to play his way through his difficulties and become a vital part of Pochettino's attack. The addition of Heung Min Son, a dynamic, Champions League-proven attacker, has made already scarce minutes even tougher to find to for Townsend. As the season wore on, the academy forward was only able to watch from the bench, until his frustrations boiled over in a public fight with a fitness coach, and exiled him from the first team squad entirely.
It is a testament to the excitement that Andros Townsend once generated that Spurs were able to sell him for more than 12 million pounds after two years of inconsistent and largely unimpressive football and a public scrap with a coach. Even Spurs fans, who have treated far more successful players much more harshly on their way out, are sad to see him go, or at least eager to see him succeed elsewhere.
Once upon a time, Andros Townsend represented the dream of all Spurs fans a bright new tomorrow for Tottenham Hotspur. Today, that future is a reality. The club of young, hungry players we all imagined when we saw Andros bombing up and down at Loftus Road is a reality, and it is better than we could have possibly hoped for.
But for the man who helped make it all possible, it will always be just a dream.