One of the unexpected advantages of Tottenham Hotspur leaving its biggest stars at home during their trip to Melbourne for the International Champions Cup was that Spurs fans got a good look at a lot of reserve and youth players. The spots that normally would go to Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Toby Alderweireld, and Danny Rose went instead to Shayon Harrison, Harry Winks, Marcus Edwards, and Cameron Carter-Vickers, among others.
We know that Mauricio Pochettino is not averse to giving promising youth players a chance with the first team if they deserve it. In narrow losses against Juventus and Atletico Madrid, we got to see lots of players in action that we normally don’t get a chance to see. However, not all of Spurs’ youngsters are going to play a role this year. Which ones might have played their way into getting a roster number this year?
I’ll order them from most likely to least.
We’ve seen what Onomah is capable of doing already in his substitute appearances last season. He’s an ambitious and capable attacking midfielder, and although there was talk that Poche might try him out as a central midfielder, it appears his Tottenham future lies in the forward attacking band. Joshy looked pretty good in Melbourne, and it came on the heels of an excellent U19 Euros where he helped England progress to the semifinals.
There isn’t much that Onomah can learn on loan that he can’t learn as a reserve member of a Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League. Even with Georges-Kevin N’Koudou coming in, the likely departure of Clinton N’Jie and possible departure of Nacer Chadli might provide an opening for Onomah to get some serious minutes this year. He’s earned them.
Winksy might just be the surprise player of the preseason. While he made his Tottenham debut last year, two composed performances in central midfield in Melbourne just might have shot him up the midfield depth chart. He looks like he’s filled out significantly from last year to this year, and while you can certainly poke holes in his game based on the small sample size, he came in and immediately stabilized the midfield against Juventus and helped run the show against Atletico.
Winks is well behind Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Eric Dier, and Ryan Mason, but if I’m honest he one-upped Mason in the pivot. Saying that he’s ready for the Champions League is probably a stretch, but he’s a heck of a lot closer than this time last year and I can definitely see him playing a major role in the cups.
CCV had a dubious start to his Tottenham first team debut, conceding two goals while playing beside Dominic Ball against Juventus. That aside, he grew into the Juventus match and held his own against a much better Atletico Madrid side. Playing alongside Ball and Anton Walkes probably didn’t give Tottenham fans the best opportunity to see him at his best. That said, you can see that, despite his diminutive side for a center back, he has a good set of skills and a high potential. I really wonder if his abilities would be heightened playing alongside someone like Kevin Wimmer.
Even so, he’s probably at best Spurs’ 5th best central defender, and with players ahead of him that can slot in as an emergency defender, I don’t see him making much of an impact with Tottenham this year. He needs a good loan and a lot of first team minutes for a bottom-half Premier League or good Championship side that will play him every week. With Jan Vertonghen getting older, another year or two of seasoning and I think he comes in and makes a statement.
“Messi with an Afro” has been in Spurs news a fair amount lately. Earlier, it was due to reports that he was holding out on signing a professional contract with the club as he was weighing his options. Now, reports are he’s signed for Spurs, but with a guarantee that he gets first team training opportunities and match time.
Edwards had cameos in both of Spurs’ preseason games and you could immediately see his potential. He’s incredibly quick on the ball and has a great deal of dribbling ability. He’s also very short, with a low center of gravity, and quite raw, especially at this level of competition. Against Juventus he seemed ready to dribble straight at opposition defenders whether or not there were players open for a pass. Against Atletico he was a lot more reserved, but also didn’t make much of an impact.
Edwards is still the crown jewel of the academy. He needs minutes to improve, but somehow I don’t see him heading out on loan. His high ceiling makes me think Spurs may want to keep him close to the club’s vest, training him in Pochettino’s methods instead of letting him learn the trade on loan at another club. Expect him to stay, and get minutes in the early cup rounds.
Dominic Ball was an important part of the Rangers squad that finally earned promotion back to the Scottish Premier League this past season while on loan, but he wasn’t especially impressive for Spurs in the preseason. His give-away directly led to Juventus’ first goal in Melbourne, and he looked out of sync for much of the match beside Carter-Vickers (though, in fairness, he did get better as the match went on). Tellingly, Pochettino opted to start Anton Walkes in his place against Atletico Madrid. That said, Rangers fans LOVED him and would gladly welcome him back.
While Ball played mostly CB in Spurs’ academy, I still wonder if his best position isn’t as a defensive midfielder. However, the signing of Victor Wanyama and the play of Harry Winks means that another loan is probably likely for Dominic. Heading to the Championship would be a step up from the Scottish Premier League, and since he’s only 20 he has plenty of time to improve and earn his way into Spurs’ first team squad. But he did himself no favors in Oz.
Harrison is considered one of the more promising prospects to come out of this current generation of Spurs’ academy. While he only got 30+ minutes in Melbourne against Juventus in the second half, he did provide the assist for Erik Lamela’s goal, and that’s nothing to sneeze at. He scored nine goals with the U21s last season, travelled with the team on a couple of Europa League jaunts, has been training with the first team, and looks like he’s ready to make a step up. Even so, he’s well behind both Kane and Janssen, and it’s hard to see him preferred even in an emergency to Son Heung-Min up top, but he’s got the tools to be a potentially exciting impact player in future seasons. Send him off on loan to League One and see what he can do.
Tottenham’s website says Anton Walkes is a defensive midfielder, but he played the full 90 minutes in central defense beside Cameron Carter-Vickers and not only held his own, he did quite well. If I’m honest, I don’t know what to make of Walkes, or what his Tottenham future looks like. I do know, however, that I would be quite surprised if he were to progress into the first team this season considering the players that are ahead of him. A loan? Sure, why not! However, at age 19, Spurs may opt to keep him around to anchor the U21s for another season and see what he can do in a year. He might make the bench for an early round cup match, though.
The other surprise for Tottenham in the two preseason matches, Oliver-Twist-turned-footballer Will Miller got a surprise start at left back against Juventus. Usually a midfielder, he’s a name that most Tottenham fans probably hadn’t heard unless they follow the academy a lot. He’s well respected in the youth setup and was Tottenham’s U21 captain last year.
Miller was surprisingly competent being played out of position, showing a good ability going forward even with a few defensive hiccups, but there’s no doubt his minutes came because Spurs didn’t bring any natural LBs to Melbourne. Left back isn’t exactly a position of need, and Miller really isn’t a fullback anyway, so it’s difficult to say what this means for him. I doubt he features in any meaningful way for Spurs’ first team this year, but his two solid performances in Australia certainly didn’t hurt his cause.
Which former youth players can you see breaking through into the Tottenham Hotspur first team this season? Have your say in the comments.