Back by popular demand, Cartilage Free Captain is again reviewing and ranking the top 10 youth prospects at Tottenham Hotspur to see which players have the best potential to follow current players like Harry Kane and Harry Winks, and former Spurs players like Nabil Bentaleb, Ryan Mason, and Andros Townsend into the Tottenham first team. The rules for inclusion are as follows:
- The player had to be 21 or under on January 1, 2017
- The player cannot have seen significant match time with Tottenham's first team
Today, we examine the joint-fourth best Tottenham Hotspur prospect, striker Kazaiah Sterling.
Who is he?
Two years ago, we rated a then-16 year old Kazaiah Sterling the 13th best prospect in the academy. He’s rocked up the charts since then after some truly outstanding performances in the Spurs U18 and U19 levels, and he just cracked into Spurs’ U23 squad, an impressive feat for an 18 year old. Sterling is listed on various websites as 5’7” but I think that’s wrong. He plays a lot taller than that, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he’s grown since those stats were recorded. Fast, dangerous, and great with the ball at his feet, Sterling is turning heads in Tottenham’s academy for his striking ability and goal tally.
What can he do?
For the past few seasons, probably by virtue of his age, Sterling was seen as the less talented of the two main academy strikers in the system, behind Shayon Harrison. That perception seems to be changing. Sterling has a tireless motor and very good attacking instincts, and he parlayed that into a number of fine goals for Spurs in the FA Youth Cup, taking them to the semifinals of the competition. He parlayed that into his first start with the U23s in May against Sunderland, and scored in that match, too.
He was invited to attend Tottenham’s post-season friendly match against Kitchee SC in Hong Kong. He came in as a late match substitute, and promptly did this:
Sterling is absolutely deadly with the ball at his feet, and has a real poacher’s instinct. He’s generally deployed in a central forward position but has the ability to play all across the front line. He also has very good instincts when he doesn’t have the ball, able to make runs to get himself into good positions to receive the ball and put a shot on target. He loves a late run into the box, and he’s a tireless competitor.
If he has a weakness, it might be in composure — several reports state that he can be a little wobbly when he gets one on one with defenders — but that’s something that can be improved with time and training, and it’s likely that he’ll have plenty of both.
Where can he go?
Sterling is one of those players who has all the tools in the toolbox to be an excellent striker in the future. He’s fast, he’s strong, he has a nose for goal, and he has the ability to create his own shot. Does that sound a bit like Harry Kane? Maybe it should.
Pochettino clearly thinks that Spurs is the perfect place for Sterling to develop, because Kane is a ready-made mentor for him. Poch has name-dropped Sterling a couple of times, too — just this past spring, Poch singled out Sterling as one of the players who he said would be with the first team squad and whom would benefit from training with Harry Kane.
"I prefer to have our young players here and offer them the potential to be first-team players than send them out on loan. But if you do not get the opportunities, like Harry Kane, to be involved with the first team, it is best to move and go. But when you give those players the opportunity to train with the senior squad, that is an even better experience. One example is Kazaiah Sterling. Next season he will be here and means every day there is an U18 striker training with Kane. There is no better teacher to learn from."
I’m not sure Kazaiah is a Kane clone — he needs to get stronger and doesn’t really seem to have Kane’s ability to hold up play — but Poch is right that when it comes to scoring goals and finishing, there’s no better teacher for Sterling than Kane. The good news is that Sterling has a couple of years in which he can learn at the feet of the master.
When the 2017-18 numbers were released last week, Sterling didn’t receive one. That’s not important, though: he doesn’t need to be registered and could feature any time Spurs want to call him up. It may be a while before we see Kazaiah feature in any meaningful way for Spurs, though. It looks like he’s made the jump to the U23s — he started Friday’s PL 2 match against Sunderland and scored Spurs’ only goal in a 2-1 loss. However, it also wouldn’t surprise me if we see him make the bench in an early round Carabao Cup match if Spurs draw a minnow.
There’s no need to rush him, though. Youth development is a crap shoot, and there’s no reason to throw him in the deep end quite yet. He’s got time to work on his skills and work up the ladder. He’s gifted enough that Spurs could have themselves a real diamond in the rough with Kazaiah Sterling.