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’s rating is somewhat ironic, because he’s the man of the hour, fresh off of a Man of the Match performance in his Premier League debut. It’s Kyle Walker-Peters.
Who is he?
If you don’t know who Kyle Walker-Peters is by now, you’ve been under a rock. A true north London native, Walker-Peters is a 20-year old right back and the product of a complicated and top secret cloning operation once lodged underneath Spurs Lodge. (The process was clearly not perfected until now based on the disastrous Kenny “Baby Bale” McAvoy experiment.)
Walker-Peters made his Spurs first team debut in 2015 during the team’s post-season tour to Malaysia and Australia in Mauricio Pochettino’s first season in charge. He’s been starting games for Spurs’ U23s since he was 17, and until this season regularly played in the Premier League 2. Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino has been a big admirer of his play, and KWP signed an improved contract with the club in February that will keep him a Spurs player until 2019.
This summer Kyle was one of two Tottenham players (along with Josh Onomah) to be selected in England’s U20 World Cup winning squad, where he played every match out of position at left back and earned accolades for his play.
The departure of the proto-Kyle, Kyle Walker, to Manchester City and the preseason injury to Kieran Trippier opened up an opportunity for KWP, and he seized it with both hands, starting and playing 90 minutes in his Premier League debut this past Sunday and earning the Man of the Match award.
What can he do?
Walker-Peters isn’t tall — he’s generously listed as 5’6” — but what he lacks in stature he makes up for in speed and guile. He’s probably fairly considered an offensively inclined fullback and one of his strengths is his ability to push forward and take on opponents with the ball at his feet.
KWP started his football career as an attacker. That’s pretty evident from his play this summer at the World Cup -- even out of position, Kyle was very progressive with the ball, constantly making runs, dribbling forward when he received the ball, and looking for outlets amongst his teammates whenever possible. When he plays against his age group peers you’ll often see Kyle receive the ball, instinctively try and take the ball up the field, and go straight at defenders, and he has the skill with the ball to be able to do that on a pretty regular basis.
When given time on the ball, Kyle also has a pretty nice cross, and he has the ability to put some really pinpoint lofted passes into the box for players to run onto. Kyle’s defense is also pretty solid — he’s not going to muscle anyone off the ball anytime soon, but he has decent positional instincts and at least in the U20 World Cup matches I’ve seen a decent ability to put in a tackle when needed.
He doesn’t have the raw speed of Kyle Walker or the crossing ability of Kieran Trippier, but he’s a pretty cromulent hybrid, with a lot of room yet to grow and develop.
Where can he go?
One of the unusual things about KWP is that we have an actual Premier League match that we can use to critique his play. Usually with young prospects we’re intuiting based upon underage squad or international matches, or reserve performances against players that are either reserve players themselves or very young. But while the sample size is small, we have 90 minutes of football against Newcastle that we can look at, and that’s pretty neat!
Kyle was thrown to the wolves a bit against Toon, and it’s a little surprising that he managed such a good match in his debut when he had Christian Atsu running straight at him for large portions of the game. Kyle didn’t play with the same sort of abandon that you see in the highlight video above — it was fairly conservative play, which was probably the right decision in his Premier League debut. And while he got beaten a couple of times by Atsu, who is a handful even for an experienced right back, KWP didn’t look overawed by the occasion or the situation. The Man of the Match award was probably an overreaction (Christian Eriksen and Mousa Dembele were better), but it’s not hard to look at his play, shrug, and say “Yeah, I guess I can see that.” The lad earned it.
Video: Joe Patrick
Here’s where we have to be careful about Walker-Peters’ future. There’s every indication that he could turn into an exceptional fullback, but he’s crazy young, and when crazy young fullbacks make mistakes, they tend to be the catastrophic kind. You don’t have to think hard to remember some really boneheaded mistakes made by a younger Kyle Walker or Danny Rose. The same could, and probably will, happen to KWP at the Premier League level, and almost did against Newcastle when Walker-Peters made a challenge on Dwight Gayle that was only not called as a penalty because Gayle was already flagged as offside.
And Newcastle match aside, I’m still not sure Kyle has quite earned the right to step full time into the reserve right back position. He has proven he can play in the Premier League, but it behooves Pochettino to bring him along a little more gradually, which is born out by the most recent transfer rumors involving right backs coming into the squad.
Even if Spurs do sign another fullback, there should be plenty of opportunities for Walker-Peters. The early round cup matches will likely be his playground, he’ll have the U23 squad and possibly the Checkatrade Trophy to hone his skills against quality lower league opposition, and he will undoubtedly make a few Premier League benches. But I’d be worried about him going into a Premier League season asking him to regularly rotate with Kieran Trippier. It’s one thing to face off against newly-promoted Newcastle in an injury crisis. It’s quite another thing to potentially face someone like Sadio Mane. I could be wrong and he could be the Dele Alli of right backs, but the experience could also be extremely discouraging.
If nothing else, we can already say that we do have a Premier League caliber fullback in the Tottenham Hotspur academy. That’s special. Take that to the bank. Stick it in your pipe and smoke it. Kyle Walker-Peters is going to be a player whom we’ll see in Totteham’s lineups a lot in future years. There’s no need to rush things now.