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, the list moves on to the latest academy goal-machine, Jack Roles.
Who is he?
Jack Roles is an 18 year-old defender-turned-midfielder-turned-Frank-Lampard-impersonator. How’s that for a description, huh? Honestly, I’m not sure what to make of Roles’ path thus far, but whatever he’s doing he should keep doing it.
The Enfield-born Roles started his career at Spurs as a center back, but made the transition to midfield in 2015-16 when he moved up the U-18’s. The move apparently went well, but I don’t think anyone anticipated Roles would follow-up a good season with the form he displayed in 2016-17.
In 29 matches in all competitions last season, Roles scored 20 goals from his spot in central midfield. This includes four goals in four appearances in the FA Youth Cup, one goal in four matches in the UEFA Youth League, and 15 goals in 21 U-18 Premier League matches.
Roles has dual English and Cypriot nationality and has, thus far, chosen to represent Cyprus at the international level. He’s made a few appearances for Cyprus’ U-17 team, allegedly scoring three goals in five appearances. That said, I can’t find confirmation of that anywhere on the internet other than a random Facebook post. So, for the sake of argument, we can just say he’s a youth international and he’s probably played for Cyprus.
What can he do?
Apparently, he scores goals.
Roles was the U-18 team’s leading goal scorer last season by a wide margin and given that he’d only recently started playing midfield, I think it’s fair to say that his output was unexpected.
Roles has earned plaudits for his well-timed runs from midfield and his movement off the ball. As a former centerback, Roles is a big lad, noticeably bigger than most in his age group. Then again, that may be just because he tends to be surrounded by some rather slight players (see, e.g. Shashoua, Samuel). Because of his background as a defender, Roles is willing to do the dirty work required in midfield and doesn’t appear to shy away from a tackle. He also seems to be a fine perfectly acceptable passer of the ball.
But let’s go back to those goals. Roles scored just about every type of goal you can imagine. Piledrivers from distance, tap-ins, volleys off of pullbacks to the penalty spot, etc. You name it, Roles scored it. Sure, some of those goals were down to youth defenses and keepers being generally bad, but what catches the eye when you watch highlights is Roles’ movement. I touched on his runs a bit above, but he just seems to have a preternatural sense of when to arrive in the box and what positions to take up. Seriously, watch some of his highlights. He just always seems to be in the right spot at the right time.
Where can he go?
Unlike his U-18 compatriot Sam Shashoua, who found his way onto the bench for a couple matches last season, it doesn’t appear as though Roles has caught the eye of Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino just yet. Roles has, however, signed a professional contract and will be making the step up to the U-23’s this season.
Roles will have plenty of competition for minutes in the U-23 team with the likes of Luke Amos, Joe Pritchard, and Cy Goddard, but he will have plenty of time to prove he’s capable of playing at that level. If he’s going to advance, Roles will need to prove his more comfortable with the ball at his feet and that he has the energy and intensity to play in Tottenham’s high pressure system.
Honestly, it will be interesting to see how the U-23’s utilize Roles. In the U-18’s he was often played as the runner in a three-man midfield with the more attacking Dylan Duncan ahead of him and the more defensive George Marsh or Oliver Skipp behind him. With the current crop of U-23’s, that role seems to be filled by Pritchard, so it may be necessary for Roles to change roles again and play as the deepest and most defensive midfielder. Given his background as a defender, that certainly doesn’t seem outside the realm of possibility.
It is probably too early for Spurs fans to expect much of Roles. A season to acclimate himself to the U-23’s and then another season to build some momentum with his performances and then maybe a lone or a spot appearance with the first-team seems like a reasonable path. That said, if Roles continues his goal-scoring prowess with the development squad, it will be hard to keep him away from first team football somewhere.
Since the whole point of these rankings is to prognosticate, if I had to guess at what Roles could possibly be, then I’d say the best case scenario is Frank Lampard-light. A competent all around midfielder who makes great runs into goal-scoring positions and finishes with aplomb. That’s sort of the pie-in-the-sky vision for Roles.
It’s hard to project 18 year-olds with no game time against other professionals, but experience tells us that not every 20-goal scorer at the youth level turns into Lampard. In Roles’ case, it seems like it would be unfair to give a more realistic projection. Mostly just because I have no idea. If he keeps scoring though, it’s hard to see how he doesn’t succeed.