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 our second-highest ranked Tottenham prospect, and a player who has won our hearts over the past few seasons. It’s midfielder Josh Onomah.
Who is he?
Another product of Enfield in north London, twenty year old Josh Onomah has been with Tottenham Hotspur since he was a boy. An English kid of Nigerian heritage, Onomah has been tipped to be one of the next Spurs academy players to bust out of the youth teams and into the first team.
Standing at a lanky 6’1” tall, Joshy (literally nobody else calls him that, it’s just us, he’d probably hate it if he knew) made his first team debut in a 2015 FA Cup replay match against Burnley, coming in as a substitute for Andros Townsend for the final 14 minutes in a 4-2 win.
Since then he’s been hanging out on the fringes of Tottenham’s first team. He played a not insignificant role in Spurs’ 2015-16 Europa League campaign, including playing the full 90 minutes in a 3-0 loss at Dortmund and a 4-0 home thumping of Monaco. It was thought that he’d start getting meaningful Premier League minutes (like Harry Winks) last season, but the exact opposite happened: last year he played only 17 minutes in the Premier League, and only made 14 appearances in any competition, including the Premier League 2.
Josh is also an accomplished youth international, having earned caps at every level from U16 up. He was one of two Tottenham players (along with Kyle Walker-Peters) to win the U20 World Cup in South Korea this past summer, and he played a key role for Aidy Boothroyd in that campaign.
What can he do?
If you look at Josh’s Transfermarkt profile, you’ll note that he’s listed positionally as an attacking midfielder, able to play across the forward midfield band. And if all you’ve seen is his cameo appearances for Spurs’ first team and the occasional Europa League or Cup appearance, you might think that’s his primary position. But you’d be incorrect. Onomah is perhaps more accomplished farther back as a central midfielder, and if you’d ask him he’d probably tell you that he feels more comfortable there.
Josh has frequently looked a little lost when played higher up the pitch, as Mauricio Pochettino has been wont to do. He’s not quite strong enough to push Premier League defenders around, and doesn’t have the quickness or fleet footedness to always go around them. His off the ball instincts aren’t always on target either, so it’s no surprise that he’s always seemed to disappoint whenever he’s come on as a CAM or LM.
But if you watched him at all at the U20 World Cup this summer, you saw a very different Onomah. Played in the pivot, he loved having the ball at his feet and used his strength and ball control to out-muscle his age group peers. He’s progressive in possession, passes well, and can put in a really good tackle. In fact, he’s looked downright Mousa Dembele-esque, and it got a lot of us super excited.
That’s not an accident -- in an article this past summer, Onomah said that he considers Moose a role model for the way he wants to play his football.
"A great example [for me] is Mousa Dembele. Earlier in his career, he started out wide but when he got older he started playing central and deeper. If he can do it, I believe that I can as well.
"Since I've been training with the first team from 14 or 15, he's always been a role model. He's always spoken to me and I like the way he plays. I feel there's some similarities there."
The problem is that Poch hasn’t really wanted to play him there, and the CM position is loaded, with Dembele, Victor Wanyama, Eric Dier, and Harry Winks all ahead of him. But even after a mediocre International Champions Cup in preseason, Josh and others at the club convinced Poch to do something unusual: to send Onomah off on loan to Aston Villa in the Championship, his first ever loan, where he can earn valuable first team experience and where he has already slotted into Steve Bruce’s midfield almost seamlessly. He also got a brand new Tottenham contract.
In just a few games, Josh has already become a fan favorite at Villa Park. To get the Aston Villa perspective, I reached out to Alex Carson, my colleague at 7500 to Holte, to ask his opinion of Josh’s play.
It isn’t had to see why so many of y’all were raving about Josh when he joined Villa — in a largely miserable start for us, he’s perhaps been the brightest spot. Josh has been one of the few standout players the last couple matches for Villa, and if Villa ever decide to play real football, he’s the type of guy who can be a key cog in promotion. He’s so comfortable on the ball, actually has attacking intent once he gains possession, and was really the only guy interested in pressing in our recent defeat against Reading. Perhaps he just looks so good because he’s actually providing purpose in a side playing pretty awful football, but I think most Villa fans feel pretty lucky to have a player of Josh’s ability here, if only for a season.
Where can he go?
I’m extremely bullish on Joshy’s chances to make it at the Premier League level, and he’s got a good opportunity to kick it up a notch this season at Aston Villa. We know that Poch likes him (it’s why he didn’t want him to go out on loan!), but it’s not hard to look at last season as anything but a disappointment.
That’s why this Villa loan is so important. While Steve Bruce has mostly deployed him as a central attacking midfielder (sigh), Josh hasn’t missed a beat so far this season at Villa Park. The few highlights I’ve seen of Josh play in the midlands has shown him to be full of confidence and not at all out of place in the English second division.
The Villa loan has the possibility of being a real confidence booster for Josh, and he’ll need it, because if he wants to play for Spurs in the coming seasons it’s still more likely to be as an AM instead of a CM. While I think Onomah can excel as the more progressive in a two-man midfield — imagine him paired with Wanyama in an FA Cup match — there are a lot of players rightfully ahead of him. If and when he gets his chance, he’s going to have to take it with both hands, and not screw it up.
That said, I totally think he can do it. We know he has the skills. We know he has the footwork. He’s got a good amount of flair, and also has goals in him. The strength many not translate quite yet to the Premier League level, but he’s showing he’s no pushover in the Championship, and that’s good. I don’t think there’s any question that he can be an extremely good Premier League midfielder when all’s said and done. And maybe, just maybe Spurs have their own Mousa Dembele replacement right in their own academy.