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 take a look at English-American center back Cameron Carter-Vickers.
Who is he?
It feels like we’ve known about Cameron Carter-Vickers forever. A strong, solid center back, CCV has been with Tottenham since he was eleven years old and has quickly jumped up the youth ranks to the cusp of breaking into the first team with Tottenham. He’s been one of Spurs’ most promising youngsters for so long that it’s pretty easy to forget that he’s still just 19 years old.
If you’ve watched any of Tottenham’s preseason friendly matches this summer on ESPN, then you already know Carter-Vicker’s backstory — it’s been explained at some point in every single broadcast. But it’s a good one! Born in Southend, Cameron is the son of professional basketball player and LSU basketball star Howard “Hi-C” Carter, who had a brief NBA career before playing ball overseas. Blessed with the athletic ability of his father and an English upbringing, CCV has excelled at every underage level he’s participated in. While he owns English and American citizenships, Cam has thus far played his international football for the United States, starring at the U18, U20, and U23 levels as a teenager. He has not yet earned his first full cap for USA and could still declare for England, should he receive an call-up.
Carter-Vickers made his full Tottenham Hotspur senior debut at 18 in last September’s 5-0 EFL Cup drubbing of Gillingham. He made three other cup appearances last season: the EFL Cup loss to Liverpool, and early round FA Cup matches against Aston Villa and Wycombe, the latter a match in which he was given the dubious honor of having to contain gargantuan 16-stone striker Adebayo Akinfenwa. He has yet to earn his Premier League debut.
What can he do?
One of the amazing things about Carter-Vickers’ early career is that he has mostly excelled against players that are, in developmental terms, significantly older than him. It’s just not common to see a player start matches in a U20 World Cup at age 17, as he did back in 2015.
That’s mostly because Cam was an early developer and is built like a brick s—thouse. 6 feet tall and 200 lb, he’s not tall per se but has a low center of gravity that makes him very difficult to dislodge from the ball. He’s also incredibly strong and uses that strength to his advantage when defending. Cameron also knows how to put a tackle in and is not afraid of using that size of his to his advantage by knocking attackers out of the way.
In fact, it’s his physicality that most see as his primary attribute. In an April profile in Bleacher Report, USMNT defender Alejandro Bedoya recounted a challenge where he “bounced off” of Cam during a USA training camp.
"Talk about first impressions. You look at him and you're just like, 'Wow. This guy is a soccer player?’ He should be a running back the way he's built. A linebacker. The guy's calves and legs are humongous."
U.S central defender Matt Besler was another in awe. "The first thing that stood out to me was his physical presence. There were many times throughout the camp where I shook my head and I couldn't believe that this kid was 18 years old (he's 19 now). He doesn't look like an 18-year-old kid, and he doesn't play like an 18-year-old kid, either."
In his games for Spurs’ U23 squad and in his international appearances for USA, Carter-Vickers has displayed a good composure and a decent ability to read the game. He has the ability to play out of the back line, and while he isn’t progressive with his long passing the way Toby Alderweireld or Jan Vertonghen is, he’s generally safe enough with the ball at his feet.
While this video is a couple of years old, you can see what CCV can do defensively. It’s no wonder why the Tottenham coaching staff thinks so highly of him.
Where can he go?
You might notice if you look at our prospect rankings from 2015 that we rated Carter-Vickers as the third best youth prospect at Tottenham Hotspur back then. This year, he’s dropped all the way to number 6 on the backs of a series of disappointing matches that stretch all the way to preseason of 2016-17.
While the sample size is small, we did get a pretty good look at him in action for four 90 minute stints against actual first team English soccer players last season, and now two Tottenham preseason matches in USA against PSG and Roma. The verdict... wasn’t especially great. Playing on the right side of a back three against PSG alongside Kieran Trippier, CCV made a couple of egregious defensive errors, got skinned, and was directly responsible for PSG’s first goal.
Against Roma, he was decent, but gave away a penalty, and did not at all look like he was ready to be a rotation option for Tottenham against Premier League opponents. While he was going up against two very good teams in PSG and Roma, he didn’t do a whole lot to make Spurs fans sit up and take notice.
That’s probably a little harsh on Cam. He’s been one of the golden children of Tottenham’s academy for so long now that it’s easy to forget that he’s still only 19 years old and is playing against grown-ass men. Central defenders aren’t like other outfield players — with the exception of unique talents like John Stones, there aren’t a lot of teenage CBs who are able to really do more than hold their own in the Premier League, much less for a Champions League caliber team.
You can look at Cam’s performances last season and come to the conclusion that he’s either overrated or his development has plateaued. I disagree with the first part of that sentence, and am not really sure about the second, either. His drop in the prospect ratings this time around is, ironically, because we’ve been able to watch him play against quality opposition, not just Premier League 2 matches or academy scrimmages. That speaks highly to his potential ability, and to his perception among the Tottenham coaches. It is not that Cameron Carter-Vickers is a bad player, it’s that he’s 19. He’s already a member of the first team. His floor is probably “Premier League footballer.” His ceiling is significantly higher.
What Carter-Vickers really needs now is game time. Under most managers he would be the kind of player who could greatly benefit with a loan to the Championship where he could play every week, hone his skills, work on his positioning, and football reflexes. While Pochettino was persuaded to let Josh Onomah go to Aston Villa this season, he still prefers to keep his talented youngsters close to home, and with Spurs’ defensive depth as thin as it is, it’s unlikely that Cam will be loaned out. That’s probably ok. He’ll get more chances. He’s a player who’s still ripe with potential, and there’s absolutely no reason to give up on him now.