For years now, it has been an accepted truism from Tottenham Hotspur supporters that the club needs to inject more talent at striker behind Harry Kane. Over a decade ago, Spurs had options such as Darren Bent, Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane and Dimitar Berbatov to call upon. Now, outside of Kane, Spurs have just 17-year-old Dane Scarlett at the position.
During Tottenham’s magical Champions League run in 2018-19, Spurs were able to overcome the absence of an injured Kane by replacing him with Fernando Llorente in the starting lineup. Llorente was a limited player in significant ways, but he added big-game experience and an equally big body to aim at. However, since the Llorente’s contract expired at the end of the 2019 season, Spurs’ options at striker sans Kane have been Son Heung-min playing out of position, an on-loan Carlos Vinícius and, now, Scarlett.
At the beginning of the season, Spurs knew they would be involved in four competitions: the Premier League, Europa Conference League, and the FA and League Cups. If Kane had departed over the summer and the club would have had an extra €100-130 million to work with, perhaps they would have brought in a striker or two. After all, there were significant rumors that Spurs were interested in not only Fiorentina’s Dušan Vlahović, but also Inter’s Lautaro Martínez. But Kane ultimately stayed at Spurs and the club’s inaction left Scarlett as the only recognized striker at the club besides the England captain. Scarlett has been thrust into a situation that he’s just not quite ready for: he has struggled this season in his limited role, and it is not his fault.
A prolific scorer for Spurs at the U18 and U23 levels, so far Scarlett has appeared in three senior matches, all of which have come through the all-important UEFA Conference League. Jokes aside, it has become abundantly clear that at this point in time, Spurs do not seem all that interested in this tournament. Ahead of last Thursday’s matchup versus Vitesse, Spurs prioritized league matches against West Ham, leaving Nuno’s preferred Premier League starting XI at home.
While I understand why Spurs have seen the UEFA Conference League as an afterthought, putting more emphasis on the league, Scarlett’s performances thus far have not done much to suggest that he’s ready for an even bigger role. What if Kane’s ankles started to wobble and he were to get injured? Would Scarlett start in the Premier League in Kane’s place? Probably not. Most likely Son would move to the top of Nuno’s shape and speed, like Steven Bergwijn for example, would be plugged in behind him. With that being said, it begs the question of why Scarlett is even getting runs at striker at the professional level for Spurs?
The club may think that simply giving Scarlett minutes is important to his development. However, it is the quality of those minutes that is what’s important, especially for a player still so young. So far, it has not led to good results and perhaps his development would be suited to a different approach. And when playing against players that are physically more alike to him, Scarlett has impressed, as shown in yesterday’s U23 match in the Papa John’s Cup where he netted a penalty.
Once again, Spurs find themselves in a position where they have to choose one competition over another due to the lack of depth on their roster. Whereas clubs like Manchester United and even Chelsea have the roster depth to withstand the rigor of multiple games a week, Spurs do not. In the match against Vitesse, Nuno Espírito Santo flirted with disaster by electing to not bring his first team in order for them to stay in London to prepare for the weekend’s match against West Ham. It backfired, with Spurs losing both matches.
To their credit, Spurs are trying to give some of their younger players more gametime to develop and improve. The club has high hopes for Bryan Gil, Japhet Tanganga, Joe Rodon and Scarlett. But with the club’s options at certain positions, there are passengers within the squad that are getting in the way of getting the best out of the aforementioned four.
With Scarlett, we have heard for years that he is one of the next diamonds to come out of the Tottenham youth academy. Nile John and Alfie Devine have potential, but it is Scarlett who is getting the buzz, perhaps in large part due to the position he plays. Due to Nuno’s counter-attacking tactics, Scarlett is also not getting the service needed for him to take the next step in his development.
Due to the lack of depth and Nuno being ultimately forced to play with options who have been linked for years to moves away, Spurs are simply doing more harm than good with Scarlett. Similarly to Troy Parrott, who moved away on consecutive loan deals in League One with Ipswich Town and MK Dons, Scarlett is probably better off by moving to a lower-league team on loan that will give him more meaningful playing time. It is encouraging that Scarlett is playing for Spurs, but the quality of the playing time is just doing a disservice to him.
At just 17, Scarlett just does not have the physicality yet to fully hang with the big boys. Against Vitesse, Spurs hoofed a lot of balls long towards the direction of Scarlett, but against two bigger centerbacks, he obviously struggled tremendously. Until Scarlett grows into his frame, Spurs should be focusing on what he does well: his finishing, as well as his ability to act as a poacher. That said, Scarlett does need minutes, and they should be come in a lower English league where Spurs can be near the situation and monitoring his development closely. Spurs have the benefit of time with Dane — there’s no need to rush things.
January feels like years away and the need for reinforcements is going to continue to become more and more apparent as Spurs go deeper into competitions. It is almost like Groundhog Day, but Spurs still need a more reliant option at striker, and using Kane’s outsized presence in the team as a roadblock to bringing someone in should no longer be used as an excuse. Look no further than Leicester City, who brought in a special, young talent over the summer in Patson Daka despite having Jamie Vardy and Kelechi Iheanacho already in the squad. In Daka, Leicester has found a solution for a problem — how to eventually replace an aging Jamie Vardy — before it has even become a problem. This is what has made Leicester so successful in recent years. Bringing in a proven reserve striker would not only improve the squad and give it more options, but it would also give way for Scarlett to get back to playing on or at a level that would be better for his development.