Marcus Edwards celebrated. Of course he did! Why wouldn’t he?
The Tottenham Hotspur academy graduate, whom Mauricio Pochettino once compared to Lionel Messi, now playing for Sporting in Portugal, had just scored a lovely 25 yard shot past the outstretched arms of a diving Hugo Lloris. In the Champions League. Against the club that cut him loose three seasons ago. At their home ground. He wheeled away in jubilation and was mobbed by his teammates.
The curmudgeonly Spurs fan might have grumbled that it was bad form to celebrate a goal against the club that brought him up, but that would be an uncharitable opinion. It was a well-taken goal, and while it had a strong whiff of #narrative baked into it, it really was everything that Edwards deserved. Edwards was the golden boy of Spurs’ academy, possibly the most hyped Spurs youth academy product since Harry Kane. Possibly ever? This blog dubbed him “Messi with an afro” when he was 15, and Pochettino drew a similar conclusion.
Those are big expectations to live up to, and sometimes young players just aren’t equipped to handle that sort of pressure. And things pretty quickly fell apart for Edwards at Tottenham. He had a couple of disastrous loans, including one at Norwich that led to manager Daniel Farke basically lambasting him in public, and his time at Spurs became known more for his questionable attitude than for his on-pitch potential. Pochettino even seemed to walk back his comments in his memoir ghost-written by Guillem Balague. Spurs shipped him essentially for free and a 50% sell-on clause to Vitoria de Guimaraes in 2019, where he started to spread his wings a bit. He moved to Sporting this past summer, where he has dazzled in possession, scoring six goals in all competitions (including Wednesday night).
The Spurs match was a composed, sometimes exhilarating performance for 23-year old in what was likely a pressure cooker of a situation for him. So what’s the difference between then and now? How did he go from a talented but troubled teenager to settling in nicely in Liga NOS? According to Edwards, speaking to the Standard’s Dan Kilpatrick after Wednesday’s 1-1 draw, it’s because he finally grew up.
“I have grown up in a lot of ways, I’m 23 and last time I was at Tottenham, I was only 17, 18. I was only a baby, so I have grown up. I was just a kid, you know what kids are like.”
You can’t argue that leaving Spurs was probably the best thing he could’ve done to get his career back on track. Leaving England meant leaving behind his family, but also a lot of the baggage that came from being a super talented youngster in a hotbed of attention and criticism. But that doesn’t mean that Edwards wouldn’t like to come home. He would, and left the door open for a return to the Premier League.
“Everyone has a different journey. For me [leaving for football abroad] worked out, going over there and it clicked straight away. It has been good for me, but I would love to play in England [again] and be near my family.”
Edwards wasn’t drawn into whether he would be open to a return to Tottenham, but he did say that his motivation was not revenge on the club that didn’t believe in him enough to keep him around. Quite the opposite.
“Coming back here in front of everyone I know, it was great fun. Coming into the game I was naturally on edge, I have got a lot of friends watching. When the game started it was easy, I scored, a lot of emotions came out.
“I don’t feel like [I proved a point], I just play every game the same. The extra motivation was having my friends and family there.”
Edwards’ journey has been a circuitous one in his short career, but there’s a long way to go. His goal will certainly have perked up some ears in England, as will his overall performance. It wouldn’t be a shock if any number of Premier League clubs are interested in him this summer.
Would one of them be Tottenham? It’s not clear. Spurs still have that sell-on clause — for weird, complicated reasons it followed him from Vitoria to Sporting. That leaves the possibility that, if they want to, Spurs could re-sign him for exactly half of Sporting’s asking price. But it’s just as likely, perhaps even more so, that both parties recognize that it was time to move on. Edwards doesn’t seem like an especially Antonio Conte-ish (“Contish?”) player, nor does he seem like the kind of person who’d be willing to return home and wait for his turn to make the first team. That, apparently, was part of the problem the first time around. And even if he heads somewhere else, Spurs will end up with a pretty good payday on his transfer, which makes for a decent consolation prize.
Regardless, it was fun watching him out there, and more fun to see him doing well. I will continue to watch his career with great interest, no matter where he ends up.