It’s been quite a year for 18-year old Tottenham Hotspur academy striker Dane Scarlett. This summer he played a key role with England, scoring two goals as the Young Lions won the U19 EUROs over Israel. He sharply turned heads in 2020-21, scoring 17 goals for Tottenham’s U18s and three goals in five games with Spurs’ U23s as a 16-year old, enough that he was essentially a permanent member of first team training last season.
His stats weren’t nearly as gaudy last season, but that’s mostly because he spent a lot of time on Tottenham’s first team bench, making 24 Premier League matchday squads, which included one 3-minute cameo in a 4-0 away win over Leeds. He also played in three Europa Conference League matches, starting two of them. By the end of last season, people were quietly (and not so quietly) whispering that Spurs might just have another genuine star on their hands.
His talent and work rate were enough to land him an absolute peach of a loan this summer, moving to League One side Portsmouth for the 2022-23 season. League One is a tough place to play, especially for an 18-year old kid, and despite languishing down the pyramid in recent years, Portsmouth has one of the biggest followings of any club outside of the Premier League. There aren’t many bigger stages or better opportunities for a young player like Dane to make an impression.
And based on his early returns, he’s made a HUGE impression. Scarlett took a little time to get adjusted to life in League One with Pompey, but has played in every match so far this season. He broke his scoring duck last week, putting away the match winner in a 1-0 win over Port Vale. And then yesterday, while his parent club was defeating Fulham, Dane scored both of Pompey’s goals, earning Man of the Match in a 2-1 home win over Peterborough United.
Dane’s first goal was a wonderful headed goal that was the product of an equally lovely run to the near post. His second, the match winner, was practically Kane-esque — he received the ball in the box, took a dribble, and fired a shot through the legs of his defender past the keeper at the near post.
Dane’s goals can be viewed starting at 1:02” in the video below.
After the match, Pompey manager Danny Cowley called Scarlett “unplayable”.
“I thought Dane Scarlett was unplayable first half. I think he is only one goal away from scoring an awful lot of goals at this level.”
Young players can find their first loans to be a real wake-up call — they go from dominating players their own age to getting kicked around by adult professional footballers a couple of levels down the pyramid. It’s not uncommon for even players with outstanding potential to sit the bench or have a bad loan — see Harry Kane’s loans at Norwich and Leicester before his Spurs breakthrough.
But thus far, Scarlett has adapted extremely well to League One. He already has an npGA/90 of 1.03 and is averaging more than three shots per 90 while playing in a 4-4-2 strike partnership, mostly with experienced forward Colby Bishop. His three goals and one assist in seven matches at age 18 is just ridiculous.
Those performances are not lost on the Pompey faithful, either. Portsmouth fans have already fallen in love — he had a song at Fratton Park even before he scored his first goal.
It’s way too easy for fans to get caught up in praising young players. It’s fun! You get to pin your hopes and dreams on someone with a bright future, but the flip side of that coin are the burdens of expectations that fans place upon the shoulders of those who are often the least ready to handle them. There’s a good chance that Dane could come back to earth at some time during this season, either through injury or, more likely, a spell where the shots aren’t falling and the performances fall away.
Also, as good as he’s been for Portsmouth, realistically Spurs fans should be prepared for the possibility that he’s still at least 1-2 years away from having any sort of impact on the first team. There aren’t that many players who have made the leap from League One directly to the Premier League, and the only one I can think of is currently playing at Besiktas. Player development is rarely linear and there will unquestionably be challenges and bumps further down the road for Scarlett.
But that said? Holy smokes. Dane is exceeding all expectations on the south coast at the moment. He’s showing that he has not only the skills, but the work rate and the attitude to be a star, and is building a solid platform for future success. His fellow academy teammate Troy Parrott (on loan at Championship side Preston North End) might be closer to the first team at the moment, but it’s hard not to look at what Dane is doing in League One and wonder if he’s going to be the player who eventually fills Harry Kane’s boots at Tottenham.