It’s clear for all to see that Spurs have been lacking a creative spark in midfield this season. We have a talented young playmaker coming up through the ranks in Tom Carroll, but many Spurs fans still seem unconvinced he is ready for the big time.
Whatever happened to the typical English saying “if you’re good enough, you’re old enough” ? In the last couple of years most young players who got the nod in the Premier League did not only have to be good enough, they also had to be big enough. Wayne Rooney, Jack Rodwell, Andy Carroll, they were all physical bullies for their age when they made their Premier League debut. Luckily there seems to be a change of mindset in recent times with young and skilful, yet less physical players like Raheem Sterling and Joe Allen making a mark in the league.
Football has changed a lot in the last 10-20 years. The game has become faster, more tactical yet less physical. Tackles that players would’ve got away with in the ’70s or ’80s will result in a certain booking or even a sending off nowadays. Simulation shenanigans aside, the game has become cleaner and the overall quality of football has improved as a result.
Yet the mindset in England seems to fall behind with the rest of the world. Where academies in Spain, Germany and the Netherlands focus on developing players with an emphasis of technical skills and tactical insight, the English youth development still seems to be based on ‘survival of the strongest’. You only have to look at the difference between the under-17, under-19 and even under-21 teams to see that technically England is falling behind compared to other European countries.
Luckily, Spurs seems to have acknowledged this change in approach to youth development and currently have a pool of technically talented youngsters looking to break into the first team. Kyle Walker and Jake Livermore could still be regarded as examples of players where physicality played a big role in their early inclusion in the first team, but there’s a new wave of players whose technical skills and vision are their main strengths. The most prevalent exponent of this new development philosophy is Tom Carroll.
Carroll is a creative midfielder these days, but he started out as somewhat of a goalscoring machine. He is the top goalscorer in Spurs academy’s history. He scored 56 goals in 28 games as an Under-16 in the 2009-10 season. He’s had loan spells at Leyton Orient and Derby Country with mixed success. Although many saw his strengths, Carroll wasn’t suited to the more physical and raw style of most Championship games.
Ever since I saw Carroll play for the first time I have been impressed by his style. The way he finds space to receive the ball, his first touch, the urgency with which he moves the ball on. It all felt so foreign to see those qualities in a young English player. If someone would’ve told me he was Dutch or Spanish, I would’ve believed it. There’s something about Carroll that reminds me of some of the greatest little playmakers of recent times, such as Wesley Sneijder, Luka Modric and Andrés Iniesta. Technically outstanding, the ability to instantly spot a pass and always moving into space to receive the ball. In other words, all the traits of a modern-day playmaker.
Although questions about his slender frame persist, Carroll has shown he doesn’t shy away from challenges in his appearances as a substitute against the likes of West Ham and FC Basel. He makes up for his lack of physicality with great balance, his ability to time his challenges well and by effectively pressing the opposition through his positional awareness.
This season, Spurs’ search for the next Luka Modric saw the club sign Mousa Dembélé and Lewis Holtby. While Dembélé has been impressive for most parts of the season, he doesn’t strike me as the solution to Modric’s departure the club was hoping for. Dembélé lacks the dynamism and vision that made Modric one of the most effective midfield metronomes in the Premier League. Dembélé might have been the most creative player at Fulham, but at a higher level faster decision-making is required on a more consistent basis. Dembélé seems to struggle to make this transition to a more fast paced game where passes have to be spotted in a split second.
Carroll is currently 21 years old, which means he will add up to the home grown quota next season. He will take up a spot in Tottenham’s 25-man Premier League squad since he’s no longer considered an Under-21 player. This will pose the question to Villas Boas: do we keep Carroll in the squad or do we send him out on loan?
The key variable to this decision will be playing time. Will Carroll get his chance at Spurs next season? Does Villas-Boas have the confidence in Carroll to rotate the squad to give Carroll the necessary playing time to aide his development? If this is the case, a full season with the first team might help his development more than another loan spell in the Championship. However, if a Premier League side was to put in a serious loan request, with plenty of guaranteed playing time, it will be hard to turn that offer down.
A club like Swansea would be ideal for a player of Carroll’s characteristics, since they like to play a high-intensity, pass-and-move brand of football. Some might question Swansea’s need for a 21-year-old loanee in midfield, but they will have to solve the gap left by Jonathan De Guzman (currently on loan from Villarreal) one way or the other. Depending on who will clinch promotion to the Premier League, teams like Watford or Brighton wouldn’t be a bad loan destination either.
After the signing of Lewis Holtby in January, there really isn’t any need to bring in more central midfielders, with the obvious exception of a world class player, like the often mooted João Moutinho. I don’t see how bringing in an ‘unfinished product’ from abroad would be a step up from giving a massive home-grown talent like Carroll a fair chance. It would simply be criminal to neglect our own academy’s current crop of talent in favour of signing yet another central midfielder.
Whether it’s in our own lilywhite shirt or on loan at the right club (preferably in the Premier League), Tom Carroll is on course to finally make his mark as Tottenham academy’s newest prodigy next season.