My piece on Spurs’ versatile young midfielder and Cyprus under 21 international Jack Roles. A player who has been in red hot form for the clubs development side this season:
North Londoner Jack Roles has been in scintillating form for Spurs’ development side so far this season. The 19 year old midfielder from Enfield in North London has shone for Wayne Burnett’s side playing in a host of different positions so far this campaign. Jack Roles is a player that many Spurs fans will have heard of for his goal scoring exploits for our youth teams over the last couple of seasons. The versatile Cyprus under 21 international (Jack is of Cypriot origin) is a young player who can play virtually anywhere on a football pitch. Roles has played at centre half, central midfield, out on the wing, as a number ten and even as an out and out striker or as a false nine. After a slightly frustrating 2017/18 campaign which resulted in a lack of starts for Roles in the development side. Roles has now forced himself into Wayne Burnett’s team and he has become one of their most consistent performers. The midfielder has rediscovered that excellent goalscoring form which he had shown at under 18 level during the 2016/17 season, and his contribution to our development side so far this season has been on a similar scale. Jack Roles is a player who I have watched extensively since he joined the club full time in the summer of 2015. Roles is a tidy central midfielder/CAM who is a good passer of the ball. However, one of the skilful midfielders greatest attributes is his ability to find the back of the net on a regular basis. Whether that be from central midfield or as a number ten, the teenager has always shown a remarkable knack of getting into good goal scoring positions inside the six yard box and putting those chances away. Roles has been at the club since he was just six years of age but followers of the Tottenham Hotspur youth set up would have only started to hear about Roles during the 2014/15 season after he made two appearances for the under 18’s while still a schoolboy. That same season Jack Roles caught the attention of the media after he was caught on film scoring a glorious solo goal for our under 16 side, a run which started from inside his own box.
The following season Roles who is the younger brother of Enfield United player Daniel, started the first year of his two year scholarship at the club. Despite being out injured during the early stages of the 2015/16 campaign the midfielder still made 15 appearances for our under 18 side that season, scoring three goals and assisting another three. Jack also made the bench for our under 21’s for the first time in a league match against Sunderland at White Hart Lane. However, it was during the following campaign that Jack Roles started to really make a name for himself amongst the followers of Spurs. Roles flourished for our under 18 side that season and he played a big part in us reaching the semifinals of the FA youth cup. Roles played both as a ten and as a central midfielder, but the amount of goals that he was scoring that season for a midfielder was quite staggering. From 15 league appearances that season Roles scored 15 goals more than a certain Jaden Sancho managed for Manchester City in the same competition. Roles also scored a further three goals in the FA youth cup, and one for our under 19’s in the UEFA youth league which he made four appearances in. Jack also got four assists that same season. At times the second year scholar was unplayable during the 2016/17 campaign for our under 18’s. He wouldn’t always standout during matches especially when he was played in the middle of the park. However, Roles movement and ability to ghost into the box and score goals was the thing which was most impressive about his game. He was also hardworking and tenacious in the midfield, but it was the way in which he was always able to drop into little pockets of space in and around the danger zone, which along with his clinical finishing made him deadly in front of goal. So often Roles would make a late run in and behind or across the oppositions defence to tap home from a cross. He was always on the move and always looking to pick the ball up and to use it positively. He always played with a coolness and an urgency about him and although we had some incredible creative players in that side, such as Samuel Shashoua and Keanan Bennetts, Roles was right up there in terms of chances created. But what was so impressive was the many different kinds of goals that Roles was scoring that season.
The following season the 2017/18 campaign wouldn’t turn out to be as big a success for Roles as it had been the previous season. After coming off the bench to impress for our development side in two pre-season friendlies against both Ebbsfleet and Cambridge United respectively I was looking forward to seeing Roles play regularly for our under 23’s in the PL2. However, the then 18 year old struggled for game time due to the emergence of young Oliver Skipp who was a regular starter in the middle of the park for Wayne Burnett’s side. Roles was also a member of the Spurs under 21 side which won the Tournoi Europeen during pre-season. Funnily enough I happened to watch him play an international friendly for Cyprus under 19’s in Dungannon, Northern Ireland before I got to see him make his PL2 debut for Spurs. Jack eventually made his competitive debut for our development side in a 4-1 defeat away to Everton in the PL2 in the September of 2017. There had actually been some reports from the local media down in Devon that league two club Exeter City had been interested in signing Jack along with his teammate Japhet Tanganga on loan, but nothing ever came of it. Roles only made nine appearances for Wayne Burnett’s side in the PL2 that season. He did however, make a number of appearances for our under 19’s in Europe. Played predominantly as a number ten as well as in his natural position of central midfield, Jack Roles finished the season with four goals and one assist to his name. Those four goals all came from four consecutive matches during the halfway point of the season. A series of excellent performances from Roles in the January of 2018 included a superb match winning performance at Old Trafford, in a memorable 3-1 win over Manchester United in the PL2. The teenagers progress during the 2017/18 was noticed by the Cypriot FA and before the season was up he would be capped at under 21 level for Cyprus. However, it has been during the current campaign that young Jack Roles has really started to flourish at this level and his contribution to the development side so far this season has been outstanding.
After an impressive pre-season Roles quickly made himself a regular starter in Wayne Burnett’s development side, and in Matt Wells under 19 side in Europe where he has played as an overage player. The 19 year old has played in many different positions this season and I for one have really noticed just how adaptable he is to games. He has played with so much confidence about him this season and from that confidence I have started to really appreciate just how skilful a player Jack is. His movement, ability to pick a pass and his clinical finishing in front of goal has resulted in him scoring seven goals and assisting a further seven this season. Roles has been directly involved in 14 goals from the 21 games that he has been involved in for Spurs this campaign. Roles is a fascinating player to watch for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that he is tall and skinny lad he moves around the park so well and to great effect. He has a real footballing brain and that has really showed this season. Jack has been excellent in every game that he has been involved in, often the shining light from particularly disappointing team performances. The midfielders positivity and willingness to receive the ball in the middle of the park and drive forward and initiate passages of play has often lifted the development side. So far this season Jack has played in a variety of positions, if my memory serves me well he has played as a central midfielder, a number ten, a right and left winger, an inside forward and on the rare occasion he has featured up top, as a false nine. Roles has slotted in so comfortably in all of those positions and wherever he plays he always remains a goal threat. I wrote an article on Jack Roles during the 2016/17 season where I compared him with a certain Dele Alli and Frank Lampard. I stand by those comparisons more than ever before. Whether Roles plays as a box to box midfielder he always manages to do a sterling job at breaking up play and protecting the defence. However, he also manages to get involved in the thick of the action at the other end of the pitch. He makes excellent long runs from deep into or on the edge of the penalty area.
Jack is an artist in many respects for the way in which he is able to constantly create little pockets of space for himself in condensed areas. Everything about the Londoners game is so instinctive much like Dele Alli’s is in so many ways. It’s as if he knows exactly where his teammate is going to cross the ball or where and when his teammate is going to make a pass. I have previously said that Roles has a bit of a Berbatov like panache about his game. And I think that really shows when he connects with a cross or a pass. His first touch is always good and he shows good composure in high pressure situations. Roles reads the game like a veteran and his movement in and around the danger zone and from counter attacks is razor sharp. Again coming back to the Dele Alli/Frank Lampard, or even Harry Kane comparison there is a striking likeness about Roles game to those players. There’s been games where I have paid really close attention to his off the ball movement. The timing of his runs and the swiftness of thought that he shows is quite something. A lot of Jacks goals come from inside the penalty area and many are as a result of the way in which he just ghosts into the box, somehow managing to go undetected before pouncing on a loose ball to clinically convert. As a defender Jack is a difficult player to read when he is playing as a ten or out on the flank. He is a particularly skilful and silky player who is a good dribbler and an excellent mover of the ball. This season Roles has mixed up his game when playing in less natural positions. During our under 23’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea, Roles received the ball down the left side of the penalty area. He cut inside his man before somehow managing to tuck the ball past the goalkeeper from a tight angle with a smart finish. On another occasion he was able to follow up on a teammates shot on goal by making a darting run into the penalty area to get to the loose ball, before the goalkeeper did. In that scenario Roles managed to get the ball before calmly sorting his feet out and cleverly scooping the ball beyond the goalkeeper and into the roof of the goal.
The 19 year old is a really good finisher in front of goal and he has shown already this season that he can play up top. Although he is a right footer Roles is good on his left and he can finish with both feet. While he is quite a character on the field where he is often getting involved in arguments with the opposing teams players following a heavy challenge etc, he is such a cool customer in front of goal. He is very good at finishing from one on ones and from chances which come his way inside the six yard box. He is a poacher and an alert one at that, and while he has been known to score some spectacular goals over the years, a lot of those that he does score are typical poachers finishes from inside the six yard box. Roles is a dead ball specialist and he is particularly lethal from free kicks and penalty kicks where he has an impressive conversion rate from. Away from his offensive contribution Roles is an extremely hard worker off the ball regardless of what position he is playing in. He tracks back well after him and he closes down players well, Roles plays with a real bite and hunger about him. And he is a tough tackling midfielder who is good at breaking up play and recycling possession. As he has played in a much more advanced role this season I’ve come to see just how skilful and classy Roles is on the ball. He shows good balance and while he isn’t relatively quick he travels with the ball with a real elegance, and his close ball control is very good. Regardless of whether he is playing up front, or in the hole or even in the centre of the park Roles is a player who impacts the game. He is a very intelligent and versatile young player who is aware of his surroundings and constantly looking to initiate attacking moves. There are very few young players in academy football who are able to fill in at such a variety of positions and are able to impact the game to the same effect that Jack does. There is no denying that Roles is a richly talented young man who has a remarkable ability to score goals from all over the pitch. To have been directly involved in 15 goals for his club and country this season from just 22 games is a seriously impressive statistic for somebody who doesn’t play as an out and out striker.
As the season goes on I am sure that the midfielders goal involvement will only increase. And while I would love to see him appear on the bench for our first team when Son is away on international duty next month, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to see Jack join fellow Spurs man Anthony Georgiou in winning his first full international cap for Cyprus at some point in 2019. I am sure that the Cypriot FA will be keen to tie Jack down to Cyprus before England come calling later down the line. Former Spurs player Eddie Clayton has watched Jack play twice this season and Clayton was left particularly impressed with the Spurs youngsters quality on the field and also how polite he was when he met him after our under 23’s 1-0 win over Leicester City back in October. While I could write a book on Jacks off the ball movement and ability to ghost in at the back post and score goals, I am going to sign off this piece here. I would like to wish Jack all the very best of luck for the remainder of the season and I hope that he is ever so proud of how well he is doing for himself.