My piece on Spurs’ exciting and unpredictable young winger J’Neil Bennett:

(This photograph is from Tottenham Hotspur FC)

J’Neil Lloyd Bennett was famously the first ever player to score a goal at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, when a Spurs under 18 side took on Southampton in a stadium test event back in March of 2019. Bennett has been at Spurs since under 14/15 level having previously been on fellow London club QPR’s books, the winger who is now a first year professional at Spurs, has worked his way up the various youth ranks at the club and is now a permanent member of Spurs’ under 23 squad. The Londoner who grew up in Camden and attended the the Haverstock School, has been an almost ever present member of our under 18 side over the last three seasons however, he has stepped up to play for our development side on a good number of occasions during that period of time. The speedy winger who signed a new contract with Spurs last season, enjoyed another fine season of development during the 2019/20 campaign, and as I have been doing quite a few Spurs academy player articles before the academy season starts, I thought that I would write a piece on the exciting J’Neil Bennett. The following piece like I do with all of our young academy players, is about giving Spurs fans who may not have seen much of our up and coming players a feel for what type of players they are, i.e. attributes and style of play. Having started the 2017/18 season as a schoolboy playing with our under 16’s, J’Neil Bennett burst onto the scene as a 15 year old when he made his competitive debut for Spurs’ under 18’s in a 5-2 league victory over Swansea City in November 2017. Bennett registered an assist in that game, and he would then go onto play in six more under 18 league games during that campaign. He would also play a good number of games for our under 18’s in the FA Youth Cup and in the inaugural Premier League Cup, and he played an important part in helping the side reach the final of that competition (he chipped in with two goals and six assists). 

Apart from impressing greatly on the domestic stage for our under 18’s as a schoolboy, J’Neil also impressed on the global stage for Spurs at under 17 level. Bennett put in several good and positive performances at the ALKASS Cup in Qatar, as well as helping Spurs to reach the final of the prestigious Torneo Internazionale Maggioni-Righi in Italy (he played at wing back on occasions in that tournament, and did a fine job). His experience of playing under 18 football as a schoolboy would stand  him in good stead for the following season after he had signed scholarship terms during the summer of 2018. The then first year scholar had a really good 2018/19 season, a mainstay in the under 18 side, the winger who predominantly featured out on the left flank was an important member of the side that mounted a Premier League South title challenge. Bennett started the season off well and he was a member of the Spurs under 17 side that won the Euro Youth Cup out Germany. The teenager who scored four goals in our under 18’s first two games of that season, also put in a really good shift up top as a centre forward in a 2-0 PL South win over Chelsea during the early stages of the season. He made 15 competitive appearances for our under 18’s (scoring ten goals and registering four assists) as well as 11 for our development side (he registered two assists for them), and six for our under 19’s in the UEFA Youth League (registering one assist). Bennett was also a part of the Spurs under 19 side that competed in the annual Terborg Tournament in the Netherlands and he helped them to reach the semi-finals of that tournament. When he did step up to play for our development side during that particular season Bennett didn’t look at all out of place, and he put in impressive performances against the likes of Blackburn Rovers and Leicester City’s under 23’s, he also made his debut for England (he is also eligible to play for Jamaica) representing them at under 18 level during that season.

Unfortunately J’Neil missed most of pre-season for the 2019/20 campaign due to injury, and he only returned to playing in September of 2019 in an Under 18 Premier League Cup game against West Ham United. Bennett spent the season mostly with the under 18’s who he made fifteen competitive appearances for, plus an additional four with our under 19’s in the UEFA Youth League, as well as two for our development side. Bennett was once again a standout player for our under 18’s, scoring many a spectacular goal in the process, and he was a real leader and experienced player in the side. From his 15 competitive appearances for our under 18’s during that shorter than usual season, Bennett scored seven goals and registered five assists. He also scored one goal and created another in the UEFA Youth League for our under 19’s, and he was in really good form prior to the season being curtailed in March, and had it have gone on for longer I could have seen him break into the under 23 side. The last campaign was in my opinion another very fine season of development for the 18 year old, who excelled on the under 18 stage, as well as looking good whenever he played for our under 19’s and development side. During this seasons pre-season J’Neil has played in three of our under 23’s four friendlies so far, scoring one goal in our 3-1 victory over National League South side Dulwich Hamlet last Saturday. So what type of player is J’Neil Bennett? Well he is a very exciting and unpredictable one, and having seen him play extensively now for over three seasons you still never know what he is going to do with the ball whenever he gets it into his feet. A player who has searing pace, is extremely agile and has good balance, Bennett is of good build and he is always very composed with the ball at his feet. A highly skilful two footed player (he has a favourite foot for crossing and shooting!) he wins a lot of fouls and penalties in particular, due to his skill and speed.

He loves to go on long galavanting forward runs and take on opposing teams players and beat them for pace and skill however, it is that unpredictability in his game which makes him so effective going forward, and difficult for defenders to stop. Just when you think he is going to sprint all the way to the byline and deliver in a cross, he will smartly cut inside onto his right foot and get away a shot. Him cutting inside onto his right or left foot is something that he loves to do in games, and he will often put his laces through the ball and look to find the far corner of the goal (I have simply lost count at the amount of times that he has scored goals in that fashion). The first year professional is a real flair player who loves to pull off outrageous pieces of skill, and the young player who is equally adept at playing on both flanks, models his game on the great Cristiano Ronaldo. Although he does love to cut inside and get shots away frequently, Bennett is also very direct in his play and he will take it to the byline, and when he gets there he likes to whip powerful crosses into the danger zone. A player who has a great first touch and close ball control, his positional play and movement off the ball is also good. Good at tracking back and with a good work rate, Bennett has also done well whenever he has played as a wing back/fullback before however, he is importantly an out and out winger. J’Neil does remind me of Wilfred Zaha and Anthony Knockaert in his style of play, as he is just so skilful, direct and unpredictable, but also a player who has a real eye for goal in games. There are just four games that Bennett has been involved in for Spurs that I would like to focus in on very briefly. One of those games came against Aston Villa’s under 18’s when Bennett was a 15 year old schoolboy and had only just burst onto the scene for Spurs at that level.

During this Premier League Cup group stage game in which Spurs won 4-1, Bennett was unplayable out on the left flank and with his pace and skill he had the Aston Villa defenders falling all over the place. He was trying outrageous things with the ball at his feet, and he was constantly looking to beat his man, deliver crosses into the danger zone and get shots away. He was just so exciting and unpredictable in his play and he scored a really good goal with a powerful low drive from an acute angle to cap off an excellent performance. The second game was against Newcastle United again at under 18 level in the Premier League Cup last season, Spurs lost this particular game 5-2. However, Bennett was the best player on the pitch that day despite the fact that the pitch was in a terrible way due to there being torrential rain on the day. Bennett again caused so many problems for the Newcastle defenders with his direct running, and he dazzled with his skill and unpredictable play once again. He scored a goal after cutting in from the left flank albeit it that it took a big deflection off of a Newcastle defender. However, Bennett was really potent during that game and he didn’t stop running at his man and looking to try different things both with and with out the ball. The game against Crvena zvezda’s under 19’s in the UEFA Youth League back in October of last season was much the same, a game where he was a thorn in the oppositions side for much of the match, particularly during the first half. Bennett pounced on an early error from the Serbian side at the back to powerfully side foot the ball into the goal to score the opener, and he would also set up another goal during the game. This game came not long after he had returned from injury, and he looked very sharp with his movement both on and off the ball. And the final game that I would like to focus in on briefly, came against senior opposition in League One side Gillingham in the Checkatrade Trophy last season. In that particular game he was once again extremely direct and he brought great variety to the game in his play. He had the beating of his man for the majority of the game however, he looked to cut inside onto his right foot and whip shots at goal at every opportunity.

The Gillingham game showed that Bennett could deal with the physicality of playing against senior opposition, and he dealt really well with playing against them. J’Neil should be very proud of the progress that he has made at Spurs over the last three seasons, and I would like to wish him all the very best of luck for the 2020/21 season. 

My piece on Spurs’ promising young centre half Malachi Fagan-Walcott:

(This photograph is from Tottenham Hotspur FC)

18 year old central defender Malachi Fagan-Walcott is currently out injured with a knee injury (he subsequently had surgery) that he sustained in training not too long ago. The tall and skilful centre half who joined Spurs as a 14 year old from Norsemen F.C., had previously been a centre forward prior to joining Spurs and transitioning to central defence. Born in Edmonton, north London but brought up in Waltham Abbey, Fagan-Walcott was a talented swimmer and athlete during his schoolboy days. The first year professional is a very talented young player in my opinion, and he is also an England youth international having represented them from under 15 to under 17 level. Malachi is a player that I have seen a great deal of since he joined the Tottenham Hotspur academy full time in the summer of 2018, and with the 2020/21 season proper still not underway, i thought that I would write a piece on the young central defender. The following piece like I do with all of our young academy players, is about giving Spurs fans who may not have seen much of our up and coming players a feel for what type of players they are, i.e. attributes and style of play. A player who I have been aware of for some time, the right footed centre back who operates predominantly at RCB, first played for our under 18 side as a schoolboy (under 16). Fagan-Walcott made two competitive appearances for Spurs’ under 18 side during the 2017/18 season, he made his debut for them in a 5-2 PL South victory over Swansea City in Wales in November 2017. The defender then made a further appearance when he completed 45 minutes of our under 18’s 6-0 league defeat to Arsenal during the same month. The then schoolboy signed scholarship forms with Spurs during the summer of 2018, for the 2018/19 season. He played the first five under 18 league games of that season, where he partnered Luis Binks who he had a great understanding with since partnering him at the back since his under 15 days. 

Early on in that 2018/19 season Fagan-Walcott was a part of the Spurs under 17 side that won the Euro Youth Cup in Germany and he started the season in fine form for Spurs. Fagan-Walcott made his competitive debut for our development side in a Checkatrade Trophy group stage game against Crawley Town in September of 2018. At only 16 the young defender was outstanding as Spurs played in a back three alongside Jonathan Dinzeyi and Luis Binks. The then first year scholar would make a further competitive appearance for our development side in a PL2 game later on in the season, he would also make three appearances for our under 19’s in the UEFA Youth League. The central defender impressed on the European stage for Spurs in that competition, putting in several fine defensive performances, with arguably the best one coming against PSV Eindhoven, a game in which he scored his first goal at that level for Spurs. The former Debden Park High School pupil made in total 16 competitive appearances for our very talented under 18 side during the 2018/19 season, and along with other first choice centre back Luis Binks, he was key to us mounting a title challenge in the league. After overcoming a couple of injury problems during the season, Fagan-Walcott also competed in the Future Cup in the Netherlands with a Spurs under 17 side. As well as playing at the Under 17 European Championships with England in Ireland, and in one of the games that I saw him play in that tournament against a very talented France side, he did very well at the back. However, he would miss the end of season Terborg Tournament with Spurs due to injury. This was an injury that would mean that he would miss next seasons pre-season and would have wait until September of 2019, when he completed 45 minutes of our under 18’s Premier League South fixture with Southampton down on the south coast.

 I thought that he looked really sharp, and did a fine job for Spurs in the minutes that played for Spurs in that game. He made a further five competitive appearances for our under 18’s that season. Fagan-Walcott also played in all six of our under 19’s UEFA Youth League games, once again forming a strong defensive partnership with former Spurs academy player Luis Binks. However, the young Englishman played up a lot for our development side who he made nine competitive appearances for during the season, he had some great games against the likes of Colchester United in the Checkatrade Trophy and Everton in the PL2. He also scored his first goal at that level in a 2-1 PL2 defeat to Brighton And Hove Albion in February of 2020. And Malachi’s fine form was rewarded when Spurs manager José Mourinho brought him on as a late substitute in our first teams UEFA Champions League round of 16 second leg tie against German side RB Leipzig. It was some way for the 18 year old to make his competitive first team debut for Spurs on the biggest stage of all however, after the season was curtailed shortly afterwards, and after the restart, Fagan-Walcott unfortunately sustained a bad injury in training with the Spurs first team which subsequently required surgery. And he is currently still recovering from that injury and hasn’t featured for either our under 23’s or first team in pre-season. So what type of player is Malachi Fagan-Walcott? Well on the ball he is very comfortable and skilful with it at his feet, and he can bring it out from the back effectively like all of young central defenders. He is also a forward passer who has great vision for a pass, and who likes to pick out players with good cross field passes on his right foot. A physical and very combative defender who is assertive in games and gets across his man well and effectively, Fagan-Walcott has good awareness and reads the game and anticipates situations very well. 

Good at cutting out and intercepting dangerous forward passes, the teenager imposes himself well on games and he is always commanding in his play. Ever present across the back line and constantly well positioned, Fagan-Walcott loves to slide in to try and win the ball, and he also goes in strong and makes crunching challenges. However, arguably one of his best attributes is his ability to make last ditch blocks and challenges so superbly well, this is something which links in to his excellent positioning and reading of the game. Some of the heroic last ditch blocks and challenges that I have seen from him particularly in under 18 games, have been exceptional. A defender who has a great leap and jumping reach, the England youth international is very good and dominant in the air, and in matches he often wins the vast amount of his aerial duels. He is also a threat from corner kicks and free kicks due to being so good in the air, and he has scored a couple of fine headed goals in those situations during recent seasons. An effective communicator on the pitch who also has a great attitude, the young defender is an athletic player who has good pace, something which helps to recover well in difficult situations. An intelligent defender, Fagan-Walcott has put in some really good defensive performances since joining Spurs full time in 2018. However, there are three particular games that I would just like to briefly focus in on, in which he has played in since last season. One of those games came near the beginning of the 2018/19 season when Spurs’ development side played senior opposition in Crawley Town in the Checkatrade Trophy. During that game, Malachi who was then a 16 year old was excellent throughout the match, maintaining excellent positioning throughout, he also won virtually everything in the air. However, it was the way in which he read the game, and the ease in which defended and done everything at the back alongside both the older Jonathan Dinzeyi and Luis Binks, which was just so very impressive.

The second game came against a very talented Wigan Athletic under 18 side when Fagan-Walcott made some crucial defensive interventions. Never afraid to slide in, he made won some really difficult challenges while also maintaining excellent positioning alongside Luis Binks, and they were always on the same wavelength, Fagan-Walcott was also terrific in the air. And the final game that I’d like to focus in on came against Everton’s under 23 side in the PL2 last November. During that game the then second year scholar who once again played alongside Luis Binks at centre back, read the game really really well, but most importantly of all he played a big part in neutralising the threat of Everton’s potent centre forward Ellis Simms. He also showed his quality on the ball by bringing it out from the back with ease, as well as making some excellent long cross field passes to the Tottenham left winger Shilow Tracey. As you can tell from this piece, I am a big fan of the England youth international and I have high hopes for him at Spurs. The fact that he has already made his competitive first team debut for Spurs speaks volumes for how highly rated he must be at the club. Despite having to overcome a number of injuries during this time, Fagan-Walcott has done himself incredibly proud, and I have no doubts that he will come back stronger than ever from his current injury. I would like to wish Malachi all the very best of luck for the 2020/21 season and I look forward to seeing him return to action.

My piece on Spurs’ young and direct development side winger Maurizio Pochettino:

(This photograph is from Tottenham Hotspur FC)

Right sided winger Maurizio Grippaldi Pochettino (19) is a young player who has developed nicely in my opinion, as he has worked his way up the various youth ranks at Spurs over the past couple of years. The second year professional who is the son of our former manager Mauricio, is a player that I personally believe has got stronger and stronger over the course of recent campaigns. The Barcelona born player who joined us along with his father Mauricio Pochettino from Southampton during the 2014/15 season (as an under 14), has risen up the ranks, from under 14’s to 15’s, 16’s, 18’s and now the under 23’s who he is currently playing for. Pochettino may be one of the most well known academy players at the club among Tottenham fans and with the skilful winger recently having signed a new contract at the club for the current season, I thought that it was a good time to write a piece on Maurizio. The following piece like I do with all of our young academy players, is about giving Spurs fans who may not have seen much of our up and coming players a feel for what type of players they are, i.e. attributes and style of play. Maurizio’s old club Southampton were very keen to keep him when his father Mauricio and his coaching staff left to join Spurs in 2014, as Mauricio explains in the book Brave New World: Inside Pochettino’s Spurs. The wide man who is also eligible to represent Argentina at international level, first came on my radar as a Spurs player when I saw him play for Spurs at under 15 level in an academy showcase match against Ipswich Town, at Portman Road in Easter 2016. I thought that Pochettino gave a good and positive impression of himself in that particular game, where he had some nice touches out on the left wing, and you could also tell that he was a good technical player.

During the following 2016/17 season Pochettino spent the campaign playing with the under 16’s, before he signed a two year scholarship at Tottenham in the summer of 2017. He made his competitive debut for our under 18’s when he came on as a late substitute against his old club Southampton, in a 2-1 victory at their Staplewood training ground in September 2017. Pochettino made a further eight competitive appearances for our under 18’s that season (he made two starts), chipping in with one goal and one assist. He also impressed at two tournaments abroad with a Spurs under 17 side, the first being at the ALKASS Cup in Qatar, where he put in a series of fine performances out on the right wing. While the latter was in Italy at the Torneo Internazionale Maggioni-Righi where he was a part of the Spurs side which reached the final of that tournament. During the following 2018/19 campaign Maurizio was a lot more involved with our under 18’s in competitive games (he made 21 appearances in total for them), and he put in some fine individual performances as he registered three goals and one assist. The teenager also made two competitive appearances for Wayne Burnett’s development side during the same season. And in the season just gone and after signing a professional contract at Spurs to keep him at the club for the 2019/20 season, Pochettino stepped up permanently to the development side. I was impressed with how he played for both our under 19’s in the UEFA Youth League, and also for our development side in the games that he played in the PL2 and the Checkatrade Trophy. After not featuring in any of our under 23’s pre-season games during that season, presumably due to injury, Pochettino seemed to get stronger and stronger in his play when the proper season progressed.

The winger chipped in with a total of one goal and four assists from a combined total of 14 appearances for our under 19’s and development side. Pochettino put in some very good performances that season against the likes of Crvena zvezda, Leicester City and Wolverhampton Wanderers. The 19 year old signed another new contract for the 2020/21 season this summer, and Pochettino has already played in all three of our under 23’s pre-season games to date (he impressed as a substitute in the game against Leyton Orient). So what type of player is Pochettino? Well as I have seen him develop over the years for our under 18’s and now 23’s, he plays quite like a traditional English winger in a number of ways. He has seemingly got quicker and stronger in his game over the last couple of seasons, and he has again seemingly become more direct in his play over the last two seasons. Embarking on dangerous surging runs more often, and also looking to beat his man down that right flank at every opportunity. Pochettino has a good first touch and close ball control, and it is obvious that he is a technically gifted and skilful winger too. Good at twisting and skilfully working his way out of tight spaces, the wide man uses the ball intelligently and he is reliable with it at his feet, and he holds onto it excellently well. Like his father Maurizio is a cool character on the pitch and he always looks nice and composed in his play, he also has good awareness both on and off the ball. On the ball he is a good passer, and he likes to make intelligent and deceptive forward thinking passes as well, Pochettino is also really good at both ends of the pitch. However, it is his crossing ability which is perhaps his strongest attribute of all, he loves to get to the byline and whip in powerful and pin point dangerous crosses. He has done that time and time again since he was a first year scholar, and they just get more frequent as he gets older.

The sheer accuracy of Pochettino’s crosses is very impressive but again it’s his awareness, and the fact that he always looks up, as well as the fact that his passing ability is so good that it allows him to deliver these types of crosses. A good athlete who works very hard for the team on the pitch, Maurizio tracks back after himself excellently well, and he is a good tackler too. However, going back to his offensive play, he has as I have already mentioned a great cross on him, he is also skilful and is a good passer of the ball, but he also has a really powerful shot at his disposal. Something that he has demonstrated quite a lot, particularly at under 18 level in games, but in my opinion I definitely think that he has become more confident in his overall play, which is something that is great to see. There are three particular games that Pochettino has been involved in for Spurs over the last two seasons, that I would just like to focus in on. One of them was back in the 2018/19 season in a PL South Under 18 game against Fulham at Hotspur Way, a game in which Spurs won 4-0. The then 18 year old right winger caused so many problems for the talented former Fulham fullback Cody Drameh down the right flank. The former Aldenham School pupil went on many a mazy forward run to beat the Fulham fullback, also playing with real flair, Pochettino created some really good chances for the Spurs forwards with his crossing, and he also tracked back really well too during that game. The second game that I’d like to focus in on was against Serbian side Crvena zvezda’s under 19’s last season in the UEFA Youth League, at Hotspur Way. Spurs won the game 9-2, and Pochettino was introduced to the action in the second half, and as soon as he got the ball into his feet he was constantly looking to take his man on and beat him, and then get to the byline and whip in a cross. 

Pochettino created two of our goals in that game and it was a very positive and purposeful performance from him. The final game which I will highlight was actually our under 23’s last competitive game, and their last PL2 game before last season was curtailed in March. The game was against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Stevenage Borough’s Lamex Stadium, and Pochettino once again operated out on the right wing. He showed great pace and athleticism throughout his 73 minutes on the pitch, and he had the beating of the Wolves fullback throughout the contest. After latching onto a fine pass from Spurs right back Jubril Okedina down the line, Pochettino continued forward before showing good awareness and composure to pick out Troy Parrott who slid in in the box to convert the chance. Maurizio also scored a well taken goal in that game in what was one of his finest performances of the season for our development side. I can seen the winger becoming a very important player for Wayne Burnett’s under 23 side this season, and if Shilow Tracey goes out on loan again, then Pochettino could well be the first choice right sided winger for our under 23’s, and get a lot of game time in the process. It can’t have been easy for young Maurizio to have seen his father relieved of his duties as manager of Spurs last season however, Maurizio has obviously worked really hard during that period of time since, and the quality of his performances on the pitch has been a testament to that. Maurizio should be very proud of all that he has achieved since joining Spurs back in 2014, and I would like to wish him all the very best of luck for this season.