Oliver Skipp the latest beneficiary of Pochettino’s willingness to promote potential
It was almost a nightmare start to a youngster’s Premier League career. Oliver Skipp, making his first full appearance in the competition after a three-minute cameo in Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-1 triumph over Southampton earlier this month, was caught in possession in the fourth minute of Saturday’s clash with Burnley, forcing Moussa Sissoko to intervene and prevent a goalscoring opportunity for Sean Dyche’s men. The 18-year-old’s mistake went unpunished, and Spurs would later be celebrating a vital victory thanks to Christian Eriksen’s strike in second-half stoppage time.
Skipp could have been cowed by his early error, but instead he pushed it to one side and started over. Drafted into the engine room by Mauricio Pochettino in response to a midfield injury crisis which has claimed Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama as victims, the Tottenham academy product showed sufficient quality to suggest he will not be returning to the youth ranks any time soon.
Pochettino has done a magnificent job since taking charge of Spurs in 2015, but there is one charge regularly levelled against him: the fact he has not yet won a trophy with the north London club. Victory over Arsenal in Wednesday’s League Cup quarter-final would take Tottenham one step closer to scratching that particular itch, but it is nonsensical to claim that Pochettino’s work in the capital requires the validation of a piece of domestic silverware. Winning an FA Cup or League Cup would undoubtedly be a positive, yet regularly finishing in the top four and establishing Tottenham in the Champions League while working with a wage bill and transfer budget which are markedly inferior to that of his side’s rivals is a far more noteworthy achievement than a one-off success in a knockout tournament.
Given that Pochettino does not have the resources to compete for proven world-class talent with the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, he has had to place a greater emphasis on developing the players at his disposal. That has either come in the form of youngsters who have been signed from elsewhere – Dele Alli, Davinson Sanchez, Juan Foyth – or those who have been promoted from the club’s academy, such as Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Kyle Walker-Peters.
Skipp fits into the latter category, having first joined Tottenham as a 14-year-old in 2015. He signed a three-year contract with the club in August and made his senior debut in the League Cup victory over West Ham in October, before his maiden Premier League outing in the aforementioned success against Southampton.
Saturday’s meeting with Burnley was the first chance many Spurs fans had to watch the teenager in action – and he did not disappoint. Recovering from that earlier error, Skipp went on to deliver a performance of impressive maturity and quality. He always showed for the ball and generally used it well, switching play to the flanks and pushing piercing passes between the lines. He stood up to the physical challenge posed by Burnley too, and Pochettino will have no qualms about using him again in the Premier League this term – even if he is likely to return to the bench at the Emirates Stadium on Wednesday.
“Fantastic, fantastic,” the Tottenham boss said when asked to summarise Skipp’s display. “I think he played like a 30-year-old man. So relaxed, trying to play forward and trying to give the team what the team needs: plenty of energy, full energy, I am so proud of him. I think everyone is proud of him. He is only 18 years old and I think it was fantastic.”
“Now I think it is going to be easy for him because always in [your] debut you are nervous. I remember when it was my first game and I said to him ‘you look so relaxed. When I was 17, going to play I was so nervous’. I said ‘That is the difference between a player going to be a top player and a player who was going to be normal player like me’.”
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