The Tottenham winger is less experienced than he’s assumed to be
Isolated moments within individual matches never really represent turning points in a career. Because of the forensic detail with which the game is covered, the temptation is always to go heavy on the gravitas and be liberal with the hyperbole.
On Saturday at White Hart Lane, Andros Townsend didn’t experience a pivotal moment, but he did buck a personal trend.
In the twilight minutes of Tottenham’s game with Sunderland, Townsend burst into the visitors’ half and into the space vacated by absent full-back Patrick Van Aanholt.
Spurs fans had seen this moment a dozen times before: Townsend’s tendencies and traits are so entrenched, that they’re now often the subject of parody. He would either run himself into the teeth of the defence and surrender possession, or he would drop his shoulder, cut onto his left-foot and shoot into the stand.
He did neither. Townsend accelerated into the the final-third, drew two defenders, squared the ball across the Sunderland box, and Christian Eriksen slotted his now customary last-minute winner in off Costel Pantilimon’s post.
Townsend was superb in the build up to the winner, but yes obviously it will go unnoticed because he’s Andros Townsend.
— Spurs In The Blood. (@SpursInTheBlood) January 17, 2015
Arguably, the pass was originally intended for Harry Kane, but it was the intention rather than the execution which was impressive. Within the wider context, it seems slightly foolish to dwell on a moment so minor. But because of Townsend’s lack of progress over the past year and because of his refusal to address his bad habits, his contribution to that goal felt like a stride forward. He is unquestionably one of the most frustrating players in the division. Supporters are notoriously impatient and traditionally have little time for development curves, but the reaction to Townsend isn’t just a symptom of modern football’s short-termism. He hasn’t progressed at a reasonable rate since breaking into the Tottenham first-team and he really does make the same errors time-after-time. The White Hart Lane crowd is very unforgiving and, at times, it does behave like a spoilt child, but Townsend has earned some of that moaning and groaning and the audible disaffection is really a response to the difference between the player he currently is and the one who he could be. But in a way, he’s a victim to the false perception of his career path. Because he’s already twenty-three and because he was visible long before he was ever a Tottenham regular, the illusion is of a player who should be far wiser than he is. We tolerate naivety in a teenager or someone in their very early twenties, but not in a player approaching his twenty-fourth birthday and who has nearly one hundred and eighty professional appearances to his name.
Well done, Andros Townsend – that run had cul de sac written all over it. Lovely square ball, composed finish from Eriksen. 2-1.
— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@premleagueowl) January 17, 2015
Townsend’s experience is a mirage, though. Regardless of his age, this is a player who is still only started sixteen Premier League games for Spurs and who, irrespective of his many, many loan deals, is still a top-flight novice. Nabil Bentaleb has started more league games for Tottenham than he has, so has Harry Kane.
This is why development shouldn’t always been tracked against age; different players are exposed to the game at different rates and it’s the accumulation of first-team minutes that facilitates maturation rather than merely the passing of time.
Andros Townsend is an example of someone who has been involved in plenty of matches, but who has rarely had the benefit of being continuously picked from the start – and that’s really what a developing player needs: sustained selection.
Had any of Spurs’ other academy products – Kane, Bentaleb or Ryan Mason – been drip-fed appearances in the same way, it’s highly unlikely that they would have been as successful as they ultimately have been.
Regardless, maybe Townsend should be further along than he is? Maybe, even with an exponential increase in his pitch-time, he will never marry his physical attributes with those elusive cerebral qualities – but there’s really no way of knowing and that in itself is emblematic of how embryonic his career is.
He cannot yet be definitively declared to be one thing or another, therefore it makes little sense to pass judgement on him now.
He is a talent worth persevering with, though, and when he shows incremental improvements in his ability to process the game around him – as he did at the weekend – that validates the need for patience.
Luckily, his footballing ability is far superior to his singing, but his call to ‘Stand By Me‘ certainly needs heeding if he’s to fulfill his potential in a Spurs shirt.