Year on year one of the consistent transfer window requests from Spurs fans across the world seems to be ‘a bit of pace’.
I once again saw the clamouring for pace after the friendly against Roma. In fact, I think one can take the reaction to that match as confirmation of a ‘pace bias’ in some quarters, and I will explain why.
When I woke up on the morning after the Roma match, I had a quick scan of Twitter before watching the game myself; I was delighted to see positive comments about 20-year old winger, Anthony Georgiou, and so was keen to see for myself what he’d done that had got people interested. I watched and went away feeling slightly underwhelmed.
This was Georgiou’s first involvement for Spurs‘ first team; he came on at half-time and was given the freedom of the left flank. Georgiou threw himself into challenges, attempted to isolate his man, and looked positive when he got the ball. His touch was *mostly* good and he looked to take his man on a couple of times which got people excited. But that was it.
I was pleased for him. Georgiou has missed large chunks of the past year through injury. He had done okay for the Under-18s, but had never truly convinced on stepping up to the then Under-21s, now Under-23s.
When he was named in the first team squad, I was mostly shocked that he was there ahead of Marcus Edwards or Samuel Shashoua – both better players with a better prospect of breaking through, though Georgiou being able to cover left-back probably explained his involvement. I was pleased for him after this match because he showed confidence, intent, and didn’t shy away. And he has pace.
And that’s the crux, and the thing that got people excited about Georgiou. For me the reality was that he slightly over-hit a couple of crosses, totally scuffed one shot, and didn’t get his head over another when in a really promising position, thus making it easy for the goalkeeper to save it. He won the ball back a couple of times, but one of those came after he had lost it. The ‘pace bias’ is what has, in my opinion, got people rating Georgiou higher than other young players.
I don’t want to keep on about Georgiou, who did a decent job on his debut — it’s just that it felt like such a neat allegory to me. Ultimately a lot of football fans just love a quick player, and we’ve had a few at Spurs – Aaron Lennon being one who instantly comes to mind, but Gareth Bale and Kyle Walker both ate up the yards too. And these were all good players, but it wasn’t just their pace that made them good – or rather, in the case of Bale and Walker, who were actually top-level players (sorry, Aaron!), it was something aside from their pace that elevated them.
Most footballers these days are natural athletes who can move well. There is an underlying level of speed that is generally required in order to ‘make it’, and I wouldn’t describe any Spurs players as particularly slow, albeit we have players like Kevin Wimmer and Vincent Janssen, who are probably finishing last in sprint drills.
That extra bit of pace can get fans excited – more so than with other, slower players — because they look flashy and can often get beyond their marker easily. I think this might explain why people got excited about Georgiou and also why Georges-Kévin Nkoudou still has some admirers despite looking a pretty poor footballer in his Spurs career so far.
But ultimately it is the clichéd ‘final product’ that makes the difference. Pace can help an attacking player get to an area to deliver a pass or take a shot, but unless they *can* deliver, they are ultimately useless (see: Adama Traoré, or (sad face) Moussa Sissoko). This is why Son Heung-min was such an asset last year.
He is probably our quickest player in the final third, but it was his productivity that took him to the next level last season. Indeed, without Son I probably wouldn’t be writing this article – because we need *some* raw pace in the team, particularly on the larger Wembley pitch. But not at the expense of guile, ability and intelligence.
Unpopular as this might sound, I would rather us identify players who have the tricky final pass or incisive shot even if they lack the killer pace that sets them apart from other athletes. But I get the impression that Mr Pochettino might disagree with me. Despite having Danny Rose and Walker motoring up the flanks since his arrival, he’s spent a lot of money trying to deliver pace in the final third: on Clinton Njie, Nkoudou and Sissoko. To date, none have impressed. Time to focus on other attributes? Maybe.
In an ideal world we would not need to choose between speed of legs and speed of thought, but the harsh reality is that whilst we are unable to spend at the level of the richest clubs, these elite players who have a bit of everything are unattainable.
We either need to get lucky and unearth a gem, or compromise. And, for me, having some more brainpower to allow Eriksen a game or two off is more vital than the oft-requested ‘bit of pace’.