The Danger of Expectation
Let’s make one thing clear: what happened to Harry Kane last season was not just a ‘once in a lifetime’ experience for the player – it was a once in a lifetime experience for Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. It was perfection. Can it ever get better than that for a player in his first full season in the top flight? It’s so, so unlikely.
In the past few weeks I have received countless tweets asking who the next young players to break through are – and I respond by reeling off the same names that I’ve been talking up for months. There are articles written each week which list the most likely academy players to ‘follow in Kane’s footsteps’. But it struck me recently that I should probably stop reeling off these names and adding to the building hype – because how can it be helpful?
Essentially we are setting these players up to fail – how can they reach the standards that we are unconsciously creating for them? What would they have to do to impress: perform at a level over and above our already high expectations?
The truth is that part of the reason that Kane’s terrific season was so enjoyable was that – for many – it was utterly unexpected. Written off as a lumbering, awkward target man (mostly owing to the way he was used in early appearances, and an unfulfilling loan spell at Norwich City), he fell somewhere between a cult hero and figure of fun after launching a ball forward to waste time and spitting on himself when trotting back into his own half having done so. What happened after that was a rare and beautiful thing that led to a lot of words being eaten.
Nabil Bentaleb was chastised in his breakthrough season – many fans questioned ‘what he did’ before it became clear to all that what he did was, actually, rather remarkable for a player of that age and in that position. Ryan Mason has received widespread criticism for his defensive play despite last season being his first in the top flight. Inexperienced players make mistakes.
We have the most talented group of academy players that I have seen at Spurs, and there are many that *could* make the step up to Premier League player status. But there’s so much that can go wrong on that journey. There’s so much that can happen between now and ‘full England international’. Just getting to Jake Livermore level – a solid Premier League player (well, pre-incident) – is absolutely not to be sniffed at. Many, many academy players fall by the wayside and end up playing non-league football whilst finding a job outside the sport.
What would help is for fans to lower expectations, and just enjoy the glimpses of youth that we will hopefully get next season. Let’s bring them into an environment where they’re allowed to make mistakes without moans and groans inside the ground, and over-analysis on social media. Let’s not be so keen to be the person that called it right first that we make a firm decision on players after just a few appearances.
Let’s let our young players make mistakes and learn from them. Let’s support them through that process and accept that it’s the norm. Alas, they won’t all be Harry Kane.