Dilan Markanday… And What It Means (Part 1)
Here’s the headline. If Dilan Markanday had two and a half years left on his contact, we would not be entertaining bids below eight figures. Instead, we have reportedly accepted a six figure bid.
I could happily write this blog from the perspective of an advocate of academy players who wanted to see Dilan Markanday play more first team football for Spurs. But I think that it would be written off as agenda-driven youth football extremism, perhaps rightfully.
So, instead, I’ll write it from the perspective of a fan with no interest in promoting academy players, simply frustrated at the potential loss of revenue from the sale of (currently) our highest-performing academy asset for an up-front £500,000 according to Dan Kilpatrick.
The reason we are selling Dilan Markanday for an up-front £500,000 is because his contract expires in a matter of months. And the reason that his contract expires in a matter of months is because we couldn’t get him to sign a new contract. And the reason that we couldn’t get him to sign a new contract is: why would he sign a new contract?
Markanday can go to Blackburn Rovers, who are currently third in the Championship, and can play first team football between now and the end of the season. He might get promoted to the Premier League — at least, that’s what he’ll be thinking. He could be a Premier League starter next season. I’d imagine he’ll be on better money, and will benefit from receiving a signing-on fee too. This is clearly win/win for him.
In his five years at Spurs, Markanday has accumulated 15 minutes of adult football. At any level. This is an absurd situation. And those 15 minutes came in what now looks like a token appearance in the Europa Conference League which was, presumably, a last ditch attempt to encourage him to sign a contract. I suspect that he and his agent were too smart to fall for that old trick!
The closest comparison I can reasonably make to Markanday’s situation is Alex Pritchard’s, though I personally believe that Markanday has a higher ceiling than Pritchard (when compared with Pritchard at the same age). Pritchard left Spurs in February 2016 having actually played three fewer first team minutes for Spurs than Markanday has! 12 minutes in the Spurs first team. But he left for a reported £8 million.
The main difference between the two — the thing that added value to Pritchard (aside from the obvious, i.e. his having a longer contract in place) — was that, unlike Markanday, who has only played youth football, Pritchard had played 262 minutes in the Championship for Peterborough United, 3,645 minutes in all competitions for (at the time League One) Swindon Town, 3,869 minutes in all competitions for (at the time Championship) Brentford and and a handful of minutes for (at the time Premier League) West Bromwich Albion.
Nearly 8,000 minutes of men’s football made Pritchard much more of a sure thing but, more importantly than that, that initial loan move in 2013 when Pritchard was 19 and a half, and, presumably the discussions around what that move would lead to, gave him the exposure and career path that made renewing his contract at that point a no-brainer.
Markanday and Pritchard are similar in many ways. They play in similar positions on the pitch (attacking midfield), they were both late developers physically compared to their peers, and they both drew plaudits for their performances in youth tournaments. Markanday was named ‘Best Overseas Player’ at the Under-17 Borgaro Maggioni Righi tournament in Italy in 2018 as a 16-year old, whilst Pritchard lit up the NextGen Series in both 2011/12 and 2012/13. Anyone who watched either of them at 16 or 17-years old could see that they had excellent close control and dribbling ability, which made them stand-out.
Personally, I was unsure whether Pritchard was a Premier League level player but what was always clear was that he would make a good career for himself, and he is now excelling for Sunderland in League One, as one of the division’s best players who is clearly able to play at a level above (and probably will next season!). But this is all beside the point. Whatever he ended up as was secondary to what he was worth at the time, and creating value was done through exposure to actual first team football.
Markanday’s developmental explosion happened around eighteen months ago, when his physical development started to match his technical development, and he visibly bulked up and began to hold his own at Premier League 2 level against players who would previously have been able to dominate him. The mistake was to not tie him down to a longer contract and send him on loan at that point. Rather, we left him in the PL2.
If we look at Markanday’s goal and assist productivity across his five years of Scholarship and subsequent contracts at Spurs, we can see that 2019/20 and 2020/21 saw him struggle to adjust to the Premier League 2. But, for context, I would add that the Spurs PL2 team was generally struggling during that period, and that this season benefits from Spurs’ changed approach to youth development, i.e. having Harvey White, Jack Clarke and Nile John (and Markanday) in the side, players who I believe are all far too good for the level. The previous two seasons saw Covid disruption, key players on loan, short-term signings to fill gaps, and – frankly – some poor players playing regularly. Am I making excuses for Markanday’s performances in 2019/20 and 2020/21 knowing what I know now? Probably. But there were reasons.
What we know is that Spurs have offered Markanday a contract this season which he has rejected. We also know that he signed a new contract this time last year, though we suspect that this was the club exercising ‘an option’ to extend. What we don’t know is whether Spurs wanted to tie Markanday down to a longer contract last year, or whether they had concerns about his productivity. Or whether it was simply that we didn’t offer him a lucrative enough contract.
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If the club were not sure that Markanday was worth investing in (and, let’s remember, he would not have been on big money, far from it), the best I can say was that it was short-sighted given his previous levels of productivity.
Spurs now have a significant history of getting themselves into these contract stand-offs with young talent. Milos Veljovic, Marcus Edwards, Luis Binks, Jack Roles and presumably Dennis Cirkin. I’m sure there are many others that I have not remembered at this point. Then we have the likes of Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts, Elliot Thorpe, Omari Forson and Noni Madueke who all left in search of a better career path. When I make this argument people typically say ‘yes, but only Madueke has made anything of himself’. And my response to this is two-fold. Firstly, progression isn’t linear. And secondly, and more relevant to this particular blog piece, their value at the time was significantly more than what we got for them at the time which, in most cases, was nothing or a pittance. So what they became is somewhat irrelevant, because we were still losing out on potential income.
We can look at the sales of Jake Livermore to Hull City (£10m), Steven Caulker to Cardiff City (£8m), and the aforementioned Alex Pritchard to Norwich (£8m) as a job well done, selling players who were ultimately seen as not good enough to help the squad for good money which could be re-invested into the squad. But, alongside these, there are countless players who have been sold well beneath their peak value.
Josh Onomah, Marcus Edwards, Milos Veljkovic, Reo Griffiths, Keanan Bennetts, Ismail Azzaoui, Jack Roles, Luke Amos, Luis Binks, Dennis Cirkin, Omari Forson, Noni Madueke are all players that should have collectively made us tens of millions more than they ultimately did. There will be more that I am forgetting. Cameron Carter-Vickers (when he goes) will go for a reduced fee. I even believe that Kyle Walker-Peters was sold beneath what his value should have been at £12m, though some see that as a good deal. On the point of Walker-Peters, I think it’s also worth noting that we spent over £60m on Serge Aurier, Matt Doherty and Emerson Royal in trying to replace Kyle Walker (or Kieran Trippier if you’re being charitable) whilst Kyle Walker-Peters played pretty much no football – is he significantly worse than them? If we had just played him during that period and not spent that £60m would we have been any worse off? Did we get £60m of value?
Aside these financial losses, it is also objectively Not A Good Thing that our best youth players, like Markanday, are choosing to leave us. It cannot be a good message for other youth players that the peers that they see as the best in their group are choosing to leave because they cannot see a path to first team football. It will encourage more players to do the same, and will also deter prospects from joining us for their scholarships. You can you imagine what all the dressing room talk is right now amongst those academy groups, the conversations that will be had between parents and agents over the coming weeks. This constant cycle significantly weakens the club’s negotiating position.
Ultimately I think the club need to take urgent action to stop this happening, because it is has become an ingrained pattern. We have a habit of focussing our efforts on the very best players in the Academy and forgetting about some of the others. For example, we have now got Dane Scarlett, Alfie Devine and Jamie Donley all tied down to contracts. This is truly excellent news, they are the jewels in the Academy crown right now, the players that everyone has very high hopes for. But there are other players who could well become Premier League players, and who we should not neglect, and Markanday was one such player.
I’d like to end by wishing Dilan Markanday all the very best at Blackburn should the move be completed as expected. I have really enjoyed watching him at Spurs over the last five years; he was the first British Asian to make a first team appearance for the club, which will be a source of immense pride for him, his family and his whole community. I think he will go on to have an excellent career.
This is part one of a two part look at where Spurs are going wrong. I’m quite excited about the piece of analysis that I will be doing for part two, so be sure to look back in a week or so to catch that.
If you’ve enjoyed this or have any interest in Spurs’ academy, I released ‘Windy’s Youth Update – Episode 6‘ yesterday, 48 minutes of chat on the Markanday situation.