If Kyle Naughton’s Tottenham Hotspur future felt somewhat uncertain at the start of the season, the progress that the full-back’s made within the side this season would certainly suggest such worried may have been a little premature.
Before Andre Villas-Boas had arrived at the club, despite a number of impressive loan spells away from the club he joined from Sheffield United in 2009, Naughton had racked up a mere three first-team appearances for the Lilywhites. This season, the full back has racked up 19 in all competitions.
Although despite racking up the appearances for Tottenham this season, it still feels somewhat difficult to describe this term as a ‘breakthrough’ one for the 24-year-old.
When he arrived at the club alongside Kyle Walker in a joint £9million deal from Bramall Lane four years ago this July, Naughton was generally perceived to be the more advanced talent in comparison to his close friend and teammate.
But where as his progress on loan at both Middlesbrough and Leicester City was steady, Walker’s momentum was seemingly unstoppably and following his success out on loan at both QPR and Aston Villa, a barnstorming PFA Young Player of the Year winning season at Spurs, shortly followed. Naughton on the other hand, enjoyed a modestly successful spell on loan to Norwich City last term.
Yet while that gap in class between both Naughton and Walker seemed perhaps unbridgeable last season, that’s no longer felt quite the case and when Naughton has found himself in the Spurs starting XI this season, supporters have hardly been greeted by a player grossly inferior to their 22-year-old right-back. In fact at times, it’s been quite the opposite.
Yet with all the injury, inconsistency and most poignantly lack of depth that Tottenham have suffered in the full-back department, Kyle Naughton still doesn’t seem to have really made either berth his own. And for as steady as he’s been whenever he’s started in a white shirt, it’s never particularly been much more than that. Steady.
And if Naughton has designs on anything approaching a long-term future at White Hart Lane, then the chances are we’re going to have to see a little bit more from him. Getting the role of part-time cover down to a tee is all very well, but it’s not gong to see him start too many Premier League games.
Naughton has made just the 10 starts in the league this season, which when you consider in Walker’s dreadful loss of form earlier on in the term and Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s lengthy spell on the sidelines, that’s hardly the sign of a player really seizing the moment. Should Naughton still be feeling his way into the game, playing an important, but subdued part in a team gunning for a top four finish, wouldn’t be too bad at all.
But at 24-years-old, Naughton can no longer be classified as a fledgling youngster and from a personal perspective, he should be starting football matches.
During his time on loan at Carrow Road last season, Naughton showed enough to suggest that he’s got what it takes to cut it at the highest level, week in, week out. Neat and tidy in possession, he’s both positonally aware and a sensible decision maker – the latter of those traits something that Spurs have most definitely been lacking at times in the full-back positions this season.
Although with the greatest of respect to Norwich City, while a safe and steady foundation to your game is likely to bode well for a team looking to avoid relegation, at the level Tottenham are trying to compete for under Villas-Boas, it’s not necessarily going to be enough.
At times this season, while Naughton’s been capable of picking out a couple of clever passes, he’s tended to offer a mixed bag for Spurs going forward. For all the brilliance of Gareth Bale and the intricacies of their powerful midfield engine, the Lilywhites remain at their very best when their fullbacks are bombing along up and down the flanks. Naughton gives you guile from an attacking perspective, but hardly the sort of ferocious drive and positivity that Kyle Walker possesses.
Naughton’s versatility perhaps hasn’t particularly helped proceedings and as well as he’s done in playing nearly 20 games in all competitions for Spurs, having his time chopped up between both right and left-back probably hasn’t helped him find much in the way of any rhythm. Although his chopping and changing between both berths has been the staple sign of a solid squad player. And unfortunately for Naughton, that’s exactly what his role in N17 appears to have transcended into.
In terms of filling in the gaps for Villas-Boas and offering a reliable and often fruitful stop-gap, Kyle Naughton has ticked all the boxes for the Portuguese. But his problem seems to be not so much failing to deliver when starting matches, but more not delivering enough. And you can’t help but wonder how much longer he might have to change that.
On one hand, this season has been the one in which Kyle Naughton has finally got his Spurs career off the ground, yet on the other, it’s also been a term that’s seen him solidify himself as more of a useful cog than fledgling first teamer. Whether he has what it takes to change that perception, only time will tell.