Tom Carroll hardly represents something of an unknown quantity at Tottenham Hotspur, but there is something refreshingly underground about the following he appears to have received from supporters at White Hart Lane.
Indeed, before last weekend’s 5-2 mauling in the North London derby at the hands of Arsenal, Carroll had only clocked up one Premier League appearance to his name; an 11minute cameo in the 1-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic at the start of this month.
Yet the whispers and discussion between the away fans in the bowels of the Emirates Stadium before kick off, wasn’t necessarily focused on the potential inclusion of a Jermain Defoe or a Hugo Lloris. For many fans, the big hope was that Andre Villas-Boas would throw the 20-year-old Carroll in at the deep end, and straight into the derby day midfield.
Of course, Spurs fans have been exposed to Carroll’s dictatorial range of passing several times already, with the Watford-born midfielder making a handful of appearances in the cup competitions for Harry Redknapp’s side last season. Although supporters have seen enough – they like what they see and they fancy seeing a whole lot more of it.
Although he didn’t start the game, Carroll did eventually manage to get on the pitch against Arsenal last Saturday, in the guise of 72nd minute substitution for Tom Huddlestone, the player that many fans had called to make way for Carroll. And while the circumstances of the game ensured that his influence was always to be limited, he showed enough to suggest that fans weren’t wrong in calling for his name.
After Gareth Bale had scored Spurs’ second to make it 4-2, the game may have still been over as a contest in some people’s eyes, but Carroll played his part in keeping the Emirates silent until Theo Walcott hammered the final nail in the coffin. His arrival felt not so much a calming influence, but a more efficient, viable and fitting cog in the Tottenham Hotspur machine. His passing was sharp, his movement felt more fluid and perhaps just as poignantly, he didn’t seem overcome by the occasion.
Yes, he fired a few misplaced passes, but to pass that off as simply the naivety of youth, is a superficial observation at best. There was nothing naive about trying to thread a couple of ambitious balls through to Jermain Defoe. At 4-2 down, Carroll felt like one of the few players out there trying to make a difference, looking to set Defoe free, as opposed to flinging a series of 40-yard balls up to the 5ft 5 hitman a la Tom Huddlestone.
This isn’t to necessarily slate Huddlestone, a player who has been trying his best in some difficult circumstances within the Spurs midfield. But Andre Villas-Boas must have noted the change in dynamic in this team when Carroll came on. The central pair in midfield – be it a 4-2-3-1 or a traditional flat 4-4-2, has to have some element of creativity within it. With Mousa Dembele currently sidelined, the pairing of Sandro and Huddlestone, as industrious as it is, simply does not offer anywhere near enough inventiveness.
Yet the common counter argument to Tom Carroll’s seemingly fitting set of skills, always appears to be his age, experience or perceived lack of. Apparently the West Ham game might offer too much of a ‘physical’ environment to field a player of his tender years. Likewise, the crunch home tie against Liverpool is supposedly a match for experienced heads, not rookie ones.
But what on earth is the point is even having Carroll on the books, if you’re going to keep rattling out this sort of viewpoint? The only way he is ever going to get experience is by playing Premier League football. That is the bread and butter and as valuable as the Europa League has been to his development, he now needs to be blooded on the domestic front.
Villas-Boas has to start changing things around and taking a couple of gambles to get his faltering Spurs side playing. Injuries have ravaged his side and the forthcoming suspension of Emmanuel Adebayor is the latest hurdle he has to overcome, but for all his troubles, he has to start picking up points.
One of the main deficiencies in this Tottenham side, no matter how they’ve set-up, has been deep within central midfield. Forget his age, or his lack of experience; if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. Tom Carroll has the gifts that his side have been lacking within the engine room. At the very least, he should be given the chance to prove that. And that requires more than just a place on the substitute’s bench.
In the short-term, Carroll can bring a touch of mobility and forward momentum to this Tottenham midfield. In deploying him, Villas-Boas can at the very least, hope to see a little more consistency in possession. Carroll doesn’t fear picking up the ball from anywhere on the pitch and he’s looked, albeit on an aesthetic level at least, Luka Modric-esque at shielding the ball. Likewise, as a link between the midfield and the forwards, Spurs are screaming out for someone a little more mobile, who can play the ball forward a little bit quicker. Carroll can bring that to the table.
But in the long run, who knows? The beauty of it is, we simply don’t know how well he might fit into this team. Spurs’ current first-choice pairing in midfield is that of Sandro and Mousa Dembele. But given their travails up the other end of the pitch, should Carroll be something of a success, this could allow the mercurial talents of Mousa Dembele to be used slightly closer to goal. It seems a long shot at the moment. But that’s only because he hasn’t been given the chance. Yet.
Tim Sherwood suggested last year that Tom Carroll could play for Barcelona. Although it doesn’t matter how true, false, overhyped or even underplayed that statement may be. Because if he isn’t given a chance, it doesn’t matter one bit.
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