If there was a sobering story with which to present young players looking to make big money moves to top Premier League clubs, the tale of John Bostock, may well be the fable of choice.
One of the major summer transfer stories of 2008, Bostock was earmarked as a potential future star of English football after electing to turn down a professional contract with Championship outfit Crystal Palace to sign his first deal with Premier League London neighbours, Tottenham Hotspur.
The former midfielder arrived in North London during what feels like a different era at Spurs. Bostock’s only competitive appearances to date came during Tottenham’s ill-fated UEFA Cup campaign, as then boss, Juande Ramos, tried to arrest an alarming dip in league form.
With Europe a secondary concern for the Spanish tactician, Bostock was handed three starts in the competition, however, once Ramos was removed, the starlet became one of the unwitting victims of the regime – falling out of favour with new boss, Harry Redknapp, and ultimately failing to make another appearance that season.
Fast forward two years and the prophecies of Bostock’s potential have been made to look foolish. The creative midfielder has just returned from a loan spell at Championship strugglers Hull City, and has since reverted to a familiar role in the Tottenham reserves – thoughts of a first team re-appearance shelved.
Tottenham fans may view Bostock as having a long-term future at White Hart Lane, but his performances during loan spells at Brentford and Hull have suggested that the former Crystal Palace midfielder remains some way below Premier League quality.
Outside observers would argue that the acquisition of Bostock came at the worst possible time in terms of his development as a player. Having made his way into the Crystal Palace first team at the headline grabbing age of 15, the best outcome of his move would have been regular first team action at a location that enabled him to develop both as a player, and a man. At Tottenham, he has simply joined the back of the queue, and has not had anywhere near enough playing time during this phase of his career.
Bostock’s plight is indicative of a common attitude in the Premier League, both amongst the young player whose services are so craved, and the clubs competing to land the next best thing.
The dilemma is a tough one. The players in question often feel that if they miss the boat in terms of the move to a ‘big’ club, that the chance to step up will not come again.
The clubs themselves are happy to take the risk on a player whose potential is not yet established. An initial outlay of a few million pounds is a small price to play in a market where English talent comes at such a premium. Andy Carroll’s recent 35 million pound move from Newcastle to Liverpool is testament to an environment where good players are given price tags normally reserved for the very best.
Bostock will be clinging to the example of Spurs team mate, Gareth Bale, as inspiration. Bale, a man much maligned during the early phase of his career in North London, has risen from being a fringe squad player to an indispensable member of Harry Redknapp’s first team in little over a year. The competition at Champions League outfit Tottenham is intense, however, and realistic forecasts would see Bostock drop down at least one division when his contact in North London expires.
Bostock is only 19, but he has reached a time now where the noteworthy nature of his ability, his age, is no longer an impressive statistic. Such was the excitement surrounding a fifteen year old schoolboy nearly four years ago, that those handling Bostock neglected to allow the midfielder the playing time required to aid his development. Future prodigies may learn from this youngster’s example, but Bostock himself will be desperate to avoid his sole football legacy to be that of a cautionary tale.
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