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Ross Bramble writes a detailed scout report about Tottenham Hotspur’s young winger on loan to West Brom, Alex Pritchard.
Mauricio Pochettino is quickly becoming a very popular manager in the UK. He embodies a lot of the values and styles that English football fans love to see – high intensity, desire, creativity, skill, brave defending and most importantly of all, developing domestic talent. As an island nation, England loves to see things stay in-house, and coupling that proud patriotism with the nation’s favourite sport is a powerful thing.
Already we have seen Pochettino’s influence on Luke Shaw, Jay Rodriguez, Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana, Nathaniel Clyne, Calum Chambers, Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Danny Rose, Eric Dier and Ryan Mason push them into contention for England positions, and most have made their debuts for the national team under his guidance back with their league sides. Tottenham and Pochettino are an attractive couple for young English talent, and that’s great news for today’s scout report pick – Alex Pritchard.
Alex Pritchard, from Orsett in Essex, started his footballing career in the youth set-up at West Ham. It wasn’t long before he made the switch to another London outfit in Tottenham, and from there began to develop into a pacey winger with a knack for set pieces. He was a regular in the U18s squad, and managed to get a call up to the first team during the 2011 Europa League campaign. He may have been left on the bench for both games against PAOK and Rubin Kazan, but he had certainly made an impact.
That impact had nothing on what was to come, though, when the youngster stole the Tottenham headlines in the 2011-12 NextGen series – a continental U19s tournament featuring the best teams in Europe. He scored four goals in that tournament, three of which came across two legs against Inter Milan, and the other against PSV. The following year he scored another four in the competition, including one against Barcelona. His impact sparked rumours of interest from Barcelona, Real Madrid and Liverpool, but Pritchard swiftly silenced them by committing his future to Tottenham. Since then, he has played only twice for Spurs, but has enjoyed successful loans spells at Peterborough, Swindon and Brentford. In 2015, he signed a new long-term four year deal with the club, and has since been sent on loan to Premier League outfit West Brom, where he has yet to make an appearance.
Pritchard is most noted for his pace and skill from out wide. He’s a typical young winger, in that sense – he’s not looking to play too much of a part in the defensive side of the game, which is something that will need to change rapidly if he is to earn favour with Mauricio Pochettino when he returns from West Brom. This is something that will endear him to not only the manager, but the fans at White Hart Lane. His biggest problem, however, is the competition that he will face for a place in the first team, and this is where Pritchard will need to show that he has something that the others don’t.
Fortunately for the 22-year-old, he does have something in his locker – set pieces. It can’t be said that Alex has a delivery style as good as Wahbi Khazri or James Ward-Prowse, both of whom have got their styles down to a fine art. However, Pritchard is challenging Ward-Prowse for dominance in the free kick charts. He’s certainly finding the back of the net from them on a more consistent basis than Ward-Prowse, who has only scored one for Southampton and a handful for the England U21s. It does help, of course, that Pritchard has experienced playing regular football with his various loan sides, where he’s been the first in line for set pieces and has been able to parlay his work in training to a competitive setting. This exposure has also allowed him to work on his corner delivery, but even after a matter of weeks in the Premier League, Khazri has shown himself to be streets ahead of the English youngster. Khazri reminds us all that set pieces are a universal language in football that need to be taken seriously – Pritchard, although behind him on this front, is still in prime position to take this sort of mantel for Tottenham.
Away from his set pieces, Pritchard has shown himself more than capable in front of goal in open play. 18 goals in a combined 81 appearances across both Swindon Town and Brentford is a pretty good return for a young winger, and some of them have been mightily impressive. I recall one case especially where he tricked his way infield from the right, leaving about four Bradford players desperately trying to hold him up without hauling him down, before shooting just inside the near post. It was a classy goal for a then League One winger to score, and really highlighted how much potential the kid had. It wasn’t Messi-esque, don’t get me wrong, but it was a flash of quality that really stands out in League One.
Aside from that memorable goal, he’s also shown a great technical aptitude with his finishing, which is also linked with his set piece training, of course. The bend and precision he can get on a pass or a shot can be very impressive – some of them are reminiscent of the finishes Jermaine Defoe became famous for, or the one that Harry Kane unleashed against Arsenal in the North London Derby at the start of March. His technical ability is also on show at close quarters, where he has proven himself more than apt at controlling what other players would term an unpleasant pass. Another stand out goal of his that springs to mind is a fine volley in an U21s game; think Dele Alli versus Palace, just without the need to flick it over his head.
Pritchard sounds like the prototypical Pochettino project, and reminds me a lot of the potential Adam Lallana would have shown him back in his Southampton days. Pritchard hasn’t exactly had the same sort of exposure that Lallana had at the Saints, but at 22-years-old, he can look to him as inspiration – it was at the age of 25 that he gained his England berth and really started to show his ability. However, what Lallana had that Pritchard hasn’t shown a great deal of yet, is the moxie to stand his ground, track back and muck in with the other half of the game, and that’s something he’ll need to learn fast.
Hopefully his time away at Tony Pulis’ West Brom has taught him a little bit about toughening up, despite his no appearances in the first team as of yet. As I documented in my Mauricio Pochettino tactical report, the Argentine sees football as “with possession and without possession”, rather than in “attack and defend”. If his side aren’t in possession, everyone has to get their hands dirty to try and get it back, and considering his wing-backs are pacey and involved heavily in attacks, his wingers need to have the strength and tenacity to cover them when teams counter attack. This is something I fear Pritchard hasn’t got in his locker yet. Much like other talents at Tottenham, though, he’ll soon learn to buy in to Pochettino’s style, and will have to develop that side of his game, lest he be sold on.
The other major problem facing Pritchard, as previously discussed, is the competition he faces in the current Spurs side. Just as Jon Toral, who has been impressing for Birmingham in the Championship this season, will not be displacing Mesut Ozil in the hole any time soon, I don’t foresee Pritchard tearing Alli, Lamela, Chadli, Erikson, Son or Dembele out of the side, either. What Pritchard can do is already covered by the majority of the players that are ahead of him in the pack, and this will prove a test of character for the youngster. He has the potential, and Tottenham is a great place for him to grow, but he will need to work hard to displace any of the aforementioned. Considering how poorly his run at West Brom has gone so far, questions may need to be asked of him internally, by the clubs and by himself.
It’s an uncertain existence for Alex Pritchard – clearly he has the capabilities, and you don’t get linked with Barcelona and Real Madrid if you’re not a promising talent. However, although I had hoped to see him pulling on a Middlesbrough or Derby shirt when I heard the stories of his availability in January, West Brom were not a bad fit for him. They needed some attacking zest to help energise their rebelling fan base and to help provide for Rondon and Berahino, but he hasn’t had his chance. Pulis has quoted a delicate recovery from his early season ankle injury, but those quotes were made in late February – if he’s not ready now, when will he be?
The problem for Alex now is not only proving his worth as a Premier League starter, but also to show Pochettino and his staff that his brand of wing play is what they need, rather than that of Lamela and co. Pochettino is a patient manager, adept at bring out the best in players, especially creatively, but he is ultimately the manager of a team that wants to push on and establish itself as a Premier League title contender. There’s no room for sentimentality in this project, not yet at least. Pritchard will need to showcase his credentials once more, both over pre-season and with a good loan spell should the club decide that is the best path for him to take. Ultimately, wherever Tottenham rank him against the rest of their attacking options, at 22 Pritchard needs to be playing consistently in the Premier League if he hopes to capitalise on his potential.
The first step will be taking advantage of the time remaining on his loan spell at West Brom, subject to Pulis’ preparation to trust his recovery. If this time away proves fruitless, Pritchard will find his case harder to make back in London with the rest of the Tottenham team. That could seem him loaned out to another Premier League team, perhaps a Bournemouth or a freshly promoted Burnley, or it could ultimately see him sold on – and there will be buyers.
To summarise then, the future is an unstable one for young Pritchard, but I don’t believe he’s at risk of going the way of David Bentley or Michael Johnson. His potential is there for all to see, and there will be buyers should he fail to break in to the first team at Tottenham. He will face stiff competition at domestic level, and it won’t get any easier internationally, either, what with James Ward-Prowse set to fulfil the set piece role for England in the coming years. However, for Spurs’ sake, as well as England’s, hopefully he can prove his worth to Pochettino and start showing the potential that he earned him so many plaudits at Brentford and Swindon.
Written by Ross Bramble