MArcos Edwards will never forget his first meeting with Mauricio Pochettino. “Ah, he’s the best young player in the academy,” said the then Tottenham boss, watching how the attacking midfielder tried to hide his wave of pride. Right-footed…
Eh, wait a minute. “Do you mean the left?” Edwards replied.
“Oh, sorry. Pochettino said as he walked away.
The Argentine left it for a while before returning. “Just kidding.” Edwards was also smiling.
Pochettino was a classic, a gentle icebreaker undermined by mischief – one designed to create a connection – and that early period of Spurs’ tenure, after arriving in the summer of 2014, was tainted with hope and excitement when it came to Edwards.
The idea was that a precocious child would rise through the ranks and one day take part when Spurs play their masterpiece. Champions League combinations. After all these years, it will happen on Tuesday evening when the club face Sporting at Jose Alvalade Stadium in Lisbon. Only it would be the wrong way, everything is upside down – which is one way to describe Edwards’ final years in north London.
Now 23, Edwards will wear the number 10 jersey SportingAnd not Tottenham, after he joined them from Vitoria Guimarães for 7.5 million euros last January. He’s been in Portugal since September 2019, when Tottenham permanently transferred him to Vitoria, and the first thing to say is that some old excitement is floating around him again.
Sporting’s coach, Robin Amorim, housed him during the second half of last season, after the club signed him to take over from Pablo Sarabia, whose loan from Paris Saint-Germain will expire in June. This time around, Edwards started regularly, scoring three goals and making three in seven games and showing resilience to meet Amorim’s tactical requirements.
But Edwards’ presence against Spurs will raise an inevitable question and perhaps even a feeling of remorse. That’s because he was a phenomenon in many respects – although rarely featured at the top level in English football – a player with the X factor, the rare combination of touch, balance and acceleration that allowed him to drift off opponents, and who infamously steered Pochettino, says Pochettino. In September 2016 Edwards Mentioned by Lionel Messi. The nickname “Minnie Messi” for Edwards was already created at the club where he has been since he was eight years old. How, where and why did something go wrong with him in Tottenham?
The important thing to say is that it wasn’t all about his contracts. Spurs wanted Edwards to sign his first professional deal in December 2015 when he was 17, but it lasted until the following August, until his two-year value was fine, despite the pressure he was under.
Edwards made his Tottenham debut as a substitute against Gillingham in the UEFA Cup the day after Pochettino offered a style comparison with Messi, and in July 2017, after winning the European Under-17 Championship with England, he agreed to a three-year deal. A contract until 2020 guarantees him £2m.
Spurs had never before paid that much money to an 18-year-old from their academy, and when it was all said and done, they did it because they wanted it to work. So why did Pochettino feel unable to bring Edwards to his first team during the first half of the 2017-18 season?
There are those who blame John McDermott and Dean Rastrick, the leading Academy management figures at the time. Edwards needed to escape the academy bubble, and work with top experienced players in order to mature himself. But McDermott and Rastrek were reluctant to advocate for him because his behavior and timekeeping were erratic. How could Edwards be rewarded when he did not fit into the culture they were seeking to establish?
The bottom line with Edwards is that he is an introvert, someone who doesn’t open up easily (if at all) and people can consider him rude. At Tottenham he clashed with Rastrek in particular; Attitudes took hold and the relationship was unable to find the compromises it needed.
Pochettino released his autobiography in October 2017, writing: “Edwards has power and behavioral problems and we have to look at the bigger picture to find out the root cause.”
Then came Edwards’ disastrous loan to Norwich in the second half of the season when he appeared for only one substitute for a brief period. His stay was cut short amid reports of poor timekeeping and a failure to engage with his colleagues. The writing was on the wall for him at Tottenham. He was loaned to Excelsior in Rotterdam in 2018-19 before moving to Vitoria, where he scored 20 goals and made 14 assists in 96 matches.
At Sporting, Amorim would like to learn more Portuguese. Edwards doesn’t have many words in the language, and he mainly hangs out with Ghanaian striker Abdelfatou Isahako and Dutch defender Jeremiah Saint-Just – both of whom speak English. Amorim communicates with Edwards in English, and the assistant manager, Carlos Fernandez, is also an English speaker.
Edwards, who plays on the winger but has worked as a 9 liar this season, is likable within the team, even if he’s not the most social person. He keeps his head low, focuses on his game and allows little to bother him. His relationship with Amorim is good. Spurs fans will watch him with interest and foreboding.