Alfie Devine delivered yet another example of his burgeoning talent as the 17-year-old continues to make people inside Tottenham Hotspur sit up and take notice.
The teenager attempted to inspire Spurs single-handedly on Friday night to a comeback at Arsenal in the Premier League 2.
Within an U23s team which included the highly-rated young striker Dane Scarlett and talented 20-year-old midfielder Harvey White, it was Devine who sparked Wayne Burnett’s side to life after they had gone 2-0 down.
On 31 minutes the attacking midfielder intercepted a loose ball inside his own half and embarked on a driving run down the centre of the pitch before gliding into the Arsenal box and eventually guiding the ball past the goalkeeper.
Before the half-time whistle, the England U19 international hit the base of the post with another effort before sending a header just wide from a White corner.
A second yellow card for Matthew Craig made things difficult for Spurs in the second half and despite Scarlett being denied a couple of times from close range and Romaine Mundle hitting the crossbar with a wonderful effort from distance, the visitors were unable to rescue a point.
Devine made his mark in the game though and that’s been very much in keeping for a player who despite being just 17 has been a creative force for the U23s, with eight goals and three assists in the Premier League 2 this season as well as two goals in three appearances in the FA Youth Cup.
With the permanent exit of Dilan Markanday and loan move of Jack Clarke, the attacking thrust has fallen upon the shoulders of young Devine and, around a month out injured mid-season, he has taken it in his stride.
The teenager’s form and the belief in him within the club has ensured that despite his tender years, Antonio Conte has named him in his past two matchday squads – the Premier League win at Leeds and the FA Cup defeat at Middlesbrough – to step up for injured midfielders.
Devine and Scarlett are seen as the shining lights of the Spurs academy, the two players who, with the right attitude and guidance, have the potential to become stars.
Of the two 17-year-olds, Scarlett is the quiet one and Devine the one with the youthful arrogance and self belief that comes with his prodigious talent. That self confidence, while it has to be kept in check to a degree in young players, is found among the game’s best players.
Devine joined Spurs from cash-strapped Wigan Athletic in the summer of 2020 for a fee believed to be around £300,000 for the then 16-year-old.
Versatile in where he can play in the midfielder, he quickly caught the eye of Jose Mourinho, who gave him chances in that first pre-season and he continued to get called up to train with the first team.
Then Mourinho handed him his debut in the FA Cup win over Marine in January 2021 and Devine grabbed the opportunity with both hands, coming off the bench to become the north London club’s youngest-ever player and goalscorer, with good feet and a crisp low finish in the second half against the non-league outfit.
“He’s a kid with good potential. He’s basically a midfield player but with an instinct to appear in finishing zones and to score goals,” Mourinho told the media after the game. “We like him and of course for him, it was a special day.”
Mourinho would frequently point to the fact that he believed Devine and Scarlett were the club’s two biggest young academy talents yet were too young at that point to be used regularly.
One older academy product, Japhet Tanganga, explained back then that Devine had quickly looked at home with the first team and that he had spoken to him during his debut.
“Every time he’s come up [to first-team training] he’s looked a real spark,” said the defender. “He’s doing well. When he was coming on, I just told him, ‘Keep it simple, do what you’ve been doing in training – there’s a reason why you’ve been training up’.
“You saw glimpses of his ability in a really professional performance. I’m really happy for him to get his first professional goal. He’s a really good player and there’s more to come as well.
“It’s a great achievement and it was a great goal. Hopefully from here it’s a confidence boost, knowing that the manager can put him in for these games.
“He’s shown he can hustle, he’s shown what he can do, so hopefully from here he can kick on and get more appearances for the club.”
The key now for Devine is to keep his feet on the ground and continue to develop and soak up everything he can from his first team experiences.
He signed his first professional deal with the club on his 17th birthday on August 1 and that initial deal will run until 2024.
football.london understands that the current plan for Devine next season is for him to remain in and around the first team set-up rather than head out on loan.
The reason for that is that Spurs are keen to get him registered as a club-trained player in their squad.
UEFA defines a club-trained player as “a player who, between the age of 15 (or the start of the season during which he turns 15) and 21 (or the end of the season during which he turns 21) has been registered with his current club for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons or of 36 months”.
That Devine is yet to complete his second season, let alone his third, hampered his chances of being involved in Spurs’ Europa Conference League matches this season or in the Europa League under Mourinho in the last campaign.
Plenty of young Spurs academy players got minutes and experience in both competitions but for Devine to take part he would have needed to be registered on the club’s main A list as a ‘non-locally trained’ player and that would have meant a first teamer left out.
It’s very early days but Tottenham have high hopes for the Warrington-born midfielder, who will be 18 when the next campaign rolls around.
What comes next will be down to the teenager’s hard work and good fortune with injuries. If it then all falls into place around him then the sky is the limit for the talented teenager.