Dane Scarlett has won the affection of Jose Mourinho and many inside the club but what does that mean for last season’s Tottenham wonderkid Troy Parrott?
Football moves quickly and it is something of an indictment of the game that a 17-year-old striker who was wowing people last season is now 19 and out of sight somewhat in League One while a 16-year-old has replaced him as the apple of the fans’ eyes.
Sport is all about discovering the next big thing but in doing so also being aware of the different rates and stages in which young players develop.
Parrott and Scarlett both made similar impressions on the academy staff as strikers with that something special about them.
Both had different journeys to Tottenham, Scarlett starting training with the club ten years ago as a six-year-old with Parrott moving over in 2017 from Irish youth side Belvedere.
The two talented young Spurs strikers both worked their way up the youth levels to reach the first team in different ways.
While the older Irishman was breaking into Mauricio Pochettino‘s first team set-up during a pre-season tour of Asia and then making his debut in the Carabao Cup, Scarlett’s progress was rocked by a serious knee injury that wiped out his season in November 2019 around the same time as Mourinho took charge.
Both teenagers were clearly too good for the U18 level with goals aplenty. While Scarlett later handled the step up to U23 football better to begin with, scoring in his first couple of games, Parrott needed a couple of months before becoming comfortable at that level.
The Dubliner made his Republic of Ireland debut in a friendly against New Zealand, followed up by an appearance in the UEFA Nations League in November last year.
The two teens are different types of strikers, the currently taller Parrott likely to develop into more of a number 10 but with the ability to hold up the ball like a nine, similar to Harry Kane in that aspect.
Scarlett has pace to burn and can operate out wide as well as through the middle, with Mourinho comparing the instructions he gave him before coming on against Wolfsberger AC as similar to those he used to give to Marcus Rashford at Manchester United.
It’s worth looking at the way Mourinho has spoken about the two teenagers as there are stark differences in the language used.
Mourinho handed Parrott his Premier League and FA Cup debuts but was often playing down the expectations around the young Irishman, possibly irked by the calls of the fans for the teenager to get more game time while Kane and Son Heung-min were out injured.
“This is a world where lots of people, they don’t even know if Troy has long hair or short hair,” Mourinho said. “Or is blonde or is dark. They don’t even know that and speak about: Troy, Troy, Troy, Troy, he should play.
“There was a guy behind me on the bench the other day: Play Troy, play Troy. I don’t think he knows Troy.”
The Tottenham boss admitted he had been unimpressed with Parrott’s reaction to his policy of sending younger players back to work with the U23s to keep them grounded.
“I told him before [an U23s] game, every time you play with the kids of your age, you have to show your colleagues why you are the privileged one,” he said.
“Why you are training in the first team every day and some of them are not – they are still in the group age. Because it was something that he was not doing.
“Every time he was playing with the kids, he was playing with the mentality of, ‘I shouldn’t be here’ or ‘I am too good to be here’ or ‘It’s not here that I want to play’, and this is an educational process that comes.
“I have no problem to say because I know that he will confirm – I had exactly the same words with Scott McTominay.
“At the moment, he was not loved in his group age. Because he was not with the right frame of mind. The moment we started changing that, lots of things started changing for him. And every time he was going to the team, he was the best.
“He was the best in everything, the best in attitude, the best in character. This is the way you work with kids and if, in these generations, kids, they have things too easy in life, I think it’s part of the education to also see the other side.
“So I think Troy will come even stronger and stronger when everything happens step by step, and not immediately, because he is not ready for immediately. So it is a process.”
A couple of days later, Parrott struggled after coming off the bench in the FA Cup defeat at home to Norwich, missing a penalty in the shoot-out.
“The problem is not his experience. The problem is the 30 minutes. Now people can see that he has to work a lot so don’t think that Parrott is the second Harry Kane because he’s just a young kid that needs to work,” Mourinho said bluntly.
Contrast those words to the ones the Portuguese used to football.london in gushing terms on Wednesday night after Scarlett became the youngest player to register an assist in the Europa League since Kylian Mbappe.
“Dane has incredible talent,” Mourinho said. “I don’t want to speak too much because tomorrow I arrive in the building and the kid’s boss is going to kill me! I don’t want that so I don’t want to speak too well about him.
“I just want to say that he will be 17 next month and I want him to be part of the first team squad next season.
“So this season he is there and here, goes to training sessions with us and matches with the kids of his age and trains there.
“Next season he has to be a first team player. Immense talent. Very good physical development.
“He’s very good, he’s going to be very good. I hope that nothing is going to destroy that potential. He must have feet on the ground and head on his shoulders because he has a fantastic talent.”
He added to BT Sport: “He is a diamond, a kid with incredible potential. He has worked many times with the first team and that gives him a different personality.
“He is still 16, 17 soon and I believe next season he will be a first team squad player because he has a lot of talent.
“He is going to be a fantastic player and I hope everything around him goes well. He is a striker, a number nine, I have been playing him from the sides similar to Marcus Rashford and is very clever.”
Mourinho has taken a very different tact with Scarlett and has only fanned the flames of excitement around the 16-year-old, who has 20 goals in 18 appearances for the U23s and U18s this season.
The last time that happened at Spurs was when Pochettino admitted Marcus Edwards had the traits of a young Lionel Messi and the Argentine boss later admitted he had made a mistake as the then teenager’s Tottenham career never got going at the club.
Those inside Tottenham believe Scarlett will remain focused and with his feet on the ground as that serious injury helped him realise how quickly everything can change in football.
He will take his place in the first team squad next season and he will then be subject to the increased scrutiny from the fans, media and Mourinho as Parrott did.
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What comes next for Parrott will be formalised over the months ahead.
Championship clubs queued up to take Parrott on loan this season and Millwall were chosen as a local side who would give him regular game time.
It didn’t work out for the teenager. He got plenty of game time after a pre-season injury but never quite looked comfortable in the struggling Lions side.
Without a goal, Spurs recalled him in January to send him down a level to Ipswich in League One.
Playing in a number 10 role, Parrott is yet to open his account for the season but he has been drawing praise for his performances and that goal will come.
The club will take another look at him in the summer to decide how much he has come on during his season away from the nest, with the physical development that comes with taking on big defenders week in, week out in the Football League.
A decision will then be taken over whether he heads back out on loan to continue that work or whether he has progressed enough to take his place back in the first team squad.
Young players develop at different rates and Harry Kane is the perfect example of a teenage striker who even the most experienced coaches and managers failed to spot just how good he could eventually become.
Everyone wants the next big thing but when it comes to young players, there’s no rush. It’s all about timing.