What Dilan Markanday’s Tottenham transfer exit means for young players under Antonio Conte


Dilan Markanday may have only played 15 minutes of first team football for Tottenham Hotspur but his departure has caused a stir among the club’s fans.

The 20-year-old this week penned a three-and-a-half year deal with Blackburn, with the option for another year, and has had new boss Tony Mowbray crowing about the potential of the young player the title-challenging Championship side have secured.

Markanday spurned a new contract at Tottenham in order to pursue what he saw as a better chance of first team football at Blackburn and he leaves north London for a nominal fee, but with what football.london understands is a large sell-on clause.

The young right winger’s numbers for Spurs’ development squad this season are eye-catching, with 12 goals in 14 Premier League 2 matches and also contributing five assists, winning the competition’s player of the month award in October.

Markanday’s big surge in improvement began last April as he scored twice and laid on three assists in the final four matches of the season and he has not looked back since.

Yet for one reason or another he has been overlooked on the whole by Tottenham’s four previous managers, despite training a large number of times with the first team squad.

Under Jose Mourinho he did get a spot on the bench in the Europa League round of 32 second leg against Wolfsburg, with the game all but already wrapped up.

Under Nuno Espirito Santo, Markanday was included among the substitutes in a Premier League match, for the defeat at Crystal Palace in November, and then finally made his first team debut in the Europa Conference League having been on the bench twice before in the earlier stages of the competition.

With those 15 minutes in the defeat at Vitesse on October, he made history as the first British Asian to step on to the pitch for the first team in a competitive match.

The following month, Markanday would say in an interview with the Press Association: “The dream is to play for Tottenham for the next 15 years, playing every game, but obviously I know things might not work out and there are going to be ups and downs. But all I can control is the controllables and things will work out for the best.

“Being around the first team has made me want it even more. It has made me hungry and I want to be in that environment every day for the next 15 years.

“Growing up in north London in Barnet, Tottenham has always been so close to home, I went to a lot of their games when I was younger. It has always been a club that I have massively loved, so to be now part of it and coming through the academy has been a great feeling.”

Yet two months later and the Barnet-born winger is gone and those who watch the U23 matches regularly, and some who don’t, are unhappy.

So is it a failure of Tottenham’s pathway to the first team, the attitudes of the managers or simply unfortunate timing with Markanday’s spurts in development? Time will tell whether it is all three.

Mauricio Pochettino used to take a proper look at the club’s most promising youngsters in his pre-season tour squads each summer.

In his final one, for a tour of Singapore and Shanghai just months before the Argentine’s departure, he did include a number of Markanday’s young academy team-mates such as the then 17-year-old Troy Parrott and 18-year-olds Oliver Skipp, Jamie Bowden, Harvey White and Brooklyn Lyons-Foster.

Markanday, who was almost 18, missed out on the squad, perhaps due to the large numbers of first team attacking midfielders available that summer without international tournaments.



Dilan Markanday and Eric Dier go head-to-head in training at the club's Enfield base
Dilan Markanday and Eric Dier go head-to-head in training at the club’s Enfield base

Pochettino’s successor Mourinho named Markanday in that Europa League squad for the game against Wolfsburg, but brought on 17-year-old Nile John, 16-year-old Dane Scarlett and 20-year-old Marcel Lavinier ahead of the winger on the night.

After the game, Markanday posted on Instagram: “A great experience. The hard work continues.” Mourinho commented underneath: “Your day will arrive.”

In his post-match press conference, the Portuguese spoke about the three young players he had brought on and added: “It was not possible for more kids. Was not possible for Dilan today but one day it will come and for many more.”

Markanday’s time finally did arrive with those 15 minutes under Espirito Santo in the Netherlands against Vitesse but he was not able to impact a game that Spurs had struggled in hugely before his introduction.

That Markanday’s major development has come during the past 18 months was unfortunately timed in that Spurs were overloaded with wingers.

The first team wingers included Son Heung-min, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, Erik Lamela and Gareth Bale before their departures and then Bryan Gil, one of the most highly rated young wingers in Europe, arrived in the summer from Sevilla. On top of that Giovani Lo Celso and Dele Alli were also utilised on either the left or right at times.

Under Antonio Conte, Markanday has trained at times with the first team but was not named in a matchday squad during a time when the new head coach was evaluating those players he knows are first team regulars.

The youngster continued to keep his head down and worked hard for the U23s with further goals and assists.

The step up from U23s football to the Premier League is a big one and shining in the development squad against players your own age is still very unlikely to mean you will do so in the senior game.

Yet the message it sends to others striving around him that the player standing out the most on the next rung down in the academy is not getting a chance is not a great one, particularly during a time when the first team has struggled.

For Markanday, with his 21st birthday coming this summer, the decision to spurn a safe new contract and likely loan moves to instead sign a long-term deal at Blackburn is a brave one, but it shows hunger and with his new club’s current form he could yet make his Premier League debut next season.

Markanday is not the first Spurs youngster to try his luck elsewhere in recent years with 19-year-old Noni Madueke shining at PSV in the Netherlands and the north London club looking at potentially bringing him back last summer.

Marcus Edwards is turning out for Vitoria in Portugal’s top flight after exciting Pochettino as a youngster only to fall from the limelight. Striker Reo Griffiths left Spurs for Lyon in 2018 but is yet to break into the French side’s first team.

What does it mean for the future of young players under Conte?

It’s difficult to judge the selections of the Italian right now as he gets to know the first team players at his disposal.

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Those around Conte indicate that he does like to know what he’s going to get from a player, but he will use young players if the time is right.

At Chelsea he handed Ethan Ampadu his Premier League debut and used Dujon Sterling among others in the cup competitions for the Blues with Ruben Loftus-Cheek and the Chalobah brothers around the squad on occasions.

At Spurs so far, Conte has already become a big fan of 21-year-old academy product Oliver Skipp and has given plenty of game time to his former development squad team-mate Japhet Tanganga. Both were already regular members of the first team.

Scarlett, now 17, has been named on the bench once in the Premier League under the Italian and in the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg against Chelsea and got his first couple of minutes under Conte in the final moments of the FA Cup win against Morecambe.

The problem for Tottenham is a lack of academy players really banging down the door and demanding to be given a chance.

However, Markanday could argue that he was knocking that door off its hinges but no more than a fleeting chance ever came.

Hopefully for the 20-year-old he will now take his chance at Blackburn and Spurs could yet benefit down the line financially, if not directly, from his career.





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