After a debut goal against Gillingham, many had expected Spurs academy graduate Josh Onomah to feature more regularly at the north London club than he has done. While there are several factors contributing to this, it begs the question: what is Onomah’s role at Tottenham Hotspur?
As much as it’ll pain those who (rightfully) advocate the Spurs youth setup, Onomah is – at the minute – nothing more than a squad player. Born and raised in Enfield, just a few minutes walk to White Hart Lane, Onomah could develop into the player Tottenham have dreamed of: a home grown talent with Spurs in the blood and a footballing brain.
But at the minute, the 19 year old is a prized player but still a youngster with much to learn before featuring regularly at Premier League level. Those who follow youth football staunchly will know that teenage talents like Marcus Rashford, Kelechi Iheanacho and Spurs’ own Dele Alli are exceptions to the rule – in terms of their physical and mental capabilities to play the game at the highest level – rather than examples to prove that every 18-year-old is ready to play at the Premier League standard. But in Onomah, Spurs have an exciting young talent who must be looked after, cherished, and encouraged to play.
Quite where he’d fit into the current first team is another issue altogether. Kenyan Victor Wanyama has been nothing short of a revelation since rejoining Mauricio Pochettino at White Hart Lane, and has been simply majestic in the holding midfield role. Meanwhile, Mousa Dembele is nigh-on undroppable, such are his ball-retention abilities.
Perhaps Onomah will be seen as cover for the more attacking roles, where the trio of Erik Lamela, Dele Alli and Christian Eriksen have all been susceptible to individually weak performances. But this may yet serve to stifle his talents; without being blessed with outright pace, the youngster would struggle if he was thrown in at the deep end. Onomah is less of a raw talent than the Frenchman Georges-Kevin N’Koudou, and as a result would also need time to settle into the fast rhythm of Premier League games. One of the issues surrounding Onomah is his versatility, meaning he could cover any of the five midfield spaces but will only realistically be played in the position in which he is most effective.
Calls have been made from some areas of the Spurs fanbase calling for the 19-year-old to have a loan spell, yet this would also prove counter-intuitive. Onomah needs to stay under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino to ensure that he continues to develop and is able to hit the ground running when he starts playing consistently for the first team – which must surely be an issue of when, not if. Leaving Spurs, albeit temporarily, to learn another style of football might be seen as beneficial by purists, but realistically will only hinder his way into the Tottenham first team. It makes no sense to loan him out. Combine this with Pochettino appearing to use loans as a way of getting players out of the squad that he doesn’t favour – like Nabil Bentaleb – and a loan for Onomah would lead to justified fears over the youngster’s future.
The debate this leaves is the question over where Onomah actually gets game time. The apparent solution would be the ‘PL2’, the U23 competition for Premier League sides. But Onomah hasn’t even been part of the squad for any of these games, and this must generally be seen as below his standard. Spurs use this competition as a way of improving their very best younger players, so the likes of Marcus Edwards – at just 17 – often play against defenders six years their elder; perhaps it’s no surprise that Onomah is kept with the first team, where he’s restricted to the occasional cup appearance. However, Pochettino will have to start to find him minutes from somewhere, or he’ll risk alienating one of the finest English talents in the game right now.