One thing that was clear on Friday night as Tottenham’s U21s took on Everton was that Alfie Devine should be playing at a more senior level of football, but an injury after 78 minutes could scupper that.
The 18-year-old midfielder, who helped England win the European U19 Championships this summer, was one of Spurs‘ few standout players in their 2-0 defeat to the Toffees at the Lamex Stadium in Stevenage, the other being 19-year-old Irish goalkeeper Josh Keeley, who joined the club in the summer.
With former Spurs defender Danny Rose watching on from the stands, Devine breezed around the game, rarely looking under pressure when the ball was at his feet and in a Tottenham team that struggled to create, the teenager looked a cut above when he drove towards the box in his attacking midfield role during his 78 minute stint on the pitch.
However, that 78th minute brought what the early signs suggest could be a problematic hamstring injury for Devine, one that brought downcast shakes of the head from him and the coaching staff in the moment and after the game. The injury will be assessed as will an ankle injury for fellow midfielder Jamie Bowden, and how that affects what could be a big summer for Devine remains to be seen.
“Jamie hurt his ankle. He’s gone over on his ankle which is really disappointing. He’s a key player for us,” said Spurs U21s manager Wayne Burnett after the match in his club interview. “Alfie Devine has we think picked up a hamstring injury which is a real blow. We’ll have to assess them both tomorrow to see how they are. “
Originally the idea for Devine was to keep him at the club to complete three full seasons in order to register him as a club-trained player in European competition for the future. His arrival from Wigan only two years ago made it difficult to involve him in the young Europa Conference League squads early last season as he could not be registered on the B list of young club players.
Tottenham turned down a loan offer from Leyton Orient last year as they felt at that stage his development was better served by spending time split between the first team training sessions and working with Burnett’s development squad. The player was understood to have wanted to go out on loan at that point despite his tender years.
Devine’s rapid development has been such that Spurs were ready to consider loan moves for him this summer, despite their busy academy schedule with the added fixtures of the UEFA Youth League, a competition that mirrors the Champions League in the group stages. However, they do not want to hold back the progress of a teenager being tipped for the top and the player is also believed to still be pushing for that loan spell to build on his development.
Devine will be hoping that his hamstring injury is not serious and does not wreck any chance of a summer loan, but the initial signs are not good. The hope could be that if he faces only a brief spell out then a club may be willing to take a chance on the rising young star and wait it out until he is fit, otherwise the alternative would be a January loan move instead and using him in the UEFA Youth League as well as on the bench in Antonio Conte’s team in the Carabao Cup.
The midfielder has already made his Tottenham debut, making history as the club’s youngest ever goalscorer with his strike against Marine in the FA Cup third round last season under Jose Mourinho.
Despite still being just 17-years-old, last season he was named on the bench by Conte for the Premier League match at Leeds United and again in the FA Cup tie at Middlesbrough.
Devine is outgrowing academy football despite his tender years and now is the time for him to push on and learn all about the rigours of first team football.
His case for a loan this season at some point will be aided if Conte decides to keep fellow young midfielders Pape Matar Sarr and Harvey White at the club.
The Spurs boss told football.london in Korea that he was going to make a decision with the club about 19-year-old Sarr, who was signed form Metz last summer before heading back on loan for the season.
“About Sarr, he’s a young player. A good prospect. He will be the future for Tottenham,” said Conte. “Together, with Sarr we also have other young players and we will try with the club to take the best decision for them. It can be very important to take the best decision about whether to stay in the squad, to stay at Tottenham or go out on loan and play with regularity every game and continue to improve.”
White is also in need of loan football, having enjoyed a four-month spell at Portsmouth two seasons ago, and Conte used him on the bench many times last season despite not giving him any minutes under him. The 20-year-old was also used in pre-season this summer and Conte told football.london towards the end of the last campaign that White has “improved a lot”.
Spurs’ need to have club trained players to register in their European squad could result in White needing to stick around and Conte must also decide whether Sarr could benefit from six months at least of adapting to the club and the English game.
For all three young midfielders, their immediate future will be decided within the coming weeks.