The Calvin report: The making of Andros Townsend

Winger is a product of John McDermott’s outstanding Tottenham  Academy, where the emphasis is on the person as much as the skill

No fear. Just Do It. No guts, no glory. Occasionally, the trite slogans of the advertising industry acquire human form. They are embodied by someone like Andros Townsend, who is instantly transformed from unconsidered aspirant to national treasure.

It takes years to create an overnight sensation, and it remains to be seen whether Townsend can help England dispel 40-year-old demons, and defeat Poland on Tuesday to progress to next summer’s World Cup finals.

The perils of presumption and over-promotion are, quite literally, neon-lit. Walking up Wembley Way, in Friday night’s fine rain, the eye was drawn to a display in the eaves of the old Arena. There, in a golden glow, were words like Mesmerising, Amazing, Inspiring, Rewarding.

This was the hype machine in action, an England sponsor seeking to set the agenda by association.  International careers have often been lost in the chasm between premature acclamation and agonised rejection. Wingers are mercurial, egocentric, and prone to the sort of regression endured by David Bentley.

Townsend may yet endure the growing pains of Raheem Sterling, ironically recruited from the Under-21 squad yesterday, to cover for the loss of Tom Cleverley. Sterling struggled to come to terms with sudden fame after breaking through at Liverpool, and has cause to be grateful for the faith of Roy Hodgson, who sees beyond a plateau in form.

The limitations of natural talent, emphasised by the personal and professional immaturity which has hampered Wilfried Zaha’s transition at Manchester United, can be exposed ruthlessly and unexpectedly.

Yet, in a world of sudden squalls, there is now hope and a semblance of serenity. Other emerging English players look at Townsend, who had nine loan spells and was seen as a realistic transfer target by such Championship sides as Millwall and Ipswich, and dream.

They will draw strength from their version of ancient history. Geoff Hurst did not make his full international debut until he played against West Germany on 23 February, 1966, 139 days before the World Cup finals started with England’s deceptive goalless draw against Uruguay.

Ross Barkley is in the early stages of assimilation into the senior squad. His Everton team-mate John Stones, a full-back who may yet migrate to the centre of the defence, is capable of making a late run for recognition. So, too, is Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse, a thoroughly modern midfield player. External influences remain a danger, but Townsend’s mechanics are right, and his basic character traits are sound. He had the strength of will to resist temporary rejection by Spurs at the age of 15; he simply refused to stop coming to the training ground, and was given a second chance he seized.

He is a product of a system which attempts to factor social trends and attitudes into the development process. It was significant that Hodgson, at last looking comfortable in his own skin during the Montenegro debrief, should admit to paying special attention to Tottenham’s Academy.

He has already capped Steven Caulker, and cited the promise of Tom Carroll. Spurs, who harbour great hopes for Alex Pritchard, currently on loan at Swindon, and striker Shaquille Coulthirst, routinely use psychometric testing as part of their recruitment procedure.

John McDermott, Tottenham’s Academy manager, insists:  “I want everyone involved to understand our philosophy. Today’s children are more curious and bolder than before. We have got to be able to be honest with our kids, have an empathy with them. We can do the scouting reports, examine the sports science, do the physiology, but we need also to look at the person.

“What is he like socially? Where, and how, does he fit into the group? It is a two way process, in which trust can be built up over time. Remember, it could be fourteen years, from a boy being recruited, to him making his first-team debut.

“We do what I call Zidane work. Can our boys twist and turn, protect and use possession, when they have someone up their back? All our players have to have the attributes of a midfield player, that ability to play forward when they are under pressure.

“We have to be careful of being condescending, because the days of the thicko have gone. We have got to see beyond the now. The best players have football courage. Speed across the ground is not their single most important quality. Perception, and speed of thought, is as important.

“Only the mediocre are at their best all the time. We see if boys can cope, by playing up, beyond their natural level, and provide a safety net when they can’t. Of course there will be a time when we have to decide whether the kid has hit the ceiling, and whether it is the end for him, with us at least.

“But until then, we won’t drown talent, by accentuating fear. We live in a world where managers are three or four games away from the sack. Trying to get through to that culture is a major issue for all of us in English football.”

There are justifiable doubts about the window dressing, like Greg Dyke’s flawed Commission, but qualification for Brazil will help to ease the burden of negativity which prompts coaches to adopt a defensive mind-set.

Townsend was set free by his ambition and his opportunity. He expressed his talent, regardless of the occasion, and set a telling example.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?