Do you remember when Andros Townsend became a household name in 2013?
It is likely that of the millions of people who watched Townsend collect the ball from Danny Welbeck before running at the retreating Montenegrin defence and hammering a swerving shot beyond Vukasin Poleksic, most had never seen him before.
Townsend put on another top-drawer performance in the next World Cup qualifier against Poland, and English hopes for the Brazil World Cup were reignited.
Then he just disappeared.
The Walthamstow native had just spent the previous season (2012-13) vying with Gareth Bale for a starting place—an unenviable task by anyone’s standards.
Growing up on the left wing, the same position as his idol Ryan Giggs, as he revealed in FourFourTwo, Townsend’s aptitude with both feet—along with Bale’s move into a more central position—allowed a smooth transition to the opposite side of the pitch under Andre Villas-Boas.
It was here that Townsend established himself and earned his first England call-up, but rather than head up and up as was widely predicted, his career has instead ground to a halt.
Afforded a permanent spot on the Spurs team sheet by Bale’s departure for Real Madrid last summer, the commencement of 2013-14 saw him collect just one goal and one assist in 14 league appearances before missing the next eight games through injury.
Following his November 2013 return against Everton, Townsend’s confidence deserted him, and he completed a full 90 minutes only once in 11 league appearances before suffering the ligament injury that ruled him out of the 2014 World Cup.
This season he made a 29-minute cameo against West Ham United and was then dropped by Mauricio Pochettino for yesterday’s 4-0 victory over QPR.
So what can be done to salvage what was initially a highly promising career?
Adapt his game
While his star was rising, Townsend’s game was built around his ability to use an injection of pace and upper-body strength to beat his man.
However, as any speedy winger will tell you, injuries can rob players of that extra yard long before age sets in, while that breed of player seems to be particularly susceptible—look at Theo Walcott's and Ibrahim Afellay's respective records for two prime examples.
Naturally, Townsend can’t eliminate the risk, but he can ease it by adapting his game.
While he will never be a passing metronome, his crossing demonstrates good vision and opens up the prospect of dribbling past his man less often and instead using his pace for pass-and-moves and forcing space. And his already impressive long shot is one characteristic that will continue to improve.
Listen to Pochettino
As anyone involved in football knows, and any sport for that matter, players buying into the manager’s strategy is paramount to success.
Players must believe in both their own ability and that of their manager—with Pochettino there can be little room for doubt.
Townsend has already weathered one managerial change when Villas-Boas made way for Tim Sherwood in December, just as he picked up a medium-term injury.
The reports of Spurs rejecting a second bid from Southampton, per Sky Sports, indicate that Townsend is still in Pochettino’s plans, and there is much to be gained from working under a young manager with rising stock who values crisp, attacking football.
Forget about Bale
Ever since he broke the Spurs first team, Townsend has walked in the shadow of the world’s most expensive player, per BBC Sport, a comparison that hit fever pitch following that scintillating international debut.
The problem is that Townsend, for all the similarities and considerable talent, will never match up to the Welshman, and forgetting about doing so is key to recovering his form.
Footballers express themselves best when playing with freedom and without pressure—ambition is one thing, but trying to live up to the pseudo-superhuman that is Bale is tantamount to psychic suicide.
But taking Townsend’s young age into account, negotiating this is something that will require the experience of his manager.
Not the £300-an-hour, lying-on-a-couch-while-having-your-brain-picked variety.
Alan Hansen may have been shown up by Ryan Giggs et al. following his announcement at the beginning of the 1995-96 season that “you don’t win anything with kids,” but there is much truth the maxim.
The reason that most managers prefer to have a healthy blend of youth and experience is that precocious youngsters often need the help of a steady hand to guide them—Townsend would do well to ask for mentoring from one of his teammates.
While the majority of the Spurs squad are relatively young, Aaron Lennon would be suitable considering several bouts of evaporating form over the years, not to mention the similarities between the two players.
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