Josh Onomah made his debut for Tottenham Hotspur in January 2015 in an FA Cup win against Burnley. The then 17-year-old came on for the final 15 minutes to help Spurs see out at 4-2 win.
His entrance to the pitch was met with excitement from the White Hart Lane faithful, eager to see the next ‘wonderkid’ make it to the first team. Onomah was already well known amongst Spurs fans. He was already widely touted as a star for the future after his performances for the youth side.
Those who had seen the central midfielder play for the academy knew first hand what all the fuss was about.
Breaking onto the scene
Onomah was a strong, technical ball-carrying midfielder who could dominate the central areas. However, since he made his debut two-and-a half years ago, Onomah is yet to truly announce himself.
Appearances have been few and far between, often limited to cameos from the bench in the last few minutes of a game. In fact, the Enfield-born youngster played more games for the first team in the 2015/16 season than last season, being overtaken by fellow academy graduate Harry Winks in the pecking order.
Despite his appearances as a wide attacking midfielder or a number ten, Onomah’s favoured role is a deeper central midfield position, similar to Mousa Dembele, the player from which he’s learned the most.
Some of that can be put down to Onomah himself. When given the opportunity, he has rarely looked to make an impression, instead choosing the safe and easy options to ensure he doesn’t make any mistakes.
It’s reasonable for a youngster to play this way, wanting to ease his way in and not make any critical areas, however it is unlikely to ever make you stand out as a serious option for the manager.
However, it’s never as simple as that.
Played out of position
Often brought on towards the end of games, was he instructed by Mauricio Pochettino to keep it safe and close the game out?
Not only that, in the youth sides, for Spurs and England, Onomah has played as a central midfielder, either deeper, box-to-box, or even as a 10. He has excelled in central areas for these sides.
However, he has rarely been utilised in these areas for the first team, instead having to make do with a place on the right wing. He is clearly uncomfortable out wide in a role that doesn’t cater to his best qualities, but Pochettino is clearly caught between wanting to give the youngster crucial minutes without yet trusting him in central areas.
It has meant Onomah has had a pretty difficult start to professional football. Fans are quick to judge, and many are already inexplicably saying he will never make it.
Unable to bridge the gap?
However, it’s too entirely plausible that Onomah doesn’t have it within himself to bridge the pronounced gap between youth and senior level.
The 20-year-old may be able to dominate a midfield for youth sides, but may never quite have the mental capacity, or even ability to ever truly do it at first team level for a side as big as Tottenham Hotspur.
At youth level, Onomah was never the most technical of players and his game often relied on strength and physicality to work as effectively as it did. He was bigger than his opponents, a situation he won’t often find playing in the Premier League.
However, to judge him despite never being given the opportunity to play in his best position, is unfair.
A star at the U20 World Cup
Onomah was fantastic playing as a box-to-box midfielder for the England U20 side in their World Cup win this season. Those who witnessed his performances saw what he could do, even forcing a change in opinion for many.
He was carrying the ball past opponents with ease with his strength, speed and technical ability. He looked confident and purposeful and displayed excellent passing, even showing he could be effective in the last third, with the final pass or even strike at goal.
He was unlucky not to score the goal of the tournament in the final against Venezuela, instead seeing his long range strike come off the bar.
Has Pochettino given up?
However, it is still unlikely Onomah would see enough playing time in his preferred areas this season.
Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama formed a superb partnership in central midfield, and Eric Dier, Harry Winks and even Christian Eriksen have also been chosen to play in central midfield areas ahead of Onomah.
The argument goes that Pochettino values Onomah, hence his desire to keep him at the club last season. The question looms, therefore: Has the Argentine's opinion changed?
He trusts his coaches to develop players more so than playing regular football in a lower standard league and tends to keep those he values at the club. With Onomah now joining Aston Villa on loan, does that indicate that Pochettino has given up?
If used properly, Aston Villa now have an extremely talented young Englishman who can dominate a midfield. Perhaps this loan will allow England to see the real Josh Onomah, but what does this mean for his future at Tottenham?
Want to share your opinion? Why not Write For Us?