Tottenham Hotspur: Destiny Udogie is a ‘rare talent’ destined for the top

28 December 2023 0 By Total Football News

Mina Rzouki banner

Udinese needed only a handful of matches to decide Destiny Udogie was a rare talent.

Demonstrating strength and creativity for Hellas Verona, they immediately set in motion plans to sign a youngster who already had local observers excitedly talking of a burgeoning talent.

Udinese have a sophisticated scouting network that has yielded some fine players including Alexis Sanchez and Rodrigo de Paul, but on this occasion they did not need to travel far to scout their newest recruit.

Andrea Carnevale, the former Italy striker who is now a scout for Udinese, was said to have been bewitched by the Veronese kid.

The club welcomed their new recruit with a photograph and a few words on Udogie’s climb to success. Towering over Udinese general director Franco Collavino and sporting director Pierpaolo Marino, it was impossible to ignore Udogie’s height.

His stature is a curious aspect of the youngster. You do not expect him to be quite so tall, having watched him in games dart around the pitch with pace. However in real life you cannot help but be startled by his stature, even back then as an 18-year-old.

Now 21, he is catching the eye for Tottenham in the Premier League – but is accustomed to astonishing people.

His father Franklin told journalist Gianluca di Marzio that many years ago when a scout from Atalanta came to watch his young son play “he didn’t think he was six years old based on the way he played – he wanted to check the documents to be sure!”

‘A nightmare for opponents to control’

Starting nearly every match in his first season at Udinese while on loan, Udogie proved to be so much more than strength and power.

Yes he was explosive, but he also possessed technique as well as vision and delighted with his ability to carry the ball in attack. His acceleration and unpredictability made him a nightmare for opponents to control or negate.

However arguably his greatest quality was his desire to learn and improve. He demonstrated admirable maturity.

Combining the physical with the technical while retaining a deep desire for progression is the holy grail for Italian sporting directors – and especially former Spurs director of football Fabio Paratici.

Paratici has made a few well-documented mistakes, especially during his time at Juventus, but he has a talent for scouting – and Udogie is one who enchanted him.

Udinese turned his loan into a permanent deal in the summer of 2022 – but just months later Spurs moved to bring him to Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on a five-year contract.

In Antonio Conte, Tottenham had a coach at that time who was famed for his love of wing-backs. They were paramount to the execution of his tactical ideals.

In the various clubs Conte has managed his wing-backs have offered different values but have always shared certain attributes – none more important than stamina.

Having a player who could also provide attacking width when the wide forwards move in, like Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski often do, was even more important.

Udogie was loaned back to Udinese last season, so by the time him arrived properly at Spurs Ange Postecoglou was in charge.

Destiny Udogie celebrates scoring for Tottenham against Newcastle in the Premier LeagueDestiny Udogie joined Tottenham from Udinese in August 2022 but then went back on loan

‘Udogie has everything’

Udogie had been tracked by some of the big Italian clubs but tight budgets have forced sporting directors into debilitating caution when it comes to purchasing youngsters.

But it was surprising that Udogie’s rising star failed to grab the attention of Italy’s then coach Roberto Mancini.

Mancini was famed for handing out debuts to many Italian youngsters, Aston Villa’s Nicolo Zaniolo being famously called up despite not having made a first-team appearance in Serie A.

Yet Udogie was largely ignored, only ever called into a training camp organised to observe 53 of Italy’s most exciting youngsters.

“I absolutely respect the choices of the coach Roberto Mancini, whom I respect a lot. But he surprised me,” explained Andrea Sottil in September 2022, Udinese’s coach at the time.

“I think Udogie is one of the best full-backs in our league.”

One of the suggested reasons for his omission was that Udogie was accustomed to playing in a 3-5-2 as a wing-back, and was thus perhaps unfamiliar with the four-man backline Mancini relies on.

Udogie had however played as a midfielder prior to arriving Udinese several times, so was tactically adept and absorbed instructions well.

When Luciano Spalletti took over, the young defender was quickly called up, the Azzurri’s new boss saying “Udogie has everything”.

He made his debut against Malta then started his first game against England. Gazzetta dello Sport rated Udogie as the best on the pitch for Italy, offering a real threat going forward as well as showing defensive might.

Italy lost 3-1 but Udogie played like “a veteran”, impressing Italians just as much as he seems to be impressing Spurs fans.

Postecoglou’s faith paying off

Initially signed until 2027, Tottenham have quickly offered Udogie a contract extension until 2030 and a pay rise, such has been his impact in north London.

Playing as an inverted left-back, Postecoglou has recognised the player’s will to improve and allowed him to take on a role that uses his tactical flexibility and also allows a certain level of freedom.

Moving between the flank and midfield, Udogie has been a revelation, with Postecoglou’s faith in him hastening the left-back’s adjustment to his north London surroundings.

Only his disciplinary record perhaps requires some work.

Spalletti has made it clear Udogie belongs in his squad and he will fight for a starting spot with Federico Dimarco, who might just be one of the world’s best in the position.

He surely has a long career ahead of him in the national team though and it feels only a matter of time before all of Italy is singing “I wanna dance with Udogie” along with Spurs fans.

Tottenham's Destiny Udogie in action against Neco Williams of Nottingham ForestDestiny Udogie played for Italy Under-21s, winning his first cap in September 2021, before moving up to the full national side

Mina Rzouki is a European football journalist and broadcaster who is writing for BBC Sport this season. If you have a question on European football that you’d like to ask her, then fill out the form below and she will answer a selection of them in subsequent columns.

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