Deandre Yedlin didn’t start a single match at the World Cup. Nor did he score a goal, or record an assist. Hell, only once was he actually played in his normal right-back position. It didn’t matter. His substitute appearances alone were enough to let you know there was something special. He has the type of speed that makes your mouth drop and just utter, “woah”. He’s the type of player that when the ball goes out to him on the right flank, you know he’s going to put it where it needs to be. Even if you yourself don’t know where that is yet. That’s the type of player he is.
The cynics amongst you are probably looking at the transfer of Deandre Yedlin to Tottenham as another marketing scheme by Mr. Levy. After all, it all does seem rather convenient, doesn’t it? The World Cup draws in big television ratings in the US, Tottenham takes a tour of three North American cities (one of them against Yedlin’s own team, the Sounders) and suddenly Spurs come out of seemingly nowhere to sign him up. One of the rising stars of US Soccer in Lilywhite does make quite a nice path to capitalize on the growing US market, but Yedlin’s arrival is about more than Levy sinking his teeth into the American market.
And yes, I know what you’re probably thinking: “Why sign another right-back when they have Kyle Walker, Kyle Naughton and then Ryan Fredericks coming up through the youth system?” I understand. But Yedlin is better than both Naughton and Fredericks. Naughton is 25, and while he is fairly reliable in his defensive duties, he lacks the willingness and, quite honestly, the ability to be an important aspect of the attack, which is a crucial part of being a fullback in the Pochettino system.
Fredericks is a better attacking threat than Naughton, and possesses more pace, but is already the same age as Yedlin and is not as developed, nor does he have as high of a ceiling as the American. He has ability, but the probably not the kind you’re looking for in a side that wants to be in the Champions League.
The Yedlin transfer makes sense because it provides Pochettino with a right-back suited perfectly to his system. The strength of Yedlin is his attacking ability. His quality in this aspect was clear to see in the World Cup, especially when he would slot into the right midfield spot of the US 4-2-3-1. Indeed, the US attack looked most dangerous when he was on the pitch, even when he dropped back to his usual right-back spot against Belgium for the injured Fabian Johnson.
It was an impact not many thought he would have, at least, not so soon. Yedlin was not on many people’s radars heading into the World Cup. Did he have talent? Sure. Did he look like a good prospect? Yes, but still pretty raw. Pace? More and then some. But his performances in the World Cup were more than what many could have expected. On the biggest stage of his entire life, he produced his best performances. How many players would have shrunk away from the floodlights of the game’s biggest stage? How many players become their best when the spotlight is shining brightest?
It was only a matter of time before European clubs started calling. Situations like this happen with every World Cup: a young player puts on some good performances, their hype and market value see a sharp uptake, and European clubs looking to make a splash in the transfer market shell out the cash for a player who may or may not end up being a great player.
So, which one will Yedlin be?
It’s hard to say. He only recently turned 21, and is still learning his trade as a defender after being converted from a winger (although, as shown in the World Cup, he can still excel in this position), but potential wise, the sky is the limit. Much of his mistakes defensively come from being a risk-taker (not uncommon for a young defender) more so than poor-positioning, which he can make up for with his speed. He has strength, unreal pace, a mean right foot that can consistently put in fantastic cross, and a fiercely competitive attitude and work ethic. With continued playing time and natural maturation as a defender, the signs point to him only improving.
As he himself has said, Pochettino’s style suits him well. His aggressiveness in both attack and defense make him a natural fit for Pochettino, who likes his fullbacks to essentially act as auxiliary wingers to provide width in attack. With Yedlin’s penchant for bombing up and down the touchline, and his ability to put in a good ball in the final third, and it’s not difficult to see why Tottenham wanted to secure his signature.
The most interesting part of this deal is what it means for Kyle Walker. Yedlin won’t be joining until January (or possibly later), and will not overtake Walker for the starting spot any time soon, but it is not difficult to see him pushing Walker for the starting spot in the future. If he continues to develop into the player that many in the US think he can become, he’s not going to be kept on the bench.
All in all, it is a transfer that makes sense for Tottenham both on the pitch and off it. Levy gets a mainline to the growing American football market, and Pochettino gets an exciting young player that possesses all of the qualities he looks for in his fullbacks: fast, high-energy, tireless, and attack-minded.
Yedlin will not just be some marketing puppet for Levy to parade around, however. If you said that to Eden Hazard or Jan Vertonghen, who had to deal with Yedlin bombing up and down their left flank in the World Cup, they would probably laugh in your face. But it’s ok if you want to underestimate him. It’s happened before, it’s happening now, and it will happen again. Personally, I wouldn’t bet against the kid. No, I wouldn’t bet against this one.