Oliver Skipp looked destined to become an unfortunate footnote in recent Spurs history but is firmly grasping his unexpected chance to shine.
Despite the evidence of pretty much everything else we do here, sometimes it is nice to be nice.
And sometimes nice things happen and it makes us smile. Obviously we still prefer laughing at misfortune for the most part – thanks, Chelsea! – but just occasionally our cold heart is warmed.
Oliver Skipp has done just that.
He appeared almost certain to be an unlucky footnote in Tottenham’s recent history. A player who briefly looked like he could be really good, but with the twin misfortunes of timing that form to occur under the most conspicuously incompetent of Spurs’ recent managers and then suffering a serious injury.
Coming back from serious injury is a brutally uncertain business for any player, but for a young academy graduate just starting to find his first-team rhythm, it must be particularly difficult.
While out injured, Skipp has had to watch Rodrigo Bentancur arrive and be brilliant, with Yves Bissouma arriving from Brighton just to make things even harder.
And since coming back from his injury, Skipp has – until the last few weeks – been stuck in an infuriating loop. His lack of minutes have left him short of match sharpness, which means he hasn’t really impressed when then occasional opportunities, which means he hasn’t been getting more minutes, which means…
There were only really two ways out of the loop. Leave the club or wait for others to suffer their own misfortune. The latter has come to pass.
Bentancur’s season-ending injury looked like a crowning turd in the bowl of a shocking afternoon for Spurs at Leicester. A confused and confusing team was already well on their way to completing a collapse from 1-0 up to 4-1 down when the loss of their best player of the season left things looking bleaker still.
With Bissouma also out to long-term injury, Skipp suddenly jumped overnight from barely needed fourth choice for a rarely tweaked if oft-overrun two-man midfield to crucial starter in a season-defining run of games.
And he’s been brilliant. First alongside fellow youngster Pape Sarr in an otherwise disappointing but at least not terminal 1-0 Champions League defeat at Milan.
Spurs could have been dead and buried had their rookie midfield crumbled but they held firm.
Since then, Skipp has been flawless as Spurs have appeared to stumble upon an unlikely winning strategy: pack the team with defensive players, but make them play weirdly aggressively. If the most obviously incongruous and eye-catching elements has been the success going forward of the world’s most defensive-minded wing-backs, Ben Davies shuffling out from left centre-back and Emerson Royal shuffling in from what we all thought would be Pedro Porro-instigated obsolescence, Skipp has arguably been the most impressive
Against both West Ham and now Chelsea, Spurs’ novel ‘back eight’ has made them far harder to break down and play through than was previously the case, but without becoming entirely reliant on the front three for attacking intent.
Skipp’s energy and renewed confidence has been key to the early success of what still does appear a largely barmy concept. Spurs have been a curious attacking side all season, one that has relied on the brilliance of Harry Kane and the quality rather than quantity of chances provided for him, but in the last couple of games with Skipp at the heart of everything, they have been far more solid. And while the attacking football still lacks fluency, it has lost none of its potency.
The first goal against West Ham came from a move involving Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg setting up that shouldn’t-work-but-does pair of underlapping wing-backs in Davies and Royal to finish off the move with none of the actual attackers in sight.
Against Chelsea, it was Skipp who got his big moment. A first Spurs goal, lashed in from distance in the opening seconds of the second half, the headline moment of a match where he went toe to toe with transfer-record-smashing Enzo Fernandez and prevailed.
Spurs are in the midst of a quietly ridiculous season where nothing is ever as it seems but one that could still be their most successful in decades.
And right at the heart of this unlikely turn of events is the academy graduate who went on loan to Norwich and had to fight to prove his first-team chops as a host of expensive signings came and went in his position.
You can’t doubt those credentials, as the scorer of Spurs’ other goal on Sunday can confirm. Truly, Oliver Skipp is one of Spurs’ own.
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