Marcus Edwards was once seen as Tottenham’s brightest prospect for a long time, but it never quite worked out for him in north London.
Now, the 23-year-old, famously once compared to Lionel Messi as a teenager, has the chance to show Spurs what they are missing when Sporting Lisbon head to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the Champions League tonight.
Edwards was simultaneously handed one of the biggest compliments and burdens in football when he was just 17.
Speaking in 2016, then-Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino heaped praise on Edwards after watching him star in several youth matches.
“The qualities – it’s only looks, his body and the way that he plays – remember a little bit from the beginning of Messi,” Pochettino said.
Poch, who was in charge of the six-time Ballon d’Or winner at PSG, had only meant to compare the two in terms of playing style.
However, the damage had been done and Edwards, who had been at Spurs since the age of six, was under pressure to live up to comparisons to Messi.
Initially, the England youth international seemed unfazed having made his first-team debut for Tottenham the night after Pochettino’s comments.
Edwards impressed as a 75th-minute substitute in a 5-0 EFL Cup win over Gillingham in September 2016.
However, that proved to be his only senior appearance for the north Londoners as an ankle injury soon hampered his progress.
Question marks then arose around his attitude after Pochettino described him as having ‘authority and behavioural problems’ in his book ‘Brave New World’.
Edwards himself admitted to the Independent in 2019: “I know I was a bit difficult when I was going through the academy.”
An infamous loan at Norwich in January 2018 followed where Edwards played just six minutes of football before returning to Spurs.
Then-Canaries boss Daniel Farke said Edwards had to ‘grow up a bit’ but the youngster later revealed he had been struggling with a back injury at the time.
Edwards eventually sought a fresh start away from English football as he starred on loan at Dutch club Excelsior Rotterdam in 2018/19.
He led the Eredivisie in dribbles per game ahead of ex-Tottenham star Steven Bergwijn as he showcased his talent.
Edwards told the i newspaper in 2020: “I’ve seen other players thrive abroad, so I looked at it as an opportunity.
“It’s definitely a positive to go abroad and show what you’ve got. Other young players are doing well, so it’s good to see. I think it makes you grow up quicker – leaving where you’re comfortable, with your friends and family at home.”
He added: “It wouldn’t be completely different if I was at home but because you’re away from everything you live and breathe football. There’s nothing else.”
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Edwards swapped Netherlands for Portugal as he signed for Vitoria de Guimaraes, scoring his first goal for the club in familiar surroundings.
Just eight minutes into his return to north London to face Arsenal in a Europa League clash, the winger fired in the opener in a 3-2 defeat before celebrating wildly.
Edwards then moved to Sporting Lisbon in the January transfer window for a cool £7million.
He has made 29 appearances for the Portuguese giants, scoring seven goals and providing eight assists.
Earlier this season, he made his full Champions League debut against Eintracht Frankfurt – he scored and set up a goal as Sporting won 2-0.
Edwards is currently averaging a goal involvement every 67 minutes, so is he finally starting to fulfil his potential?
Well, Andy Brassell believes he could be, telling talkSPORT: “There was a lot of muttering about his attitude.
“He struck me as two things. First, he’s a player of great ability who was frustrated at not being able to get into the team, which I think is understandable.
“The other thing about Marcus Edwards is that he’s quite shy.
“There was a great headline two days after the win at Frankfurt, in which Edwards scored a brilliant opening goal set one up as well, and the headline in A Bola said ‘He’s not a false nine; he’s a genuine nine.’”
Edwards now has the chance to prove all the doubters wrong by delivering against Spurs on his return to north London.
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- ‘Mini-Messi’ Marcus Edwards played just 15 minutes for Tottenham but Sporting Lisbon star has relaunched his career and is set for north London return in Champions League clash
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