Marcus Edwards: Future England international?
Background image: Manuel Anastacio, CC BY-SA 2.0
Marcus Edwards may not be familiar to most English football fans. The former Tottenham youngster made only a single senior league appearance in his home country; a brief outing as a substitute for Norwich in a 2-0 Championship defeat to Fulham. At the age of 21, that’s a record unlikely to inform anyone of the youngster’s potential.
But Edwards is amongst the increasing numbers of British youngsters to stake his claim abroad, following big names like Jadon Sancho and Rabbi Matondo as well as lesser-known, but no less talented players, like Almeria’s Arvin Appiah or Noni Madueke at PSV Eindhoven.
Following his blink and you’ll miss it outing for the Canaries, Edwards spent time on loan in the Eredivisie with Excelsior. Although the club were relegated, Edwards performed well, topping the league table for dribbles completed per game, while benefitting from 25 games in the top flight of Dutch football; along with the quality coaching and technical development on offer to youngsters in the country.
In September of this year, the diminutive winger was off abroad again, this time signing the dotted line on a four-year contract with Vitoria SC of Portugal’s Primeira division. The press pounced on the story, subjecting Edwards to the usual comparisons. He was branded, you’ve guessed it, the next Lionel Messi, by starry eyed pundits drawing comparisons between the two for their low centres of gravity, pace and skill.
The hype went into overdrive the following month when Vitoria faced off against Arsenal in Europa League action. With the gods of football narrative evidently paying close attention to this tie, the Tottenham youth graduate fired in the opening goal against his boyhood club’s rivals before knee-sliding and fist pumping in jubilation before an irate home crowd.
A Europa League goal and a handful of games in Holland and Portugal are a good start, but at this stage they don’t mean anything. While Edwards is clearly brimming with talent, and his decision to go abroad to make a name for himself marks him out for extra attention, he’s got a long way to go before reaching the milestone that will indicate he’s lived up to at least a fraction of his reputation; an England call up.
With a few exceptions, England players go abroad at the end of their careers. From Gary Lineker’s jaunt with Nagoya Grampus Eight to Wayne Rooney’s jump to DC United, going abroad normally means the end of an England career. The landscape is changing. The powers that be in English football have realised that picking entirely domestic based squads harms their chances of success, while increasing numbers of talented youngsters are opting to play their football in sunny southern Europe rather than the rainswept industrial landscapes of the United Kingdom. If Edwards performs well and continues to develop in Portugal, his location won’t put him out of contention; it may even give him a small edge.
The most important thing for Edwards’ career at present is consistency. An Injury picked up in 2016 hampered his development at a crucial stage and was perhaps the key factor in his failure to make his mark in English football. Now, he seems to have turned the corner. He is playing and scoring consistently, both domestically and in Europe, an experience that is both serving to develop him as a player and increase his reputation.
Ascension to football superstardom may not happen overnight, and those comparisons with Messi may well be somewhat overdone but if Edwards is even half the player some make him out to be, he’ll be an asset to his nation in the coming years.