Alfie Devine: Tottenham's record-breaking teen destined to be a Premier League star

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The 17-year-old midfielder is already the club's youngest-ever player and scorer, after they paid £300,000 to sign him in the summer of 2020

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With houses backing onto the touchline and stands that hold just over 2,000 people at capacity, Rosset Park is not a ground that comes to mind when record-breaking moments in the history of elite Premier League clubs are being spoken about.

And yet the home of Marine A.F.C. proved to be the location for a match in January 2021 that is, at least for now, etched into Tottenham's storied history.

Spurs ran out 5-0 winners over their opponents from the eighth tier of English football in the FA Cup third round, with the final goal of the game scored by teenager Alfie Devine, as he jinked past a defender before firing low into the bottom corner.

Aged 16 years and 163 days, Devine became both Tottenham's youngest-ever player and youngest-ever goalscorer, hinting that he would develop into the special talent that many had predicted when he was coming through the ranks at Wigan Athletic.

"He's a kid with good potential," then-Spurs boss Jose Mourinho said of the youngster. "He's basically a midfield player, but with an instinct to appear in finishing zones and to score goals."

Described as being "a real spark" when training with the first team by defender Japhet Tanganga, it looked as if Devine's headline-grabbing appearance on Merseyside would be the first of many, only for him to be a victim of the managerial turnover that threatened to derail Spurs over the course of 2021.

Despite being part of the matchday squad on multiple occasions, that appearance against Marine remains the only time he has seen the field at senior level, though he has not allowed that to slow his development down.

With 12 direct goal contributions (nine goals and three assists) in 17 Premier League 2 games, Devine ranks as one of the youngest attacking stars of the Under-23s league, with every player who has contributed to more goals at that level in 2021-22 older than the Warrington-born starlet.

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In addition, the attacking midfielder has received international recognition far beyond expectations: he frequently plays an age-group up with England U19s, having made his debut for Ian Foster’s side just a month after his 17th birthday, and even captained them in a 1-1 draw against Germany.

He also played a significant role in their recent successful U19 European Championship qualifying campaign, starting every game, and is expected to play a large role at the tournament in Slovakia in July.

He already has decent competition experience, after being named Player of the Tournament while playing for England U16s at the Sportschain AGS Cup in December 2019.

Shortly after his return, he was part of the Wigan team that surprisingly knocked Tottenham out of the FA Youth Cup.

Previously in the Liverpool academy structure before being released at the age of 11, Devine returned to being part of a Premier League academy in the summer of 2020, when Wigan's financial woes meant they were forced to sell the stars of that team which shocked Spurs.

Joe Gelhardt and Jensen Weir joined Leeds United and Brighton, respectively, while Tottenham paid around £300,000 ($370,000) to bring Devine to White Hart Lane, with the 17-year-old signing his first professional contract a year later.

With Antonio Conte, though, set to spend this summer after seemingly guiding Spurs back into the Champions League next season, a loan move for Devine ahead of the 2022-23 campaign may be best for his development.

That development, however, is not the most straightforward to map.

Devine has been widely referred to as a central midfielder, but it is clear he does his best work in the attacking third of the pitch.

His dribbling and close control are among his best attributes, and he combines that with excellent timing, good game intelligence and a natural off-the-cuff creativity.

He is aggressive off the ball, too, with a good understanding of when and where to press.

His qualities, though, make it hard to judge where he is best suited to playing.

For England, he mainly plays either side of a narrow front three in a 3-4-3 formation, and is excellent at making combinations out wide to create chances.

However, he almost always plays more centrally as a No.10 or an attack-minded No.8 for Spurs, and it is clear that he possesses a strong aptitude for finding pockets of space between the lines to pick up the ball in.

He sometimes fails to make the most of the opportunity when he receives the ball in a dangerous position due to wanting to prioritise ball retention over taking a risk, but he certainly has the baseline technical quality to improve in that sense and become a bit less safe.

He is also an excellent set-piece taker, and a good finisher off both feet; the next step for him is to get into those goalscoring positions more frequently.

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There is further work to do, particularly on the defensive side of his game and in terms of him filling out physically, if Devine is to truly reach his potential, but all the baseline tools are there for him to prosper at the top level.

And so while the U19s Euros, a potential loan move or more PL2 football is next on the agenda for Devine, do not be surprised if in a year or two he becomes a breakout star at Tottenham.

His first goal may have come against part-time players, but soon enough he will be netting in the Premier League.

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