Andros Townsend, Newcastle United, and a tide of snark

Something strange has happened to Andros Townsend. From the moment he was first capped by England, he seems to have been fighting against a tide of snide negativity.

In January 2016, Townsend seems on the verge of leaving Tottenham Hotspur. A very public fallout with the club’s physiotherapist, Nathan Gardiner, exiled him from Mauricio Pochettino’s squad and set him on a course which looks like to end in a transfer away from White Hart Lane. Reports suggest that Daniel Levy is unwilling to sanction another loan for the player and has instead set an asking price of £14m for the winger which, again according to rumour, Newcastle are apparently willing to meet.

“Giggle, giggle, giggle…Andros Townsend isn’t worth £14m.”

Is that really true?

Townsend’s situation is reminiscent of what happened to Emile Heskey in the latter half of the last decade. Heskey, a dynamic forward in his younger years and an efficient targetman during his career’s twilight, became a victim of something over which he had no control. He became a standing-joke and the object of a thousand YouTube videos which reductively characterised his playing attributes - so much so, that it essentially become who he he was.

Emile Heskey was once one of the most sought after forwards in English football and yet, by the end of his prime, he had become a figure of fun and a synonym for useless profligacy. That’s the power of perception.

Andros Townsend’s situation bears comparison. He has his faults as a player and there are some valid reasons as to why Erik Lamela, Heung Min Son and Nacer Chadli all enjoy more first-team minutes than he does, but the depiction of him as an international anomaly - a player whose capping was a baffling event - is entirely false.

It’s aggravating because it’s so deeply unfair. Townsend is frequently flogged for his willingness to shoot and his tendency to be rather formulaic in possession, but while that is an area of his game in need of sharp refinement, that inefficiency has been allowed to totally define him. His gliding running style is ignored, his smooth acceleration counts for nothing, and his ability to beat players and offer a dynamic on-the-ball threat has been drowned out by the cackle of the LOL generation.

Townsend represents potential and, more importantly, self conviction. He takes a lot of shots and he puts many of those into the stand behind the goal, but there’s a value in any player who’s willing to shoulder the responsibility for his team’s attacking possession. English midfielders are noticeably reticent in those sort of situations and one of the unfortunate characteristics shared by players recently bred in this country is a lack of bravery. Not the literal sort of bravery needed to block shots or charge into tackles, but the type which determines whether a player is emotionally substantial enough to try to change a game.

Andros Townsend has that sort of bravery. Irrespective of what his career-to-date adds up to or what his shooting percentages actually are, he undeniably has the intangible mental qualities which tend to eventually translate into something real. That focus on his wastefulness actually disguises what is almost an unique selling point: he has no fear.

£14m is a lot of money but, when viewed in football terms and when spent by a particular type of club, it’s actually a very middle of the road transfer-fee. The question in relation to Townsend, therefore, should not focus on what he’s been able to do up until this point, but what he might be capable of in the right situation.

If he were to sign for Newcastle United, for instance, and have both access to a regular first-team place and Steve McClaren’s brand of coaching - which places a strong emphasis on individual growth and footballing maturity - £14m will likely seem a very reasonable fee in hindsight. Townsend needs to become better in his own half, his compulsion to carry the ball into congested areas will have to lessen, and that shot-to-goal ratio must improve, but all of those are developments are theoretically achievable.

This is a determined character. While mis-reported as a punishment, his current involvement with Tottenham’s U21s is by his own volition and his attitude in those games has been typically positive. He is not a sulker, he is not weak-minded and the only evidence to the contrary - the Gardiner incident - seemed derived from a relatable frustration rather than any entitlement or corrosive petulance.

Townsend’s deeper texture is the only pertinent detail to this. What could his raw ingredients one day add up to, what kind of personality does he seem to have, and what could he be if his finest physical and emotional qualities meet in the future?

The answer, clearly, is a player who is easily worth the risk now.

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