Football Features

Are you watching Gareth? Sporting’s ‘mini Messi’ makes England case after dazzling against former club Spurs

By Ben Green

Are you watching Gareth? Sporting’s ‘mini Messi’ dazzled in UCL against former club Spurs copy

Published: 19:53, 13 September 2022

Mauricio Pochettino was right… to an extent. Marcus Edwards was able to showcase all the fleet-footed and bedazzling dribbling qualities of a Lionel Messi lite on Tuesday evening — only it came in the colours of Sporting and not Spurs.

Of course, Edwards is in no way comparable with Argentina’s diminutive genius, simply because, well, no one is. Messi has bracketed himself in a league of his own, reaching the kind of stratospheric heights few thought were possible. But, there are certain similarities in Edwards’ game that doesn’t make Pochettino’s bold assertion in 2016 seem like the ramblings of a madman.

Both stand at a similar height between 5ft 6in and 5ft 7in, both have a wand of a left boot (is there really any other descriptive term for a left boot?), both transfix terraces and snap metaphorical ankles with a dribbling quality that’s more than a little bit pleasing on the eye.

“The qualities – it’s only looks, his body and the way that he plays – remember a little bit from the beginning of Messi,” Pochettino once said of Edwards.

“He’s small, he’s left-footed, I remember a little bit (Erik) Lamela when he was at River Plate, remember he had long hair, when he was 14, 15 years old, there is a lot of videos on YouTube that you can see, that he took the ball, didn’t give a pass and shot straight away.

“He (Edwards) is a very good prospect and potentially he can be a top player.”

That potential is seeming to bear fruit now, but it took a move away from Tottenham before it became fully realised. The local Enfield winger rose through the ranks in north London and was tipped for the grandest of heights. But an unsuccessful loan spell to Norwich in 2017/18 and a nothing-to-right-home-about stint at Excelsior saw him seek pastures new in Portugal in 2019.

The 23-year-old initially joined Vitoria de Guimaraes and impressed so much in Braga that Lisbon giants Sporting swooped in for his signature in January. Since that winter move to the capital, Edwards has continued to go from strength to strength and is now looking to like the player Pochettino once thought he would be.

Against his former club on Tuesday night, he was the standout player. One particular run in which he pirouetted his way into Spurs’ box saw him send plenty of bodies spiralling to the canvas, before a quick one-two allowed him to bear down ontp Hugo Lloris’ goal, only for the Frenchman to parry his effort.

It had all the hallmarks of one of Messi’s trademark runs: that low centre of gravity, the deft ball control, the wizardry and speed of thought the link play while in motion. And it would seem that this particular performance has not been an isolated incident. Last week, Edwards was the attacking fulcrum as Sporting beat Frankfurt 3-0.

He both scored and assisted, and has now impressed this week despite nothing tangible to show for his individual efforts. But that is perhaps the best sign that you’re heading in the right direction, when everyone is talking about your performance and not that of the goalscorers. For his particular efforts this evening, he finished with the highest xG (0.42), the most duels (17) and the most successful take-ons (five).

Messi is, of course, an inconceivable stretch, but Edwards looks like a quality player in his own right, forging his own reputation as a dribbling virtuoso. And who knows, possibly even a future England international? It’s certainly something to consider for Gareth Southgate if he’s producing in the Champions League.