Andros Townsend talks leaving Spurs, why his England debut felt so natural and... Did he really see Harry Kane and Gareth Bale going to the top?
Crystal Palace winger Townsend spoke to Sky Sports about what it was like entering the Tottenham youth academy aged eight, why loan spells in the Football League never phased him and what it is that helped him make it in the Premier League.
But with those Spurs days now long behind him, he looked back on his career to date with Soccer AM's Adam Smith and how he dealt with one of his toughest moments, in association with EA Sports FIFA 20.
What were your earliest football memories?
Probably the 1998 World Cup. Once England went out, I followed Brazil. I remember following the final and Ronaldo with that suspicious illness.
Who were your role models growing up?
That'd have to be Brazilian Ronaldo. From a young age, I was always obsessed with him, some of the goals he scored were amazing. I followed his career from Inter Milan to Real Madrid and AC Milan, and he was always a hero of mine growing up.
How was it joining a club like Tottenham as a kid?
There was no pressure at all. It's mad you say it's so young, I remember playing for a good two or three years before I went to Spurs. I had a trial at Arsenal, one at Crystal Palace, a few London clubs, whether that be with their academy or development sides. I've definitely got a good few years' memories before I joined Spurs. It didn't feel that young.
How much did you enjoy being in the academy at Spurs?
It was great. We had a good crop of youngsters coming through; myself, Ryan Mason, Adam Smith, Harry Kane, and three of four others - Tom Carroll, John Obika. We were very fortunate we had great coaches there, and when I think back it's definitely with fond memories. I try to keep in touch with as many of the boys as possible.
Where did the viral clip of you singing Stand By Me come from?
Honestly, I've no idea what was going through our heads! It was around Christmas I think, and for some reason we decided to make a song for Christmas. Because we were all youth team players, we didn't expect it to blow up the way it did. We thought we'd just put it on Twitter and that would be that.
Unfortunately, I did it by choice!
You said you were talented but cocky as a youngster. What did you mean by that?
I was a show-off. If I trained with the first team, they'd hate me because I wouldn't pass to them, if they gave me stick I'd mouth off.
You do that when you're young, you don't think about the consequences, and even to this day I'm probably still very cocky. But I wouldn't say it was a bad trait, it probably helped me.
When I was going out on loan, I wasn't scared of these players who were 10 or 11 years older than me, I was sure of myself and felt equal to them.
Fans love players that do tricks. Did having that confidence help you?
We had a talented group in the youth team, whenever a player would go up with the first team, honestly back in those days it was brutal. If you made one mistake, the senior players would batter you. I think you need to be thick-skinned to get through that.
Who was the worst in the first team to give a hammering?
There was a few - Jermain Defoe, Jermaine Jenas, Robbie Keane, Luka Modric. There were some players a few years older than me who were in the first team, and they used to come and say to me 'they're battering you in the changing rooms Andros, you don't pass it'.
You scored on your Spurs debut. What were the emotions?
That was incredible, I'll always look back on that with the fondest of memories. For a Spurs fan to do that on their debut, it's what you dream about as a kid, I managed to live it and it was an out-of-body experience almost, along with my England debut. I have the shirt on the wall and three pictures after scoring a goal in that game.
What was Roy Keane like as a manager when you went to Ipswich on loan?
He was exactly how you see him on TV, but even more brutal. I really enjoyed my time under him. Nowadays players don't like that sort of management, and I think that's why he's not in management at the moment, but if you had a bad game he would tell you about it - and I appreciated that.
Could you always see Gareth Bale's ability at Spurs during the hard times?
You ask anyone now, they'll say they always knew he could do it, but being honest he just had incredible athleticism, he was strong, he was big, his calves were massive, but he was getting injured whenever he got in the team. He managed to sort it all out and turned it into an incredible player, but I'd be lying if I said I saw it coming!
Was Harry Kane the same?
If you'd told me Harry would win the Golden Boot and be England captain by now, I wouldn't have seen it, but what he did have from a young age, the first time I saw him, was an incredible ability to score goals from any angle. Left foot, right foot, header. But I didn't see how big he was going to be and what a world-class player he was going to be, but he always had the ability to play in the first team.
You scored on your England debut too… It must have been emotional?
It was! It was incredible. Similar to Spurs, it was the stuff of dreams. You couldn't have written a script, it was a win-or-bust qualifier at Wembley, making my debut. I don't think I realised how big it was at the time. For me, it was just another game. I don't know how I was able to perform.
Did you cry after?
I held it together in the players' lounge, on the way home, but then I got home. I've been working for that moment for 15, 16 years and it was just all a bit much.
Were you disappointed with how it ended at Spurs?
I'm probably disappointed in the way it ended, I wouldn't use the word regret. What I was disciplined for, it's in my character, it's something I've struggled with my whole life, as an academy player, I've always been passionate and emotional, and short-tempered. I can't regret something that's got me to where it has, but obviously disappointed to leave your boyhood club. Whatever way it came about in the end, I knew it was the right decision for my career, I wasn't playing well, I didn't have any confidence, the manager was picking me but I wasn't producing anywhere near the level I was capable of. I needed that change of scenery.
What was it like playing at Newcastle in front of a packed house?
It was a great six months personally in my career, I regret that they went down, because if we'd stayed up I would've stayed and I think would've been successful under Rafa Benitez. But Sunderland went on an amazing run and we got relegated, having gone from playing in the U23s at Spurs to in the provisional England squad for the Euros in six months, I felt like I couldn't step back again and play in the Championship.
Why did you decide to join Crystal Palace?
There were three or four Premier League clubs in for me. Why Palace? At the time they had a good crop of wingers, Wilfried Zaha, Yannick Bolasie, they were playing good football and I felt that'd help me as well, the fact it was in London didn't hurt too.
And what's Roy Hodgson like to work with?
For someone of his age, to do what he does on the training pitch on a daily basis is incredible. He's out there, taking the sessions, he's kicking balls, throwing balls, if we're doing attack versus defence he'll start off by kicking it out to the winger or into the midfielder. He's always involved. He's still got a bit. He's always wanted to improve me as a player, and the fact he has managed to do that on a day-to-day basis has definitely helped me.
What was the best decision you made in your career?
I got injured soon after the England debut, when I was in the form of my life. After that, I wasn't as sharp, but I felt I was that same player in my mind. If I was having a bad game, I'd be harsh on myself, thinking why couldn't I do what I did a few months ago, why can't you do this or that. It was speaking to a sports psychologist, look to the present and future as opposed to the past.
Is that one of the biggest things you had to overcome?
I think very much so. It was at a time where I was the golden boy, everything I did was scrutinised. When I couldn't do what I was doing a few months ago, I was getting a lot of abuse and negative press, like it is in this country. To speak to someone and get it off my chest, it felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders. Any young player going through a struggle, I'd recommend to speak to someone.
What do you want to achieve for the rest of your career?
I've always been naturally fit and taken care of my body. Nine times out of 10 I've been lucky with injuries, and my aim is to play well and I want to do that in the best league in the world, the Premier League.