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Marcus Edwards shows what Tottenham and the Premier League missed out on

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“If that had been done by some other player, we would have been talking about it for a very long time,” Sporting CP goalkeeper Antonio Adan said. They were were talking about it for quite a while anyway.

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“Magic,” Record newspaper said. “Artistic,” O Jogo went for. “Transcendent,” A Bola called it, the moment when 39,899 people got to their feet, unable to believe what they had just seen but really very glad they did: a Maradona in their midst. The kind of moment that unfolds, those watching becoming witnesses, drawn towards it, destined to always talk of it. Each part more absurd, building on the last: He didn’t?! He hasn’t?! He couldn’t, could he?

In the end, he couldn’t. Not score, at least. Which, somehow, might even have made it better. Alright, not better exactly but you get the point. If it was art, by not ending in a goal it became art for its own sake. And suddenly everyone was talking about it. Transcendent maybe really is the word; it transcended this place and transcended the game, this goal that wasn’t. Those inside the place felt it; you’ve probably seen it by now. When Marcus Edwards, the kid they used to call Mini Messi, was Maradonian.

There had been a roar when, during Sporting’s meeting with Tottenham Hotspur this week, Edwards produced a sharp spin and fast feet. But this was different. This was more like an oh, an ah and what the heck, breath held, supporters left mouths open and standing to deliver an ovation.

“You see him there and you think ‘he can’t get out of there’ and he gets out,” one report ran. “You see him run for the ball and think ‘he can’t reach that,’ and he reaches it.”

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Edwards picked the ball up in the middle of the pitch, turned and beat Eric Dier, not once but twice, going past him to one side and coming back past him the other, beyond Ivan Perisic too, hips swinging. He played it to Francisco Trincao and got it back, glided past Cristian Romero and then, five yards out … missed. The ball, nudged towards goal from so, so close somehow went past the post, off Hugo Lloris who it hit twice.

“He almost scored a historic golazo,” Adan said, giggling as he pictured it again. It was one of those: one of those when you feel like laughing.

It wasn’t just one moment, either. Not just his 15 minutes of fame — and consistency is the challenge, of course. All game, Edwards was superb, just as he had been in the opening gameweek, a 3-0 win at Eintracht Frankfurt when he had provided an assist and scored a goal, making it three of each in seven games. This was special, though: against the club which he had joined aged 8 but where, speaking of those minutes, he had played just 15 in the League Cup against Gillingham.

Incidentally, the man he had beaten twice, had started his career here: Dier’s family had moved to Portugal when his mum got a job working for Euro 2004.

Edwards was always special, they knew. His first professional contract was bigger than they had ever given a kid, and it had been a battle: for a long time it seemed they might lose him, and that was already a prospect that concerned. This kid was going to be a star.

Born in Enfield, in north London, very much Tottenham territory, just 5-foot-6 and hugely talented, left footed, the most gifted of his generation, Edwards had been given a “Mini Messi” title for a reason.

Then-manager Mauricio Pochettino, mind you, tried to take a step away from making it about his level, from loading him with that responsibility. As if aware from the moment it was out of his mouth that this might not be the best thing to say. “His qualities … it’s only looks, his body and the way that he plays … remind a little bit of the beginning of Messi,” Pochettino said. That was September 2016 and the next day Edwards was given his debut, aged 17. He didn’t play for Spurs again.

There was a loan at Norwich, just one game. A year in Rotterdam. Then the move to Vitoria Guimaraes, Portugal, where it all started properly: 85 games and 20 goals in two-and-a-half seasons, before Sporting paid £7.5m to sign him last January. “We did good business,” Sporting coach Ruben Amorim said this week, smiling. Inevitably, all too easily, now people are asking if maybe Spurs didn’t.

“He is a very good prospect and, potentially, he can be a top player but we need to be patient and tell him that he has a lot of talent, enough talent to be a top player, a great player, but now it’s how he builds his future. That’s very important,” Pochettino had said back then, on the eve of his professional debut, his first and last game for Spurs.

There was an injury and Pochettino also later admitted that there were issues with authority and behaviour. There have been suggestions that Edwards is an own man, shy maybe or distant, not always as engaged with others as they would like — and that’s something which was echoed in Lisbon. This was about the person as much as the player.

It always is. If that was apparent then, listening to those around him, it remains so now. How could it be otherwise? “We’re people, and that gets forgotten: it’s like we’re machines and we have to go out there and do what fans and journalists want us to do,” Adan said on Tuesday night, as he discussed his teammate. “We often forget that personal element.”

That is always there; it never entirely goes away. “He took a took a little time to adapt to Portugal, but he has adjusted,” his Amorim added. “Lisbon is not London; it’s different and all that has an impact but he has the talent. He can get much better, he can even get into the England team. He just needs to focus more — not just on the training but everything around it. Football is not just matches, it is everything in between. I trust him a lot, I know he can grow a lot.”

When he was asked about that claim on Tuesday night, Edwards insisted he wasn’t even thinking about it. But he would like to play for England? “Yeah, it would be nice,” he said and soon others were repeating it, having just watched this English kid who moved abroad tearing up his old team. They wondered what might have been and what still could be.

“Talent, class and lots of magic,” A Bola said, “a tireless little ant who is not just about attacking inspiration, but who also gives everything in defensive duties. This was an exhibition worth millions.” Hugo Lloris had seen it close up. Somehow, even he doesn’t know how, he had stopped Edwards scoring a goal that would surely have been the season’s best already.

“He’s more mature now, he’s 23 years old and he has the same quality we saw a few years ago when he was training with the first team,” Lloris said. “He has the perfect profile to play for this kind of team. If he continues in the same way he will have a bright future.”

Asked to define him, Adan shot back: “Different.”

He added: “Marcus gives us that ability to go past people, to change a game, to take people on, to break through lines. He’s very good running with the ball and he’s in a fantastic moment in terms of confidence. He has come into a group that is good for him. A young group, with people who are helping him to be part of it more, to get him involved with us.

“He is really doing his part too. He speaks much with us and that means he’s happy, which shows on the pitch. What you see on the pitch is a reflection of the way people are off it. And I think he’s happy now. He also has the faith and trust of the manager to try those things.”

There was a smile. “And he almost scores a goal that … historic, a golazo. It was fantastic, we enjoyed it and we’re lucky to have a player like Marcus.”

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