Japhet Tanganga has spoken about his breakthrough at Tottenham Hotspur under Mauricio Pochettino and the debt of gratitude he owes academy head John McDermott. Tanganga broke into the Tottenham first team set-up last summer, joining up with Pochettino’s squad as they took on Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo in Singapore and then Manchester United in Shanghai, China. The 21-year-old’s contract had been expiring that summer only for the club to step in to extend it by one year, with an option for another. Tanganga looks back on that trip with the squad across the globe as the big moment in his time at Tottenham.
Japhet Tanganga said “Honestly I’m forever grateful [to Mauricio] because that was a big step in my career. That was the first time I’ve been on tour with the first-team and it was just a different environment. For him to trust me and play me in those games – even though people may say pre-season is not important and more for fitness – for me as a young player who has never played first team football to be thrown into those games against those team was an amazing experience. Honestly I’m so grateful for that and so grateful to him for giving me that opportunity.”
By his own admission, Tanganga was not always the most mature of young men during his teenage years. To help him develop while with the U18s, he, along with his coaches and father, decided to arrange a week of work experience with Tottenham’s team of groundstaff to help him understand the ‘real world’ challenges people face outside the bubble that can form around academy footballers. Darren Baldwin, the head of Spurs’ ground staff, placed Tanganga with head gardener Tim Judd and his team to work for a month.
Japhet Tanganga said “It was a great bit of experience. It gave me a real insight into many things about life and football. Honestly, it was just great seeing how good the training ground was. It was right in front of me, but it was all down to them – the attention and work they put in during the rain, during the cold, when it was hot. For me, it was just a learning experience. It really showed me a lot of things that if I maybe wouldn’t have [otherwise] seen at that time. It was a great experience, I enjoyed it. It showed me another side of life, it showed me work ethic. It showed me how passionate they were with their jobs and along the way I met some great people. They spoke to me in different ways about their life, about working at Tottenham and how much of a pleasure it is. Just many things that for me I took away and used in everyday life to help me as a person and also a footballer. It was a great experience for me. I met some amazing people who I will forever remember so when I see them I always say hello, stop by, have a chat and ask them how they’re doing. A lot of them are proud of me to see how far I’ve come, to be in the first team. It’s amazing. Not at the moment but outside my mum has just cut down all the weeds. She’s been begging me to help her out because she says I have experience!” he admitted. At my girlfriend’s house, they’ve recently laid some grass and some plants. Before the lockdown, sometimes I’d go round there and help them planting flowers and stuff, but at the moment my mum’s just done the weeds so there’s nothing for me to do.”
Tanganga, who joined Spurs when he was just 10, is set to lose a guiding figure from his decade at the club. Academy head John McDermott is set to leave Spurs after 15 years to take up the position of assistant technical director at the FA and the young defender will be sad to see him go.
Japhet Tanganga said “I can’t even put into words how much he’s done for me. When I was younger, I maybe didn’t see it as beneficial as I see it now, ut honestly looking back at what John has done for me is amazing. The effort he has put in for me, and not only with me but when I think of the effort he has put in with so many kids from the academy, across all age groups. It’s amazing. He definitely deserves all the accolades for what he has done in his career and at Tottenham. He’s done a lot for everyone and he is definitely going to be missed. John and I have a relationship and I definitely feel we’ll stay in touch. We’ll keep tabs, check how each other is doing. Like I said, I can’t put into words how much he’s helped me in my career and get where I am now. We’ve had a very good journey together. We’ve made a lot of memories – some good, some bad! But honestly it’s been a pleasure to work under him and he’s truly going to be missed at Tottenham for sure. For me, bringing through academy players is always important at any club. It shows all the work that the academy has done to produce a player. It’s very important for Tottenham and for every club to produce some academy players. Malachi [Fagan-Walcott] came on [against Leipzig] and got a glimpse of it and hopefully from there he wants more and can push on. Hopefully the likes of me, Oliver Skipp and those above us can urge the younger lot to follow in our footsteps and try to reach for what we’ve achieved. I think it’s important for Tottenham and any club to focus on the academy and young people.”
With Davinson Sanchez, Eric Dier, Serge Aurier, Ben Davies and Danny Rose all missing the summer tour, Tanganga was given his chance to increase the number of defenders travelling to Asia. The young centre-back grabbed his opportunity to show why the club made the right decision to extend his contract with calm, composed performances in both games and throughout the rest of the pre-season friendlies. It set the tone for a campaign in which he made his competitive debut under Pochettino in the Carabao Cup and then made 10 further appearances under Jose Mourinho in all competitions before football was shut down.