MANCHESTER — A soft-spoken Anglo-American center back is causing quite a stir at Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur.
[ MORE: Negative vibes surround USMNT ]
Cameron Carter-Vickers, just 17, has captained Spurs’ U-21 side for the opening three games of the 2015-16 season and the defender from Westcliff-on-Sea in England has since been called into Andi Herzog’s U.S. U-23 side for their week-long training camp in Manchester, England which included two friendlies, a 1-0 friendly defeat to a star-studded England U-21 side and a 2-0 win over Qatar’s equivalent to close out their final tune-ups before Olympic qualifying next month.
Speaking exclusively to ProSoccerTalk from a country hotel in the suburbs of Lancashire’s largest city, the youngest player on the U.S. squad is a calm and composed individual.
[ EXCLUSIVE: Rubin speaks about U.S. future, Olympic dreams ]
On the pitch, he is a dominant central defender who has size, speed and power beyond his tender years, leading many within Tottenham’s training ground at Enfield, north London, to whisper about having found “the next Ledley King.” He was, of course, club captain, played for England and is still a legendary figure at White Hart Lane after chronic injuries cut his career short. That’s how highly this young center back is regarded at Spurs, even though he is only a second-year academy player.
[ EXCLUSIVE: JPW sits down with Olympic head coach, Andi Herzog ]
For now, Carter-Vickers is fully focused on making the U.S. squad for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying which begins on Oct. 1 and runs until Oct. 13, but a bright future lies ahead.
What has he made of the step-up to the U-23 side for the first time?
“I’ve really enjoyed it. It is a new group of players and it is a bigger test,” Carter-Vickers said. “We are going to be playing better teams than we were at the U-20 level. It is always good to test yourself.”
Carter-Vickers came through one of the biggest tests of his career back in June with flying colors, as he anchored a U.S. backline which reached the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in New Zealand and ignited belief among U.S. fans that a new crop of players capable of making the full national team in years to come were coming through the ranks. Seven of that successful U-20 side — Rubio Rubin, Zack Steffen, Emerson Hyndman, Maki Tall, Gedion Zelalem, Matt Miazga and Carter-Vickers — were called up by Herzog for this squad.
“It was a really good experience,” Carter-Vickers said of the U-20 World Cup. “When you play against a lot of different nations with lots of different styles, you learn a lot. I do think we could have gone further but I think overall we did well. The U-20 age group, we are really close and I think we’ve really bonded well so coming up to the U-23s, it will benefit us.”
What is next for Carter-Vickers? He is fully focused on being in Herzog’s roster for Olympic qualifying. He played the final 30 minutes against England last week and played the full 90 minutes of the 2-0 win vs. Qatar, and was pivotal in anchoring a solid defensive display.
“Hopefully I can make the qualifying roster and help the U.S. qualify for the Olympics. From there go back to my club and work hard to try and improve as much as I can,” Carter-Vickers added. “After that the next goal has to be to try and make the roster for the Olympics in Rio.”
As for his club, Tottenham, Carter-Vickers seems to be in a great environment to further his career. With academy products Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, plus young English defender Eric Dier, breaking into Spurs’ first team and becoming regulars since head coach Mauricio Pochettino arrived 12 months ago, there is a pathway there for the young U.S. center back. Pochettino has played youngsters wherever he has gone and has a proven track record at improving their talents, while in a recent chat with the head coach of the U.S. Olympic team Andi Herzog, he told me that when clubs in England or Europe sense a teenager is ready to progress, they tend to accelerate the development of youngsters like Carter-Vickers quicker than teams in Major League Soccer would do.
Carter-Vickers is obviously very highly thought of at Spurs after being handed the captains armband for the opening three U-21 matches this season.
“For the first three games I have been captain, which is a great experience,” Carter-Vickers said, modestly. “It gives me added confidence and when I go out to play I can just go out there and focus on playing. It is really good. He [Pochettino] gives youth a chance and he looks for hard work so as long as you are always giving 100 percent and you’re being honest, then it will be good.”
With international caliber center backs such as Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen around to learn from, plus former England international and long-time Premier League center back Ugo Ehiogu around as a coach at Spurs’ academy to help him develop, Carter-Vickers has all the help he could wish for.
“You just have to watch them and you can see how good they are. There are bits and bobs from all of them you can take and see, then try and model your game around that,” Carter-Vickers added.
One of the interesting things about this U.S. U-23 side he is part of is that there are plenty of players from different backgrounds. Some, like Carter-Vickers, have grown up in academies in Europe, while others have developed in Major League Soccer or at the Collegiate level in the USA. Carter-Vickers believes that diversity is a strength the USA has over the competition and he also sheds some light on the pressure of coming up through one of the PL’s top academies.
“The more diversity we have in the team, it will help us,” Carter-Vickers said. “If you look at Rubio playing in Holland, he might be used to playing this style, then Emerson is playing at Fulham and he is used to this. But when we come together we can almost get the the best of everything… There is a lot of expectation [at Spurs] but if you look around here, for example, I haven’t played a professional men’s game yet, where a lot of players in this team have. You could say there is pressure coming from Spurs, but there are also very good players around me as well.”
The ultimate goal for Carter-Vickers is to play for the U.S. and although he is still eligible to play for the England, he is fully focused on committing to the Stars and Stripes.
“I would love to eventually play for the full national team,” Carter-Vickers smiled. “Whether it is in two, three, five… however many years, that is the goal. At the moment I am focused on the U.S. and every camp I’ve been in I have really enjoyed it.”
In terms of the next step, first it is all about making the U.S. Olympic squad for qualifying and then hopefully for Rio next summer. Carter-Vickers’ father, Howard, is American and was a star basketball player at LSU before being drafted to the NBA by the Denver Nuggets back in 1983. Carter-Vickers reminisced about his own Olympics memories after attending the London 2012 games, plus he knows representing the USA at the Olympics would make his father extremely proud.
“I went to the swimming and the basketball at London 2012 with my Mom,” Carter-Vickers revaled. “The atmosphere, as it always is at the Olympics, was great, so I can only imagine what it would be like if we did qualify and I get to play there. It would be fantastic. It would make [my Dad] proud. He tells me he is proud already, but to represent America at a higher level would be great.”