RR: So the best place to start would surely be for you to tell us all you can about Sterling? He’s almost completely unknown to us and judging by his limited appearances for Spurs it seems like he’s something of a niche subject for you too, so how would you sum him up?
CFC: Kazaiah Sterling is 20 and is one of Tottenham’s more promising academy strikers. He started of at Leyton Orient before Spurs bought him as a schoolboy in 2015. He was Spurs U23’s top scorer last season with eight goals and has five thus far this season. He’s also an England international at the U17 and U18 levels. Two summers ago we rated him as the seventh most promising player in Tottenham’s academy. He’s a strong kid with good instincts, but he needs experience. When this loan was announced, all of us at Cartilage Free Captain thought this looked like a really exciting opportunity for him, and potentially for Sunderland in the absence of Josh Maja.
RR: We’ve heard it said that Pochettino rates him quite highly having given him a place in the match day squad several times - would it be fair to say Spurs have future plans with him in mind?
CFC: With Pochettino, you can never rule that out, but up until this season there hasn’t been much reason to think so. Out of the current crop of U23s, he’s probably the closest striker to the first team, and with Spurs’ injury crisis he’s made a couple of benches and even a short appearance in the FA Cup loss to Palace. But he’s not the academy striker getting all the buzz right now — that’s 16-year old Troy Parrott. The problem for any Spurs academy striker right now is that there’s a giant Harry Kane blocking their progression to the first team, and that’s a pretty solid obstacle. On the other hand, I can see a scenario Kaz works his way up to be a backup option for Kane — lord knows we’ve tried every other option there without success.
Poch likes to keep his promising players at home to learn his system, and Kaz is one Poch has kept fairly close to his vest. He’s spent much of this season training with the first team and learning from Kane. That’s a promising sign, but that said, it’s time Kaz gets some actual experience, so a loan here is a good idea. Playing in front of a raucous Stadium of Light crowd will be a real eye opener for him.
RR: A lot can be said (good and bad) about League One, and while we don’t plan to stay here there’s no denying we’re still facing stiff competition this season from experienced, determined players across the league. Do you think Sterling is capable of stepping up and doing the business regularly at this level?
CFC: I’d like to think so, but we don’t really know. This is Kaz’s first loan at any level, and while he’s done pretty well with the U23s he’s a complete unknown playing first team football anywhere. That said I think he has the tools to compete at the League 1 level, but it’ll be a challenge for him. It’s not easy going from playing against footballers your age to getting kicked by grown-ass men in the third division. My guess is he’ll have periods where he struggles, which is normal for a young player. He’ll need time, and patience. This is supposed to be a learning experience, and hopefully he can use this as a springboard for his development.
RR: Pace has been a word bandied about a lot when discussing Sterling, so how big a role does his pace really play in his game? Is he more than a one trick pony?
CFC: From the little I’ve actually seen him play he’s a pretty well-rounded striker. He’s not tall — 5’10”, I believe — but he’s strong with a low center of gravity. He’s got a good touch, and has a pretty solid shot on him, very much a No. 9. He also has very good instincts when he doesn’t have the ball and is able to get into good positions to receive passes and put a shot on target. He has the ability to make mazy runs with the ball and has good poacher’s instincts. Is he pacy? Yes, but I don’t know how that translates at the League 1 level. Give him some room with the ball and he can make things happen, but he’s not necessarily one to pick the lock of a defense. He’d do well in a counterattacking system.
RR: Finally, does Sterling have a preferred position and role to play within a certain formation?
CFC: With the U23s, Kaz has mostly been deployed either at the tip of the spear or just behind as a support striker, but he has the ability to play anywhere across the front attacking band. He’s not a touchline winger, but is better deployed, if not centrally, as an inside forward that can cut into central areas to find a shot.
I think there’s a pretty solid player in Kaz, but it might take a little coaxing and some time to get that player to come out. It’ll be interesting to see how much of a chance he gets at Sunderland. I hope he does well.