Japhet: "From a young age, you dream of this"
Sun 12 January 2020, 09:27|Tottenham Hotspur
As one 10-year journey ends, hopefully another has started for Japhet Tanganga.
The Hackney-born defender, 20, joined our youth set-up aged 10. Having tasted first team football initially in pre-season in August, 2018 and then impressing on tour last summer, he made his debut against Colchester United in the League Cup in September before the big one, stepping out for his Premier League debut against high-flying Liverpool on Saturday.
Roared on by the home crowd, Japhet impressed from the off. Indeed, he cleared a goalbound Roberto Firmino shot off the line inside two minutes. Starting at right-back in a 4-4-2, he was quick into the tackle, composed on the ball and showed his defensive versatility by switching to left-back for the final 20 minutes.
There was only one downside to Japhet’s day, but that was the most important. Liverpool won it 1-0 thanks to Firmino’s 37th-minute strike and despite our best efforts – Heung-Min Son, Serge Aurier, Dele and most notably Giovani Lo Celso all had chances as we pushed for an equaliser in the second half - that's how it stayed. Liverpool power on with 20 wins in 21.
Japhet departed to a standing ovation, and then told us: “It means a lot, honestly, a lot. From a young age you dream about this. You see guys on TV, and you are like ‘I want to be there, I want to have that opportunity’ and when it comes, it’s just a great feeling.
“Again, it would have been much better if we’d won the game, a much better feeling. I’m happy to make my debut but the feeling is still disappointing.
“I’ve made my debut, but like the game, it’s gone now. I’ll celebrate with my family, they are all here, but after tomorrow it’s gone and onto the next one.
“Hopefully I’ll get a chance in the Middlesbrough game (FA Cup replay, Tuesday, 8.05pm) and we can get through to the next round. After that, we’ll just see how it goes from there. I’ll keep working hard in training, doing the right things, listening to what the gaffer wants, just keep my head down and leave it to the gaffer.”
An England youth international, Japhet told us how his week developed. “The gaffer mentioned it on Tuesday and asked me, ‘do you want to play?’, I said ‘yes’ and he said ‘you won’t be scared?’, I said ‘no, I won’t be scared’ so we did shape two or three days leading up to the game and I thought ‘yep, I’m in the team’.
“From there, the boys have been excellent, cheering me on, encouraging me, letting me know it’s just another game, as much as it’s my debut, as much as I’m playing against one of the best teams around right now, it doesn’t matter. I come up against Sonny in training, Harry Kane, all the top guys here, so it’s like training, keep going, keep my head up and they were great.”
Returning to the match, Japhet felt it was key to stay in the game after Liverpool’s opener just before the break.
He added: “We said we had to reach half-time at 1-0 with the game still there for the taking. At half-time we said to make sure we kept our heads up and in the second half, last 20, I thought they couldn’t handle us.
“When Coco (Erik Lamela) and Lo Celso came on, they brought energy and gave us a lift, and we were able to create chances.
"Overall, it’s a bittersweet debut, happy to make my debut but disappointed about the result. I really thought we could have nicked something out there, a draw, maybe even a win, but results don’t always go your way.”
For the final word on Japhet, we turn to Jose Mourinho. “I’m really proud of the kid and I know that everyone in the Club is happy, because he showed composure, very good personality and playing Salah and Mane is not the same thing as the players you play in the Under-19s, and the kid was very, very good. A game for him to remember, of course, the result to forget.”