Fall from grace

Adam Powley charts Darren Caskey’s trip from Spurs to Notts County

Every season at Spurs, there is talk of a young player being touted as “the new Glenn Hoddle”. The names may change but the hopeful expectation remains the same – that there is a hidden talent in the White Hart Lane nursery who will burst into the first team and provide Tottenham with the ready-made superstar they sorely need.

It was Darren Caskey’s misfortune to be one of those great hopes, saddled with expectations he couldn’t pos­sibly live up to. He did better than most, in that he act­ually made the first team and captained the England youth squad, scoring the winning pen­alty in the final of the Euro­pean Under-18 Championship in 1993. But his career since then has been one of frustration, punctuated by indifferent form, quest­ionable career moves and plain bad luck.

Basildon-born and a Tottenham fan, Caskey joined the club in 1990 as a trainee, in a youth side that also included fellow FA School of Excellence old boys Nick Barmby and Sol Campbell. Caskey was reckoned to be among the best of the lot and bore all the hall­marks of a home-grown Tottenham player: bal­ance, a sureness of touch and an ability to use the ball intelligently rather than aimlessly lump it, as was the wont of many of his contemporaries.

Unfortunately, Caskey also possessed the same negative traits that seem to mark players that come through the White Hart Lane nursery, chiefly a tend­ency to go missing when the going gets rough. It was to become a familiar failing.

Caskey started well enough at Spurs, making his debut against Arsenal in 1993 and two months later scoring the winner in a thrilling 3-2 comeback win against Everton that he largely inspired.

Broadcast live on Sky, the Everton game appeared to announce Caskey as one of Tottenham’s brightest prospects, but it proved to be the zenith of his career in north London. Caskey soon discovered that opponents would not obligingly allow young players time and space to do the fancy stuff, and his form suffered.

Neither did the turmoil at Spurs help. In just six years at the club, Caskey saw four managers arrive and had to convince each that he was worth a place. Given the pressure on each managerial incumbent and their tendency to bring in players of their own choosing rather than rely on existing juniors, first-team opportunities were limited. After a short loan spell at Watford, Caskey rejected the offer of a new contract and moved down a division to Reading for £700,000 in 1996. Once again, however, managerial instability cost Caskey dear. Read­ing went through four management teams in as many years and Caskey struggled to make a mark in an inconsistent side. The 1999-2000 season did at least show what he was capable of, as he drove his side’s push for a promotion place, finishing as top scorer with a remarkable 23 goals from central midfield. Such success proved to be transitory, however, and with the Royals losing out in the Second Division play-off final, Caskey’s stay at the Madejski Stadium lasted just one more season.

It’s still not clear as to the exact circumstances sur­rounding his departure from Reading after 200-odd games. The club suggested high wage demands as a decisive factor, but given that Caskey dropped further down the league for a place at Notts County, it’s difficult to imagine he left for a better contract. Now ploughing an unremarkable furrow in the Second Division, Caskey is living proof that early promise means little. Nearing 30, he has expressed an interest in going into management and perhaps his thoughtful approach will be suited to a coaching role.

But in terms of Caskey the player, the assessment of the Watford fanzine Blind, Desperate and Stupid might provide a harsh but revealing appraisal: “Caskey was (and is) a class player, capable of providing quality passes from the midfield to the strikers. He’s also a lazy poser, who couldn’t be arsed most of the time he was playing for us.”­

From WSC 196 June 2003. What was happening this month