hen Oliver Skipp first set foot in the Norwich City dressing room in August, he was a shy teenager with a handful of appearances for parent club Tottenham and hoping for some minutes in the Championship.
Six months later, at the halfway point of his loan, Skipp has started all 23 of Norwich’s league games and is a driving force behind their push for an immediate return to the top flight.
“It’s been perfect,” Skipp told Standard Sport. “Whilst playing for Tottenham for 10 or 15 minutes off the bench was a dream, this year’s been brilliant for my development. You can do all the training in the world around the first team but nothing replaces playing week in, week out.
“Physically we can all cope with playing every three days but mentally putting one game aside and moving on to the next one, keeping going and going, that’s been the most challenging thing. You don’t appreciate it until you do it. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned.”
Playing as the deepest midfielder in Daniel Farke’s slick, table-topping side, the 20-year-old is shouldering the responsibility of a far more experienced player.
“Nothing compares to playing [that role] in a full men’s 11 where three points are really crucial,” he said. “That added responsibility has really helped my game. You come to a team fighting towards the top of the table, so there’s pressure.”
There has also been a flood of interest from English and Scottish Premier League clubs in taking him for the second half of the campaign, but Spurs and Skipp decided he was better off staying put.
Mourinho has been gushing in his praise of the midfielder, describing him as “genuinely Tottenham’s future” and a possible club captain after he agreed a new contact last season.
“It’s always nice to get compliments from anyone but from him it’s even sweeter,” said Skipp. “But I’ve still got so much to prove. I need to keep pushing, so one day those comments turn into a reality, not just words.”
Outwardly quiet and unassuming but masking a fierce drive, Skipp grew frustrated at his lack of minutes last season but found Mourinho approachable and reassuring when he went to see the manager to ask to play for the Under-23s. Mourinho reminded him to be patient, keep working and wait for his opportunity.
“That’s the thing about him, he treats everyone with the same respect,” Skipp said. “I’m not Harry Kane or Hugo Lloris, but he still gave me the respect that I could go and talk to him. In terms of his man-management, he is brilliant. He knows when to push someone or when to give them some love.
“He’s messaged me a few times this season actually, which is a really nice touch, just to show he’s watching and aware of what I’m doing. He’s been really positive.”
Skipp grew up in a family of Spurs fans in Hertfordshire, idolising Luka Modric then Mousa Dembele as he progressed through the club’s academy from five, and it meant a lot, too, that Mourinho handed him a brief cameo at the end of the north London derby in July.
“It’s stuff like that,” he said. “It was a really big moment and no matter what happens now I can always say I played in a north London derby – and won.”
Living alone for the first time in Norwich, Skipp has used his free time to watch football. He has, “like everyone”, loved Leeds’ return to the top flight and has been supporting Spurs with the detachment of a fan again, even if it is not always a relaxing experience.
“I wouldn’t say I can sit back and relax,” he said. “I’ve been a Spurs fan all my life, so you can’t take that out of me! If you’re there every week, you’re involved, you know what’s going on. Now it’s interesting, I can watch with fresh eyes. But I’m still really nervous, still hoping they can win every game.”
His fellow Spurs fans, meanwhile, have shown their appreciation by frequently hijacking Norwich’s man-of-the-match polls on social media to ensure Skipp wins.
“I know,” he said. “The Norwich fans are probably fuming! I’ve seen, as soon as I’m on a poll, I’ve got a great chance of winning it.”
Skipp is expected be back playing for Spurs next season and, while he is taking nothing for granted, the England Under-21 international has been encouraged by other Championship success stories, mentioning Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham and Mason Mount who quickly progressed from the second tier to full internationals.
“The Premier League is another level but that’s not to say players in the Championship can’t step up,” he said. “There’s been numerous examples of that. Tammy, Mason Mount and some of the teams that have gone up recently. Take Wolves, no-one thinks of them as having been in the Championship three years ago.”
When he does return to London, Spurs are set to find a more robust player and person, who is gradually developing into a leader.
A man of few words, Skipp’s Norwich team-mates are said to have quickly found that he when does speak, it is worth listening.
“I feel like the further season’s gone, I’m doing the vocal side of the game more,” he said.
“I feel like I have changed a little bit. At Tottenham it was all easy, it was 20 minutes from home. I’ve been at Spurs all my life, so to have a year outside the club is massive for my development. I’ve just been growing up really.”
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