Analysing the dynamic wing-back, signed by Spurs this summer from Serie A
Who is Destiny Udogie?
Find someone who looks at you the way Antonio Conte looks at wingbacks, and more importantly the way he will eventually look at Destiny Udogie. Tottenham Hotspur have beaten the rest of Europe to the punch by securing the signature of the 19-year-old this summer.
The Italian left-wing back has returned to Udinese on loan for the 2022/23 season and has been a key part of the side’s early form which finds them 3rd in the Serie A at the time of writing.
Born to Nigerian parents, Udogie began his career in Hellas Verona’s youth system where he would flourish as a left wing-back, making the most out of his defensive abilities while not limiting his attacking talent. During the 2018/19 season he would score six goals and register an assist in 22 games for the team’s U-17 side.
He would make his debut two years later in November 2022 against AC Milan in a 2-2 draw with the Rossoneri. In these initial stages, then manager Ivan Jurić (now at Torino) would use Udogie as a central midfielder off the bench, but this would only amount to a handful of appearances.
The teenager would go on to make seven appearances in total for the Gialloblu before Udinese noticed his talent and snapped him up on a loan with an option to buy.
Initially he would struggle, only completing four 90s before the end of the year, but a change in management boosted Udogie’s fortunes as he ended the 2021/22 campaign with five goals and three assists and was ever present on the left-hand side.
And as soon as Le Zebrette had signed the paperwork to make him permanent, he was technically on the move again for £16 million (excluding add-ons), though with Ivan Perišić and Ryan Sessengnon already occupying the left wing-back position at Tottenham, he was loaned back to Udinese to continue his development.
Udogie has already started well this season scoring two goals in six games, and was rewarded for his good form this calendar year with a Golden Boy nomination and a place in Italy’s U-21 squad. And as people start to take notice, Fabio Paratici must be rubbing his hands together that he got there first.
Destiny Udogie's style of play
Despite his young age and relative inexperience, Udogie is already one of Udinese’s biggest assets at both ends of the pitch.
And that is the first thing you notice when you watch Udogie: no matter where the ball is on the left-hand side of the pitch, he is there or on his way. The 19-year-old’s incredible stamina and mobility means that is always an active part of Udinese’s play both on and off the ball.
Defensively, Udogie is an astute and aggressive tackler, never afraid to get stuck in and dispossess his opponent. He often pushes high when Udinese are in possession, but he has the recovery pace to get back and stop attacks from even the most spritely of attackers.
His energetic approach to defending means he is incredibly oppressive. Opposition players always have to be wary even in their own half as he will look to pick their pocket, and standing at 6’2, it is incredibly hard to fend him off.
Despite his height however, he rarely gets tested in the air, however you would think that his height would prove an asset, especially when defending the back post if he was deployed as a left-back in a four-at-the-back system.
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One of his issues, however, is he can switch off or get caught in two minds, which hinders him at both ends of the pitch.
His positioning in defensive one-on-ones can be problematic, leading to him being completely bypassed by the opponent while deciding whether to commit or whether to stand off the player. Furthermore, he fails to see secondary runs and can be caught out by a pass behind him, which leads to an unnecessary scramble to recover.
The teenager’s aforementioned physical attributes means he is usually able to recover well, but as he gets older and against stronger opposition, this will become more of a problem if not resolved.
This is something Udogie talked about himself during an interview with the Italian Football Podcast. When asked where he needed to improve he replied: “Almost everywhere to be honest but I want to be focused during the 90 minutes, all game, in defending, following the ball where they do one-twos, a lot of this, but this is the most important.”
In possession, his indecision can sometimes contribute to him holding onto the ball for too long, though he has shown some improvement in this area already this season . Doing this can lead to him winning fouls but it can also leave Udinese prone to counters.
Udogie prefers to drive with the ball from deep rather than lay it off to a team-mate, and this can occasionally get him into trouble – though, as he moves closer to the box, his link-up play does improve. Overall he is an exceptional carrier of the ball and this is key to Le Zebrette’s build-up down the left. That said, he could benefit occasionally from picking his head up and looking for a pass from time to time.
However, if you watch Udogie for long enough, you will of course become enamoured with his ability in attacking situations.
It’s clear that his short spell as a central midfielder in Verona was due to his tendency to underlap centrally and act as an extra runner in and around the box. Though mainly left-footed, he is comfortable on his right and often uses it to try and curl in shots.
Many of his goals come from identifying and then attacking the space created by his teammates, but he can also go on the outside and look to cross it into the box. He could improve in this area, but the unpredictability of being able to go inside and outside with ease leaves his opponents guessing.
Forecasting Destiny Udogie's future
With a move to the Premier League already lined up for the 2023/24 season, it would be easy to say that his immediate future looks bright. However, his success at the North London club could be directly linked to whether Antonio Conte remains at Tottenham past the end of this season.
Udogie is an incredible wing-back that would flourish in the Italian coach’s system, but if Conte did not renew, he could end up walking into a team that doesn’t need his skillset or, more aptly, will not use it to the best of his ability.
Stepping away from that ‘what-if’ situation, at only 19 years old, Udogie has time on his side and is showing all the foundations needed to be an elite-level wingback. He now just needs to build on them.
He is already incredibly complete for his age and has come on leaps and bounds in Udinese’s talent factory, showing his coachability and his intelligence to pick up key concepts quickly. The things he needs to improve can also easily be worked on with further tutelage at Tottenham.
His profile also ports over well to the Premier League, given he is able to make smart runs and has the pace and power to make it difficult for defenders. He will have to improve his link-up play in the centre of the park to combat the reduced amount of space he will encounter in England and become more aware positionally in defense when Tottenham are forced to concede possession.
Luckily for Udogie, Tottenham will also be able to ease him into duties with Perišić hopefully acting as an worthwhile mentor for him for the rest of his contract.
You would expect that a call-up to Italy’s senior team won’t be far off, but Roberto Mancini decided against selecting him for Italy’s most recent fixtures against England and Hungary. Andrea Sottil said of his omission: “I respect Mancini’s choices but I was still surprised. I think Udogie is one of the best full-backs in the League, he proves this all the time.”
If Udogie continues to be overlooked, then you’d expect that Nigeria would at least pose the question of swapping allegiances to him.
All in all, Spurs have secured one of Europe’s most promising two-way defenders for a bargain (base) fee of only £16 million. By the time he joins the North London club next summer, you’d expect he’d only improve. The Premier League better get ready.
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Destiny Udogie is an asset on and off the ball. He is an assured tackler who is able to carry the ball from deep into more dangerous areas. To top it all off, he’s also an incredible goal threat who attacks the space.
Concentration is one of Destiny Udogie’s big weaknesses, which often leaves him vulnerable in 1v1 situations and also prone to being caught out by one-twos. He also needs to improve his crossing when he goes on the outside in attacking situations.