Malachi Fagan-Walcott downplays the singular aspect of being José Mourinho’s special one, but as a youth player at Tottenham he was one of a few that the legendary manager nurtured while in North London. The Portuguese coach brought his experiences at Benfica, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester United when he succeeded Mauricio Pochettino at Spurs in November 2019 and within four months he had given seventeen year old Malachi a debut in the Champions League match away to RB Leipzig. Malachi described the effect of having the eyes of the manager on him:-
“It gives you a boost, you’ve seen what he does over the years, and he’s chosen you, so you don’t doubt yourself. You must be good at something. With other managers, they might just need another centre half, so you go up there and train, and he doesn’t really value you but with José, it’s José Mourinho, he’s picked you, so I feel like I should be up there, and then you train better within yourself. It does help.”
Youthful Beginnings at Spurs
“He was good, amazing. Still to this day he’d probably be the best I’ve worked with. He was so welcoming. He would do something where he would watch the games himself, so he would come down to the Youth League games, and he’d choose someone where he thought ‘I really like this guy, I’ll bring him up and train with us’.
“You didn’t feel like you’ve just been told to go and train, you feel like you’ve earned it because, if he didn’t come and watch, or if he didn’t know who you were, you wouldn’t train out there. He obviously saw you and felt I want him up there. You would go up there and, if you impressed, you’d still be up there. Even if they had too many numbers, you would still train with a different first team coach.
“Another person who really helped me was Ledley King. When I was up there with José, Ledley King was part of the staff there, and he would do stuff after training as well. He really helped me as a player as well when I was younger.”
Champions League Debut
That Spurs debut still excites the life long Spurs fan when he thinks about it. José Mourinho’s team night in the Red Bull Stadium included Hugo Lloris, Harry Winks, Eric Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso, Deli Ali, Lucas Moura and Serge Aurier who Malachi came on for. No Harry Kane but an impressive list in any case.
“The one moment that stands out is when we went in after the warm-up, you run through the tunnel, and you hear the Champions League song and there’s thousands of thousands of people in there. I honestly thought I was dreaming when I was running out. I was thinking what is this? That always stays with me. No matter who asks me the question, I’ll tell them the same thing. It’s always that one moment. It wasn’t even the coming on the pitch for my debut. It was that moment when I heard the music. As a kid when you’re watching it, you hear that, you see them line up, and you hear the song and the camera go to all their faces. It felt surreal.”
Spurs Champions League games were not new to Malachi but then he was watching not playing.
“Me and my brother would go to every single home one. European nights are always the best, so I went to all of them. You go to the away ones when we were in the UEFA Youth League, so you’d play against the younger team and go to the games. I think I went to Inter Milan away and that stadium was crazy. I think that must’ve been the year before, and never did I think, a year later, I would’ve been coming on. Still, to this day, it’s unbelievable.
“Even when I go home, I’ve got the shirts. They’re all hung up and it’s always a proud feeling. No matter what happens, I can always look back, and I always watch it back as well. It’s a proud feeling for me and my family.”
The young defender acknowledges the impact of experienced players like Eric Dier, Christian Eriksen, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. Malachi would have conversations sitting in the boot room after training lasting for half an hour, sometimes 45 minutes, just talking. Conversations with seasoned professionals, both on and off the pitch, enhanced Fagan-Walcott’s understanding of the game. He credits these interactions for improving his decision-making on the field, demonstrating how mentorship from senior players can shape a player’s development.”
Training with these players was always a learning curve claimed Malachi:-
“It’s exciting, but when I was there, I would always ask things. I was quite close with Son (Heung-min) because, every day in training, whenever we’d do shape, he’d be attacking against me. To this day, if he sees this, he’ll say that I tell him that I’m better than him!”
Dundee Loan and Scottish Experience
Malachi was on loan to Dundee in 2021 from January until March but an unfortunate hamstring injury curtailed his experience of playing in Scottish football. Nevertheless he views the experience as a valuable learning curve. Now, at Dunfermline, he reflects on his growth as a player, attributing improvements to increased game knowledge, physical strength, and a more mature mindset. The exposure to different styles of play in both England, Wales and Scotland has contributed to his development as a more rounded and adaptable defender.
With his contract at Cardiff City set to expire in the summer, Malachi’s future remains uncertain. The talented defender expresses a desire to excel with Cardiff but acknowledges that his immediate focus is on making the most of his loan spell at Dunfermline Athletic. The experience gained in Scotland, coupled with his exposure to various playing styles, positions Fagan-Walcott as a versatile asset with a bright future in football.
Malachi’s journey from Tottenham’s youth ranks to Dunfermline Athletic demonstrates the importance of diverse experiences in a young player’s development. With a Champions League debut under his belt and a wealth of knowledge gained from top clubs, Malachi is poised to make a significant impact at Dunfermline and beyond. As he continues to evolve as a player, Pars fans hope to witness the next chapter in his promising career.
Saturday February 10, cinch Championship
Dunfermline Athletic v Queen’s Park, Kick-off 3.00pm at KDM East End Park
(Postponed on Saturday January 20, – frozen pitch)