In the summer Tottenham Hotspur invested in two young central defenders. Juan Foyth arrived from Estudiantes in Argentina, whilst Davinson Sanchez became the club’s record signing from Ajax.
An incredibly daunting move for any young player to make, but imagine making the same move at the age of just 16. That was how Milos Veljkovic’s Tottenham Hotspur story started.
As just a 16-year-old boy, Veljkovic left his hometown club of Basel in Switzerland. The teenager made a bold move by heading to the Spurs academy to try and make a career for himself in England.
Speaking exclusively to The Boot Room, the Serbian international explained this month just how Tottenham helped him settle in:
“I have very good (memories),” said Veljkovic.
“My guest family in the first couple of years were really nice to me. The club also was really good to me. I started to play straight away, youth-team and reserves and also in the first-team a little bit.
“So I am quite happy to have had this experience.”
Veljkovic was certainly keeping the right company to improve his game. The youngster was in a squad that contained a long list of future first-team players at White Hart Lane.
The likes of Ryan Mason, Nabil Bentaleb and Tom Carroll were all in the reserve picture during Veljkovic’s stay at Spurs. Others, such as Ryan Fredericks, Massimo Luongo and Alex Pritchard – to name a few – went on to be successful elsewhere.
Of course, the biggest example is Harry Kane. The England international has since developed into one of Tottenham’s greatest ever goalscorers, with 136 goals for Spurs and counting.
Such feats are no surprise to Veljkovic. The Serbian, speaking from Germany where he is now a starter with Bundesliga side Werder Bremen, revealed how he was telling international team-mates just how talented the future Spurs and England phenomenon was:
“Well if you believe me or not I told a lot of players in the national team already, at a young age. As soon as I saw him, also Ryan Mason, also played with some other good players. Harry Kane, but also Ryan Mason, I thought he was also very good.
“But with Harry Kane I told the (Serbia) players ‘if he can’t become a top player Then I don’t know who can?’,” he claimed with a sheepish laugh.
“He scored a lot of goals, even in the reserves. Every game he would score three or four goals.”
What quickly becomes apparent is the high esteem in which Veljkovic holds his former team-mate Ryan Mason.
That was a popular trend amongst many of his former North London team-mates when he sadly retired in February.
The England international, who had joined Hull City in 2016, suffered a fractured skull in a collision with Chelsea’s Gary Cahill in January 2017.
After 13 months of recuperation and testing, Mason was told to put his playing career behind him.
Veljkovic spoke incredibly warmly of Mason. The Englishman, four years his senior, clearly was something of a mentor to the youngster:
“I was very, very, very sad. He is a good friend of mine,” echoing the sentiments of so many in February.
“I played with (him) also in the reserves. He was an unbelievable player and also a very unbelievable person because he was very nice and very helpful to young players.
“He worked very hard to get into the first-team. Finally, he played and then it happened. So I was really sad to hear this news. But this is football, it is really, really unfortunate.”
But when it comes to a career as a coach, something that Tottenham have left the door open to, Veljkovic simply cares about his friend simply enjoying the little things in life:
“I think he has a lot of knowledge of football. But this is not the only important thing, to coach. I think he is still very young. So I don’t know it depends on him what he wants to do.”
Like Mason and so many other top Tottenham talents, Veljkovic could never cement a place in the Tottenham first-team for long enough to justify staying.
With his talent, playing regular first-team football was at the forefront of his mind. In 2016, and at a cut-price, he headed to Europe – joining Werder Bremen.
This path has also been trodden by a former Spurs team-mate. Six months after his Bremen switch, Nabil Bentaleb headed to Germany.
The Algerian international once looked like being a future first-team regular at Spurs, but opportunities dried up under Mauricio Pochettino.
After an initial loan spell, he made a permanent switch to Schalke 04 and Veljkovic believes his old pal is doing a grand job in Gelsenkirchen:
“I was really excited to see him come to Germany and he started really well and played all the games,” commented Veljkovic.
“I like his game. He is a good friend of mine.
“He had a little bit of difficulty, which is normal. Every player has some periods where they don’t play. Now he plays again and I am really happy to see him do well because we came nearly at the same time at Tottenham and we were really good friends.”
Veljkovic never quite got the opportunities his talent perhaps warranted at Spurs.
However, much like Mason, Bentaleb and so many others, it is clear how much working in the Tottenham youth set-up helped prepare him for life in the footballing world.
Werder Bremen are now reaping the benefits of that work, and Veljkovic will clearly remain grateful to Spurs for his experience at the club.