Djed Spence has more on the line than most when Nottingham Forest take on Huddersfield Town in the Championship play-off final.
The 21-year-old wing-back is currently enjoying a wonderful time on loan at Forest where he’s showing the sort of form that leads to significant interest from the Premier League.
Forest are desperate to sign Spence permanently from Middesbrough but know they will need to secure promotion if they are to have any chance.
Meanwhile, clubs such as Arsenal, Tottenham Roma and even new Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag are all said to be keen on him.
So who is Djed Spence? talkSPORT.com takes a look at one of the Championship’s most in-demand young stars.
Djed Spence: Profile
Born on August 9, 2000, Spence is an English-Jamaican footballer who isn’t the only famous member of his family with his sister being actress Karla-Simone Spence who appeared in the film ‘Blue Story’.
Spence started his footballing career with South London side Junior Elite where he played alongside Emile Smith Rowe for a club who also produced Manchester United’s Aaron Wan Bissaka.
He then joined the Fulham academy system, before moving to Middlesbrough in the summer of 2018 shortly before his 18th birthday. It was there that he quickly started to show his potential as a truly exciting young player.
Djed Spence: Middlesbrough and Neil Warnock
After making his senior debut in 2018, Spence was fast-tracked into the first team set-up in the 2019/20 season under the leadership of Jonathan Woodgate.
Following a brilliant debut in a 1-0 home win over Charlton Athletic, Spence went on to make 22 appearances in the second half of the season under Woodgate and his successor as Middlesbrough boss, Neil Warnock.
Attention from Jose Mourinho and Premier League side Tottenham emerged, but Warnock was keen to stress that the young player was not yet ready to move on, saying: “I remember having a chat with Nathaniel Clyne at Palace.
“Wolves wanted him, who were in the Premier League at that stage. I said to him you’re better off having another season and getting some games and experience under your belt.
“Djed is like that. And no disrespect to him, I don’t think he’s ready to go straight into a Premier League team.
“He needs more games under his belt, coming up against people like today, the wide lads for Cardiff, Hoilett and Mendez-Laing.
“They’re difficult players and playing against people like that will give him the experience that he needs.”
A first team regular for the first half of the 2020/21 season, Spence started to see his game time drop, with Warnock referencing his mindset as a potential stumbling block in his fulfilling his undoubted potential.
Asked if Spence was starting to kick on, Warnock said: “Up to a point, but I think there’s so much more he could do.
“There are not many players where you can say it’s all up to them personally how far they go – it’s what’s between the ears. He could be playing at a top club in England or in non-league in five years, I don’t know.
“Application, dedication, all these things come into it. He’s got the tools, there’s no doubt about that.”
The right wing-back played a bit-part role in the second half of the season, something that led to a summer of speculation over his future.
Djed Spence: Nottingham Forest
Despite showing glimpses of promise during pre-season, Warnock allowed Spence to leave the club for a season-long loan deal with Nottingham Forest, explaining: “I let him go.
“He needed to sort himself out, really.”I basically said to him that you can go to the top or you can go non-league.
“I think Steve Cooper is the manager for him, to be honest. He has let him go forward more often, which suits his game.”
Since moving to the City Ground, Spence has certainly relished his newfound freedom on the right side of midfield, a role that has seen him show his best for Steve Cooper’s attack-minded side.
His growing confidence has been highlighted by some impressive performances in the FA Cup against Arsenal and Leicester City, with Ian Wright discussing a conversation that he had with the player in the aftermath of Forest’s victory over the Gunners.
Speaking on the Wrighty’s House Podcast, Wright explained: “I saw him after the game and said ‘listen, my friend. You’re on loan from Middlesbrough and I don’t know what’s happened there, because if you can’t get into the Middlesbrough side, I don’t know what’s wrong, so I need to know the full story’.
“But let me say, that was one of the best right-back performances I have seen for a very long time. A very long time.
“If we are talking about right-backs performing at an unbelievable level, we’re talking Reece James and Trent (Alexander-Arnold).
“But I have not seen a combative, technical, swashbuckling performance like that for a very long time.
“I said to him afterwards, ‘whatever’s happening, whatever you’re doing, the level you’ve just shown us here is the level you have to be consistently hitting, Djed’.
“I said that to him at the end of that game and all his family were there, and they were saying ‘yes! Listen, man! Listen!’
“I said to him, in all seriousness, ‘that level we saw there? You should be in the Premier League’. Simple as that.”
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