Ange Postecoglou early identified a new centre-back or two as one of his priority areas to improve his Tottenham squad, but the issue remains unresolved.
Spurs conceded 63 goals in the Premier League – only a few bottom clubs conceded more – so the need to prioritize a central defense pair was obvious. The new head coach made it clear soccer.london last week that it was one of the areas he had quickly identified as needing reinforcements.
“Some of [the areas needing new players] I had identified early. I don’t think it’s any secret about some of the areas we had to strengthen. The goalkeeper was one and the central defense is another,” he said.
When soccer.london asked if he wanted more options in central defense ahead of the first Premier League game at Brentford, Postecoglou made his wish quite clear.
“Yeah, I think that’s definitely our intention, absolutely. We’ve been working on it for a while and we’re definitely going to try to get it done as soon as possible,” he said.
“Working on it for a while” hung in the air, a familiar refrain heard from or thought by many a Tottenham Hotspur manager over the years.
READ MORE: Leaked WhatsApp message, Postecoglou fury: Behind the scenes of the Harry Kane shirt stunt
Spurs have signed three players so far this summer in goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario, midfielder James Maddison and winger Manor Solomon, while they have also made the loans of Dejan Kulusevski and Pedro Porro permanent.
But with the defense so poor last season and Postecoglou realizing so early on the need for a new centre-back, why wasn’t centre-back shopping – Spurs want two – not prioritized and at least one of the first moves made?
Vicario, Maddison and Solomon were all options Spurs went in first for players of interest who they believed would otherwise be snapped up quickly due to the price they were available for.
Yet it is also finances that appear to be holding back their capture of at least the first of two new centre-backs for Postecoglou.
The north London club have held talks with Wolfsburg and Bayer Leverkusen to sign Micky van de Ven and Edmond Tapsoba respectively.
Spurs also have a strong interest in Fulham’s Tosin Adarabioyo and soccer.london understands there is growing expectation that the north London club will make a bid for the centre-back. But with other clubs interested, it’s a situation that requires them to move sooner rather than later in the window.
The player is understood to be keen on a move to Tottenham should the move materialise. Adarabioyo is also appealing as he will count as a home-grown option for Spurs this season.
Spurs are also admirers of Crystal Palace defenders Marc Guehi and Joachim Andersen and, on top of that, have held discussions with Barcelona about bringing back Clement Lenglet as a defensive option following his loan spell last season.
The issue for Spurs is that every club and agent knows they are in desperate need of a new centre-back and so prices are raised accordingly.
Even at the younger and cheaper end of the scale, Tottenham even find that problem with cash-strapped Blackburn regarding their selection of 18-year-old Ashley Phillips.
Spurs were expected to seal a deal worth around £3m for the highly-rated England Under-19 international, with the plan to fly the teenager out for the second half of the club’s tour of Asia.
However, soccer.london understands that the agreement has now stalled. It is not believed to be broken at the moment, but a large amount that is now being asked for in addition, raising the fee significantly, is believed to be the problem.
Phillips has just eight Championship games under his belt so far, but the 6ft 3ins centre-back should be part of Postecoglou’s first-team squad as he continues to develop, although he is not expected to be one of the two main defenders the club are looking to bring in for Postecoglou during this transfer window.
Tapsoba and Van de Ven are in a much higher price category, with Adarabioyo costing less than them due to his contract reaching the final 12 months. Lenglet is expected to be cheaper, but Barcelona want to offload him.
This is where Spurs chairman Daniel Levy will be immediately tested to see how much he is willing to back Postecoglou or whether the club will turn their attention to alternative targets. The club has used data analysis to mark Tapsoba and Van de Ven as perfect candidates for the Australian’s system.
Of all the positions where you didn’t have to sit out a better deal or haggle too long over prices, the central defensive role was one. Because the newcomers will need time to adapt to Postecoglou’s methods and style of football.
Tottenham’s needs are clear, hence the price increase, but it’s the transfer window. North London are no different with Harry Kane, knowing Bayern Munich are desperate to sign him and trumpeting that need to anyone who will listen.
The Germans may point out that they can talk to the England captain about a free move next summer from January onwards, but they will also face big competition then for Kane’s services as a free agent. Who wouldn’t want one of the world’s best strikers at their club?
If Spurs are unhappy about the cost of signing the defenders everyone knows they need, they better not think about how high the price tags will be on replacement strikers if they sell Kane. Clubs around the world would see Levy coming from a mile away with a big pile of cash from his sale.
Tottenham need to switch to a centre-back and they need to get some of their existing ones out the door. They will listen to offers for Davinson Sanchez, Joe Rodon and Japhet Tanganga this summer, while Eric Dier, despite reaching the final 12 months of his contract, is keen to remain at the club.
Spurs may have to accept some cut-price deals for players such as former club-record signing Sanchez, who is also in the final year of his deal.
The futures of Sanchez and Rodon seem clear under Postecoglou. Sanchez was not in the 22-man matchday squad for the canceled match against Leicester in Bangkok on Sunday night.
Rodon hasn’t even had a chance, seemingly frozen out under Postecoglou. The Wales international has been left out of both teams on the tour so far and forced to train with those players returning from injury or not expected to feature in the matches, while others have taken part in their final warm-up games in pre-match training.
Tanganga has been getting minutes but likely won’t get the playing time he needs this season to develop. A move would suit both parties at this point and Spurs could potentially look at Adarabioyo as a home-grown replacement.
Dier is on his way back from groin surgery and, now fully fit, is believed to be keen to prove himself to Postecoglou. He was back on the bench for the scheduled game against the Foxes.
Postecoglou has so far turned to Ben Davies as his left-sided centre-back, the experienced Welshman playing alongside Sanchez in the defeat to West Ham and having no fault for the one goal Spurs conceded in that half. Davies was due to start alongside Cristian Romero in the match that was never in Thailand.
That the new Tottenham boss is playing a left-back who can play centre-back in a three as his left-sided option in a pair shows not only that Sanchez, Rodon and Tanganga are below Davies in the pecking order, but also how much Postecoglou wants a natural left-sided player to come into that position.
The Spurs boss made it clear that he expects players to progress from his currently huge 37-man first-team squad.
“As for the other lads, we’ve got a big squad but my view is I’d take them and just work with them and get some clarity in my head and give them clarity because I think you’ll find a lot of them will say ‘to be honest, it’s not for me, the way we play and the way we train’, because as I say, he said he does things differently.
“Every day we have together, every game like last night, it gives you clarity about certain things and there’s no doubt that the squad will be cut and there will be a few more changes between now and probably the end of the transfer window.”
Postecoglou needs defensive reinforcements and there is only so long Levy can wait amid the simmering frustration of the fans.
Even more importantly, it can be a decisive support for Postecoglou. Levy’s critics will often say Spurs’ managers have to make do with what they get and when they get it, rather than getting exactly what they want and when they need it.
With Spurs set to return home from Singapore later this week as a messy summer tour draws to a close, the best possible tonic for the fans and Postecoglou would be for Levy to disprove those critics and deliver a new centre-back soon after their arrival.