Tottenham\’s Need For Central Defense

By Andrew Stetka (@AStetka)

Before departing White Hart Lane in November of 2019, former Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke often about a \”painful\” rebuild that was needed with the club. Every Spurs fan will remember this, especially since it came on the back of a berth in the Champions League final. Pochettino had taken Spurs to the top of the mountain, but the team failed to plant the flag in the ground. Instead they came falling off of it at the start of the 2019 season. Due to the pandemic, the start of the 2019 season feels like it was about five years ago. Instead, we\’re only talking about 18 months.

Spurs are a far from looking like that team in some ways, but also haven\’t really changed enough. That \”painful\” rebuild has been happening since Pochettino\’s departure, whether anyone realizes it or not. In fact, it started while Pochettino was still at Spurs with the transfers of Giovani Lo Celso from Real Betis and Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon. Tottenham also brought in two younger players in Ryan Sessegnon from Fulham and Jack Clarke from Leeds United. This \”painful\” rebuild then continued into the January window after Pochettino had left, with the purchase of Steven Bergwijn from PSV Eindhoven. We won\’t discuss the failed loan deal of Gedson Fernandes from Benfica, because it\’s already done and dusted.

But in José Mourinho\’s first full summer transfer window, Tottenham\’s \”painful\” rebuild continued even further. You\’ll remember back to the wild pandemic-ridden summer when Spurs bought five players and brought two more in on loan. The highlights of the window included the good – Pierre-Emile Højbjerg from Southampton and Sergio Reguilón from Real Madrid – and the (at least so far) bad – Matt Doherty from Wolves and even the return of Gareth Bale on loan from Madrid.

One of those five players brought in, even though it was at the tail end of the domestic window, was Joe Rodon from Swansea City. The 22-year-old center back is hopefully the start of what I believe is going to be the most painful (and most costly) part of this rebuild for Tottenham. It\’s not that Spurs have been horrid defensively this season. They are fifth in goals conceded in the Premier League, having allowed 25 this season. Mourinho\’s style of play for the majority of the season is likely to thank for that, at least partially. Sitting deep and trying to hit teams on the counter will lead to fewer goals conceded in the long run. But it\’s also hurt Tottenham\’s free-flowing, attacking style that was lauded under Pochettino. We aren\’t talking rocket science here. These are things anyone who follows Spurs or even football would know by even casually watching over the last two years. 

What\’s frustrated me most under Mourinho, and to be fair under Pochettino as well, is the propensity for \”individual errors\” to happen in defense. Everything these days gets chalked up to these \”individual errors\” and frankly if I have to hear the phrase one more time, my blood pressure is going to feel the brunt of it. Mourinho is at fault for not getting the best out of his defense and teaching them to prevent these errors, but the other thing that\’s not talked about enough is whether or not he has the right players in those positions. 

I\’ve talked for months on PODSPUR about the club\’s need for better central defenders. Joe Rodon is perhaps a start, but there isn\’t another one in the club right now I would rely on in the future. Even with Rodon, we haven\’t seen enough of him to know whether or not he\’ll be Premier League quality going forward. 

Any transfer discussion involving Spurs has to start with the homegrown quota. They are obviously up against it when it comes to foreign-born players on the roster and changes have to be made to get in a better place with English players. But outside of that, Tottenham need multiple, perhaps even as many as three or four new central defenders to be infused into this team in the next two seasons. This isn\’t a position where there are well-known prospects within the youth ranks at N17. It\’s not like striker (Dane Scarlett and Troy Parrott), central defensive midfield (Oliver Skipp) or even left back (Ryan Sessegnon and Dennis Cirkin) when it comes to youth prospects. If Tottenham want to have quality in front of their goalkeeper, more must be done to cut out the \”errors of an individual nature\” that seem to plague them. The largest part of that is finding better quality players. 

Tottenham are a long way from peak Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld as their center back pairing. They are a long way from having two choices that they\’re eager to make in those positions like they were four or five years ago. I just hope it\’s not four or five years from now before they have another stable of good choices in that position.

Published by Podspur

Longtime Spurs supporter. Founder / Chair of Rhode Island Spurs. Creator, and host of Tottenham Podspur. COYS!

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