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How Spurs got Clement Lenglet: a move that makes sense

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Towards the end of last season, Fabio Paratici drew up his list of the left-back centre-backs Tottenham Hotspur would target this summer, and Barcelona’s Clement Lenglet was nowhere near the top.

The main names were Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig and Alessandro Bastoni from Inter Milan. There was Nico Schlotterbeck, then from Freiburg, and Sven Botman, then from Lille. Pau Torres, who turned down a move to Tottenham in 2021, was not an active target but ticked all the boxes.

But Tottenham have not finished with any of them. They have decided, like someone rushing to buy a gift on Christmas Eve, to discard their original priorities, commit to reality, and move down the list. Is this an ingenious innovation? Possibly. Is it despair? Not really. But it is a pivot. And one that again underlines how eager Tottenham are to get their business done early.

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Lenglet, 27, is now the most likely option for Tottenham, in line for a loan deal, allowing Paratici to add more experience and competence to the team without risking too much money. As of Tuesday night, the deal is not imminent, but Barcelona have announced the signing of his effective replacement, Andreas Christensen from Chelsea.

When exactly Lenglet walks through the door remains to be seen. It’s no secret that Conte wants the summer to work with his players, rather than allowing negotiations to drag on through July and August, as has been the case in previous Spurs summers. This will be his first pre-season at Tottenham, after all, but they have secured Ivan Perisic, Fraser Forster, Yves Bissouma and Richarlison, and Conte has had a spring break in training camp this week.

Most of the Spurs’ first-team squad reported for preseason on Monday. Those who were on international duty until the end of June (Harry Kane, Ben Davies, Hugo Lloris, Dejan Kulusevski, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg) will join when the team flies to South Korea on Saturday night.

But the final touches to the template are still missing. And the first on the list is still the left center.


Lenglet will move to Spurs on loan (Photo: Xavier Bonilla/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The search for a left center had been more difficult than expected. He was initially lined up to be Spurs’ top priority in this market, with the club willing to spend at least as much money as the £42.5m they spent on Cristian Romero, who plays to the right of all three of their defenders. As good as Ben Davies had been under Conte – the Wales international played all but two games since Conte replaced Nuno Espirito Santo – the idea was still to buy an expensive upgrade.

But even £50m wouldn’t have been enough to sign Gvardiol. Leipzig value him so much that he would have wanted a much higher figure than that. Schlotterbeck was highly rated by Paratici, but he wanted to stay in Germany and signed a contract with Borussia Dortmund instead. Botman was felt not to be a fit as well as the others, with less experience playing in a three, so Spurs demurred, allowing Newcastle United to beat Milan by signing him.

There were three of them, and Bastoni, and he was the Inter man Spurs pressed the most for. Conte had worked with him before and Inter’s financial situation could have played in Spurs’ favour.

But Inter were reluctant to sell Bastoni (he is an Inter fan and their best young player), and were also reluctant to push for him to move. With the possibility of selling Milan Skriniar to Paris Saint-Germain and replacing him with Torino’s Gleison Bremer, Inter had a chance to turn a profit and keep Bastoni. None of those moves have been made yet: the global merry-go-round of central defense is still slowly getting underway.

But that is why Tottenham found themselves landing in so many other positions – goalscoring left-back, complete central midfielder, home backup goalkeeper, versatile forward – without ever approaching the one position they had prioritized from the start.

At this point, Tottenham had two options. Do they hang on all summer hoping Bastoni’s situation turns in their favor? Or do they go down the list to someone they can land quickly and easily?

Clearly that is what Tottenham are trying to do with Lenglet. And while a critical voice might say he is Spurs’ sixth choice for this particular job at best, there is another way of looking at it: by signing an experienced international on a low-risk loan deal. for one year, the Spurs would bring some much-needed coverage and competition for Davies.

And while Lenglet wouldn’t have the edge or longevity of a Gvardiol or Bastoni, his arrival would at least be a kick down the road for a year.

Although many associate Lenglet with the difficult last few years that Barcelona have gone through, that does not mean that he is a bad player. His stock price has fallen so steeply that it makes it a smarter time to sign him, when other teams may get discouraged and when Barcelona would be happy to see him go.

Barcelona signed Lenglet from Sevilla in the summer of 2018, and he joined Ernesto Valverde’s side that won La Liga but have not won it since.

Very early on, Lenglet had a good partnership with Gerard Pique, playing 70 per cent of the available La Liga minutes in 2019-20 and 2020-21. Whatever other criticisms have been leveled at him, Lenglet is an accomplished player by nature.

In each of those two seasons, he ranked fifth in La Liga in progressive charge distance and second in completion percentage. There are no doubts about his naturalness with the ball, his character or the quality of his left foot.

The problem for Lenglet was the other side of the game. While Barcelona struggled under its rotating cast of managers and aging side, the team remained exposed in the big games. Nobody had more problems than Lenglet: there was the 4-0 loss at Anfield in May 2019, the 8-2 embarrassment at Bayern Munich in August 2020 and Kylian Mbappe’s treble in February 2021.

Mbappe, Pique


Mbappé mutinied against Barcelona 18 months ago (Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images)

Mistakes piled up and he lost his place on the team. Last season, he played less than a quarter of the minutes available in LaLiga, which led Xavi to tell him that he could leave.

Lenglet is criticized for lacking the speed and agility of a modern centre-back and may have problems with the physique of the Premier League. That may well be true, but he will at least play in a back three, benefiting from the fact that Tottenham’s defensive line doesn’t advance as far up the pitch as it did under Mauricio Pochettino.

Critics will point to Lenglet’s role in some of those bad Barcelona defeats, but it would be unfair to say they were a disaster in these games specifically because of him.

Good players can struggle at poorly run clubs, no matter how big, and then go elsewhere and thrive with a fresh, low-pressure start. Just look at Rodrigo Bentancur and Kulusevski, who joined Spurs from Juventus and immediately shone for Conte.

So maybe Lenglet is a downgrade of the idea Spurs had at the beginning of the summer to spend a lot of money on one of the best young left-backs in the world. It is a compromise, a stopgap, a reminder that not all major goals can be achieved quickly.

It’s just not as glamorous as going all in with Gvardiol or Bastoni. But with Davies performing so consistently last season, perhaps the Spurs just need experienced coverage rather than someone as exciting as Romero. Having already done much of his work in this window, now only the finishing touches remain.

(Top photo: Mateo Villalba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)

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