New and expensive defenders are becoming a growing trend with the wealthy clubs of the Premier League. Manchester City regularly add to their backline. with Rúben Dias & Nathan Aké bought for over £100 million last summer. Liverpool have signed the giant Ibrahima Konate to their squad list for £34 million, after last years defensive crisis. Manchester United have paid out a similar fee for France international Raphaël Varane. Arsenal we have completed the signing of England hopeful, Ben White, in a deal reported at £50 million, and Chelsea seem intent on adding Jules Koundé to their ranks. Al in all, there seems to be an urgency to improve defensive capabilities, and teams have not been shy in paying for it.
The last three English league titles have often seen a recurring theme with each winner. In 2018/19 season, dramatic finale to the campaign saw club captain, Vincent Kompany, drag his City side over the line ahead of Liverpool. Without his recall to the side and added assurance midway through through the campaign, to add leadership and defensive abilities, Liverpool would have overcome that year. The following season saw the reds finally regain the English League title, with Virgil Van Dijk excelling throughout a year where multiple records were shattered. If not for COVID and the end of season delays, it may have seen a record points total amassed for a single season, with their solid base standing out. City were able to regain the title this past year, with the before-mentioned centre backs added. Rúben Dias arrived, and eventually took home a player of the year award in his first season. Overall, the rearguard importance and growing awareness of defensive quality that’s needed, has become apparent.
With the Harry Kane rumour mill rumbling on, Spurs appear to be building a squad either for their talisman, or with the money they are to receive upon his departure. Mauricio Pochettino’s once famed paring of Jan Vertonghen & Toby Alderweireld are now departed, the recruitment of a high level replacements seems a priority. The remaining names of Eric Dier, Davinson Sánchez, Joe Rodon & Japhet Tanganga offer ample depth, but there was an obvious drop off from their previous starting pair. Toby has just left, and a new defensive kingpin was called for.
Once José Mourinho was sacked, the long managerial search ended in the instalment of former Wolves boss, Nuno Espírito Santo. Nuno had undertaken his Wolves spell with consistent and admirable achievements. His appointment to the White Hart Lane hot seat offered a fair understanding to his defensive game, and would therefore require certain players to carry out his vision for Spurs. At Wolves, he would predominantly play a back three, with a vocal organiser in Conor Coady at its heart. His defensive sometimes vulnerabilities meant that he was never fully a Nuno target for Spurs, and with the new Director of Football, Fabio Paratici, in charge of recruitment, the standard of potential recruits was seen as higher.
When Giovani Lo Celso was signed, it was initially on loan with an option to buy. This deal was very quickly made permanent and it appears another deal of this sort has occurred. There could be a vast amount of cash coming into the club over the comings days and weeks, and this may be why Spurs have opted for an initial option to buy, in the form of a loan.
Cristian Romero arrives at White Hart Lane after a tremendous spell at the overachieving Italian side, Atalanta. His period there on loan from Juventus was made permanent, after never actually featuring for Juve. The deal, for a reported £42 million, should be made permanent either at some point in the season, or next summer. His signing from Atalanta perhaps rectifies the mistake Fabio Paratici made, in selling Romero from Juventus. This will mark the second time Fabio has signed Romero, after signing for the Turin giants from Genoa in 2019. The competition was incredible at Juventus at the time of his arrival, with legendary defenders Giorgio Chiellini & Leonardo Bonucci in the final years of their careers. It is however curious as to why a future pairing of Romero & record defensive signing, Matthijs de Ligt, never materialised, especially with the advancing years of the Italy’s starting pair. The idea was quickly passed over, and Romero headed to Atalanta in 2020, after a year on loan back at Genoa.
With Tottenham signing Cristian Romero, they have acquired one of the best up and coming defenders in the world. At just 23 years of age, he could be primed to explode onto the scene as a genuine world class talent. With a slow build into the Argentina first team, this high profile move to the Premier League should solidify a starting role for his country. As a dominant, commanding and organisational defender, Romero will be coming in to lead the Spurs defensive line. His ability to play out from defence, turn quickly off a high line and track at pace, will allow varying patterns of play for Spurs, with the tactical tweaks becoming common in games. With this signing, Spurs may well have secured the very best defender amidst a flurry of incoming stoppers to the league, and the fan base can be pleased with their new recruit.
The ability to defend at high level has too often been overlooked, with marquee signings brought in to sell shirts, the preferred expenditure. We could see over the coming years an evolution in defending, with the abilities needed now, far beyond the tackle and head capability of old. Top tier sides need to play a high line in order to compress space, and in order to effectively carry out this style, intelligent defensive set ups have to be incorporated. Pace, acceleration, reading of the game and a sound ability to intercept the ball, are now more valuable traits that the famed last ditch tackle. The worlds greatest ever defender, Paolo Maldini once said, “If I have to make a tackle, then I have already made a mistake”. This notion, this idea of defending has seen the Italian rearguard continually excel, with their recent European Championship win much to do with their defensive brilliance. Over the last few seasons, we have seen Virgil Van Dijk win the English League & European Championship, and almost winning the converted Ballon d’Or. His skill set and physical abilities have helped to revolutionise defending in the modern game. His own ability to read the game, out run, out head and play effortlessly from the back. has perhaps forced the hand of the leagues leading sides. To imitate brilliance should not be sneered at, when the potential rewards are so great. To pay large fees to stabilise and solidify a backline can be (and has been), the foundation for football greatness. This coming season will see some brilliant play, and hopefully brilliance in defending, with the eventual winners surely rising from such a strong foundation.
It’s only a few days left to go before the opening day of the season, and much may still change at White Hart Lane. Spurs have been busy, and in their defensive recruit, Christian Romero, they can be assured of worthy succession to the once brilliant backline. If Romero can replicate his Atlanta form, he can perhaps even surpass the previous levels set, with a new look and new Italian leadership.