For the best part of half a decade, Tottenham fans felt blessed to have Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen marshalling Spurs’ defence.
They were among the most comfortable centre-backs on the ball in world football and had a seemingly telepathic connection after playing together for years with Ajax and Belgium. Spurs, notably a team who simply did not care for defending, became a world-class outfit at the back.
With both having now departed north London – Alderweireld left for Qatar last week while Vertonghen joined Benfica a year ago – Spurs are having to completely rebuild at the back.
Eric Dier and Davinson Sanchez have been given chance after to chance to prove their worth, and they have proven time after time that they are not up to the task. Joe Rodon and Japhet Tanganga are decent prospects, but can’t be trusted at the heart of a European contender on their own just yet.
Step forward, Cristian Romero – reigning Serie A defender of the year, Copa America winner with Argentina, and still only 23.
It’s an impressive CV for any young defender, let alone one who’s only played senior club football for Belgrano, Genoa and Atalanta. Spurs’ new director of football Fabio Paratici is desperate to bring the Argentine to the club, level with Chelsea-bound Jules Kounde – who rejected a move to Spurs last month – at the top of his list of defensive targets.
Barcelona have long been rumoured to be in the picture, but their advances have never been too serious. Romero is intent on a move to Tottenham, and getting him over the line would truly signal a fresh start for the north London club.
Spurs have often set their sights unrealistically high in the transfer market before settling for lesser and often cheaper options (Federico Fazio, Benjamin Stambouli, Georges-Kevin Nkoudou, you get the point). Should Daniel Levy grant Paratici the power and finances to sanction a deal for one of his personal favourite targets, then great strides are already being made off the pitch in order to safeguard Spurs’ future.
And on the pitch? They’ll be getting one of the world’s best young prospects, an aggressive centre-back who can have the defence built around him – the exact sort of profile that Tottenham have been crying out for.
Reports say that Atalanta are holding out for an up-front fee of €50m plus bonuses, which would make Romero Spurs’ third most expensive player of all time after Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso, two players who have only shown their worth in glimpses so far.
Under a good defensive coach in Nuno Espirito Santo, there’s every chance for Romero to make another leap, to instantly come in and become one of the Premier League’s best defenders, to be at the forefront of Spurs’ new identity. The alternative plan to bringing in Romero would be to target three lesser centre-backs, which would ensure Spurs’ identity remains as ‘what the hell are we doing?’.
It’s very easy to sit on a phone or behind a computer and say ‘pay up’ to football clubs operating in the transfer market, and that’s not what this is, but Tottenham have a genuine chance to change their ways for the better and must seize that opportunity while they can.