It’s taken a few years of steady decline, but Tottenham have finally accepted that they might need to pay up and fix their defence.
A reliance on Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen for what felt like 1,000 years saw Spurs left woefully unprepared when both started to get older, and the gamble that Davinson Sanchez would be able to take their spot on the throne really hasn’t paid off.
Spurs have tried to ignore it, but after narrowly scraping a spot in the Europa Conference League last season, the curtains have been opened and the baron wasteland that is the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium is now on full view.
It’s impossible to ignore anymore, and to Spurs’ credit, they’re not. They’ve brought in Pierluigi Gollini as a potential future number one and they have since added one of La Liga’s most exciting youngsters, Bryan Gil, but their biggest splash could still be coming.
Club officials are chasing Atalanta centre-back Cristian Romero, the 23-year-old Argentine who was just named Serie A’s best young defender ahead of Matthijs de Ligt, Alessandro Bastoni and the other big names in the competition.
It’s a real statement of intent from Spurs, who have watched Romero quietly blossom into one of the game’s best defenders and are ready to bring the Atalanta man’s unique skillset over to London.
A no-nonsense throwback to a bygone era, Romero does everything you could want from your centre-back. He screams at his fellow defenders to keep them organised, keeps his eyes firmly on the ball and will clatter through anybody if it means kicking the ball away from his goal. It’s just a shame he got rid of the black boots that only added to his whole aesthetic.
Where Romero truly thrives is interceptions. An absolute monster in the air, Romero boasts uncanny intelligence when it comes to attacking the ball and can pick the perfect second to leap up and claim the ball. He’s blessed physically, but unlike so many other hulking centre-backs, he knows how to use it perfectly.
He finished third in interceptions in Serie A last season, showcasing his timing and willingness to wait for the right moment to pounce.
It’s a sort of composure that Spurs fans haven’t seen from their defenders for a while now. With Sanchez and Eric Dier often looking like they have never seen a football before, there is a real need for someone with Romero’s mentality, which goes well beyond his years.
However, what makes Romero so special is that he can translate his skillset from defence to attack. He picks the right moment to tackle, but with the ball at his feet, retains that composure in search of the perfect pass.
With Nuno Espirito Santo looking to create a fast-paced, possession-heavy machine at Spurs, he’ll need someone capable of pulling the strings from defence, and that’s exactly what Romero can be.
Seemingly immune to pressure, Romero could not care less when opponents try to throw him off his game. He’ll simply tap the ball to the side and continue doing what he does, or he’ll get the pass away before anything has the potential to go wrong.
You’ll even see Romero gamble on his ability to beat a man as well. He’s never afraid to push forward into space and can start to look like more of a midfielder in the blink of an eye. It’s a risky play style, but Romero’s effortlessly cool demeanour makes you feel confident in what he’s doing.
Now, a centre-back who can pass a ball isn’t that rare these days, but Romero’s ability with the ball at his feet transcends that. His passes are pinpoint perfect and he’s regularly relied upon to play his team-mates into space with through balls.
He does so much of everything, and manages to do it all at such a high level. Italian football has figured out his talents, and the rest of Europe is slowly starting to catch on.
Spurs know just how much of an impact Romero would have on their shaky defence, and it’s now up to those in charge at the club to decide how much that is worth to them.