Are Tottenham any better off with this signing?

Etienne Capoue

Tottenham Hotspur are set to further their summer spending by another £8.6million with their tabled bid for Toulouse man Etienne Capoue.

But are the Lilywhites actually any better off for acquiring Capoue’s services? By this summer’s standards, a £9million fee is a small amount of money to part with for Daniel Levy, but nevertheless, could it simply be money down the drain?

The Frenchman comes with a preceding reputation from his time in Ligue 1, last season finishing up with eight goals from midfield in 35 domestic appearances. At Toulouse, he partnered Newcastle man Moussa Sissoko in central midfield until January, but had lived in the Magpies man’s shadow previously as the more cautious, sturdy and less explosive element of the two. Never the less, Capoue has been highly regarded for some time, being a regular for France at junior level since 2006, and his development has been slow and steady, rather than spectacular.

By all accounts, he’s ready to cross the channel and jump ship to the Premier League. Cardiff had already entered into negotiations over Capoue’s services before Spurs flexed their financial muscle, and despite the average Ligue 1 player often being a hit-or-miss upon arriving in England, the Frenchman is believed to be the real deal, based on his successful Toulouse tenure and occasional bouts in the France national team after earning his first call-up last summer.

But my initial concern is in regards to the 25 year old’s role in North London. By trade, Capoue is a defensive midfielder, with physical prowess, a great engine and ability on the ball at the core of his game, but with Steven Caulker recently sold to Cardiff City for £9million, and Jan Vertonghen and Younnes Kaboul sidelined with injury for the opening fixtures of the incoming Premier League season, it’s more than likely the Frenchman will play his first games in a Tottenham jersey partnering Michael Dawson in defence.

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And with Tottenham’s midfield already packed with relatively recently acquired talents – Sandro joining in 2010, Moussa Dembele joining in 2012 and Paulinho moving to White Hart Lane this summer for a previously record-breaking £17million fee – there’s every chance centre-back could become Capoue’s predominant position for the Lilywhites. The Toulouse midfielder is capable of playing at the back, he was fielded there regularly for the French U21s and utilised in a defensive vein on occasion last season, but central defense is by no means a position that seeks to get the best out of his particular skills set.

Similarly, Capoue’s anticipated arrival in North London has come at the inadvertent expense of Steven Caulker – a natural centre-back who is four years his junior. Quite why Spurs have scrapped one of England’s most promising young defenders who has already earned his first senior cap remains unclear, but it’s safe to assume that Capoue wasn’t Andre Villas-Boas or Daniel Levy’s ideal replacement.

The Lilywhites management had previously thought they were closing in on Romania defender Vlad Chiriches, with an £8million bid accepted by Steaua Bucurest. But flamboyant owner Gigi Becali, a politician-come-businessman-come-celebrity-come-football-club-owner, who is very much the Romanian equivalent of Silvio Berlusconi, later rejected the offer from his jail cell, where he’s serving a three year sentence for corruption, kidnapping and assault.

If my hunch that the Lilywhites are bringing in Capoue to help out at centre-back is correct, the whole transfer suggests an element of panic buying, especially considering the Frenchman was hotly tipped to be signing for Cardiff City less than a week ago. But as previously stated, even in midfield, Capoue’s services could end up ignored at White Hart Lane.

Scott Parker is expected to leave North London by transfer deadline day, but even so, Spurs are privy to a wide selection of central midfielders. When fully fit, anchor man Sandro is undoubtedly one of the first names on the team sheet for Andre Villas-Boas, and if Tottenham’s formation next season includes a specific holding role, the Brazilian will trump Capoue to a slot in the first team every time. Similarly, even if Sandro undergoes another disturbing injury bout, the Spurs boss still has deep-lying playmakers Tom Huddlestone and Tom Carroll, stocky midfielders Moussa Dembele, Jake Livermore and Paulinho, as well as the more attacking-minded Gylfi Sigurdsson and Lewis Holtby to choose from in central midfield.

Overall, it’s hard to tell quite where Capoue fits in, and considering his versatility, there’s every chance he won’t. Utility men can often excel, but the description can also serve as a double-edged sword – it suggests more substitute appearances than bouts in the starting XI, regular outings in positions that aren’t the France international’s natural trade, and as a result, less opportunities to claim first team status at White Hart Lane.

Perhaps that’s what the Lilywhites need however; someone to bolster the roster, to come on late during intense fixtures to see of the game.  £9million is a fair price for a squad player that adds depth, but many had expected more of the promising Capoue. And he in turn will be expecting more from his move to the Premier League than being a regular bench warmer, with the 2014 World Cup less than a year away, and the 25 year old’s place by no means certain in Didier Deschamps’ France squad.

Maybe I am being unkind, unimaginative and short-sighted in suggesting Capoue will struggle to break into the Tottenham midfield and could find himself more often than not filling up injury holes in Spurs’ defense instead, or else end up sitting patiently in the dug-out. But the blueprint in the middle of the park for AVB seems already established and already effective, centred particularly around Sandro, Moussa Dembele and Paulinho, and I personally don’t anticipate Capoue usurping any particular one of the trio based on their previous performances, or in Paulinho’s case, his glowing reputation from the Confederations Cup.

Even if the Frenchman took over cover duty from Tom Huddlestone, who was often Tottenham’s understudy midfielder last season, that still only equates to 21 first team outings, according to the midfielder’s appearances statistics from last term, and there’s no chance he will, considering Huddlestone, along with Carroll and Livermore, outweigh Capoue in terms of Premier League experience.

So are Tottenham any better off for signing one of Ligue 1’s most promising stars? My initial judgement is no. He almost seems eliminated by default from a regular role in the Lilywhites’ midfield, whilst at centre-back, it remains unlikely that a defensive midfielder from the French top flight can provide better service than a young, talented, English and natural central defender in Steven Caulker.

That being said, Capoue’s quality has been undeservingly underplayed throughout this article, and I have little doubt he will bring added depth to the Spurs roster, even if he is unable to regularly affect the first team. It’s just a shame the Toulouse man, seemingly due to his versatility, will go to waste at White Hart Lane, whilst local rivals Arsenal, as well as Cardiff, could have been far more appreciative and accommodating of the Frenchman’s services.

Will Etienne Capoue see the light of day at Tottenham?

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