It’s been a while since Tottenham Hotspur had a reliable and consistent option on the right side of their defence.
Kyle Walker left for Manchester City in 2017, whilst Kieran Trippier departed in 2019 for Atletico Madrid and since then, managers past and present have struggled to find a true successor to the role.
Now, current head coach Antonio Conte could be about to fall into the same trap, one that saw another former Premier League title-winner in Jose Mourinho struggle to keep his job at Hotspur Way.
The Italian currently favours Emerson Royal as his first-choice right wing-back, with the aforementioned Portuguese’s signing, Matt Doherty, a backup option.
However, in the recent transfer window, sporting director Fabio Paratici managed to seal a potential star of the future, signing Djed Spence from Championship side Middlesbrough in a £20m deal after the 22-year-old helped Nottingham Forest to promotion during a successful loan stint.
Emerson is very much a defender that still divides opinion around N17, ranging from the supporters often describing him as a “liability” to ex-Spurs captain Jonathan Woodgate previously lambasting his defending as “horrendous.”
Mourinho often made his bed and had to lie in it by deploying Serge Aurier – also regularly slammed as a ‘liability‘ – as his regular right-back candidate. He almost acknowledged exactly how poor the Ivory Coast international was by utilising Moussa Sissoko as a right-midfielder to help out due to Aurier’s defensive frailties and unreliability.
Spence could be the exception to the rule, though Conte will need to change his attitude toward the young talent.
“Spence is an investment of the club,” Conte said (via The Athletic). “The club wanted to do it. I said okay, this player is young but he showed he can become a good, important player for us.”
After six direct goal contributions and averages of 1.6 interceptions and 1.5 tackles per game in 2021/22, the England U21 international should be right up Conte’s street with his evident ability to influence the game at either end of the pitch.
One particularly glowing performance against arch-rivals Arsenal in the FA Cup saw two of the Gunners’ legends wax lyrical about the now-Tottenham man – Martin Keown dubbed him a “Rolls-Royce” player, whilst Ian Wright told his podcast: “I have not seen a combative, technical, swashbuckling performance like that for a very long time.”
So if Conte wants to break the worrying right-back trend at Tottenham, then he really ought to unleash Spence and let him develop in the current system whilst he’s still in charge.
It could be the difference between his tenure heading down the same path as Mourinho, with no success to show for it, and him making his own legacy at the Lilywhites.