This afternoon, Toulouse president Olivier Sadran confirmed that defensive midfielder Etienne Capoue will be leaving the club, presumably for Tottenham Hotspur. Earlier this summer I wrote up a Daniel Levy's Imaginary Shortlist profile of Capoue. At the time I gave the transfer a grade of B+. A lot has happened since the beginning on June though and this transfer now seems pretty questionable.
One reason to think this transfer doesn't make sense is that Spurs just dropped £17 million on Paulinho. One or the other makes sense, but both makes you question just what this team is going to look like next season. Purchasing both would make sense if Scott Parker, Tom Huddlestone, and Jake Livermore didn't exist, but they, like Paulinho, are on Tottenham's books.
Capoue sort of an odd hybrid of Sandro, Huddlestone, and Mousa Dembele. He has the defensive skills of Sandro, the ability to hit a through-ball like Huddlestone, and the on the ball strength of Dembele. The problem, however, is that he isn't quite as good at all those things as the other three are. He's a perfectly well-rounded player. The sort of guy that does a lot of things really well, but has no stand-out skill.
Many people are suggesting that Capoue may be being brought in to provide cover for Spurs in central defense. While it's true that Capoue has played in the center of defense before, 5 times last season and, according to football-lineups.com, 27 times in his career as a whole. That's almost a full season's worth of game at center back. It's not an unfamiliar position to the French international, but it is most certainly not his best position.
Capoue has a number of assets that make him a decent central defender. He's big, strong, and good in the air. He's a good tackler and blocks a decent number of shots considering that he plays in midfield. The problem for Capoue is positioning. Like Jan Vertonghen, Capoue likes to carry the ball out of defense and start the attack. Unfortunately, Capoue is not as good as Vertonghen is when it comes to picking the right time and place to push forward with the ball at his feet. At times, Capoue's poor positioning has left his team exposed at the back and resulted in costly goals.
All this is not to say that Capoue can't be a good centerback for Spurs, he'd certainly be surrounded by more talent than he ever was at TFC and that could make a world of difference. However, if people are envisioning him as a brilliant ball-playing central defender that Spurs can partner with Vertonghen week in and week out, then they will be sorely disappointed.
The final reason this transfer doesn't make sense is that now the team is just overloaded with defensive-ish midfielders. There's not many formations that Spurs can play that will allow them to put all four of Sandro, Paulinho, Dembele, and Capoue on the pitch together and even if you played one of those formations it would come at the expense of some of your more creative and attacking players. You can make the argument that this gives us quality depth. Taking into consideration that Tottenham Hotspur only repeated two starting XI's last season, depth might be exactly what we need.
Tottenham are becoming for defensive midfielders what Chelsea are for attacking midfielders. I don't know if Capoue is better than Paulinho, mostly because I've only ever seen Paulinho in the Confederations Cup, but I know that Capoue is a quality midfielder and that he will certainly push for regular playing time on this team. I hesitate to call him a back-up to Sandro or Paulinho because, in all honesty, he could be better than one of them right now. He's definitely a back-up as a defender, probably no better than 4th choice right now.
I'm still excited about this deal. Capoue is a French international and is 25 years-old. He's an excellent player and one who could have just as easily wound up at Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester United, or Newcastle and gotten to play right away. As a club you can never have too many good players and that's exactly what Capoue is.