At the end of May, the Telegraph reported that Tottenham Hotspur were looking to acquire Burnley right back Kieran Trippier. While the move has been delayed rather than completed, it raises questions about DeAndre Yedlin's place in the Spurs squad. With Kyle Walker under contract, should we see Trippier as a Yedlin replacement? Do Manager Mauricio Pochettino and new Head of Recruitment Paul Mitchell not rate Yedlin? Was the American just a cheap upside flyer rather than a part of Spurs plans?
These are, I believe, the wrong questions. Most transfer activity is not all-or-nothing, it is not usually about determining the nailed-on eleven that will compete in the league. Now, sure, if Tottenham drop £25m on Morgan Schneiderlin, we can be confident that he will be a nailed-on central midfield starter. But most transfers don't work that way.
Take, for instance, Kevin Wimmer. The Köln CB has joined Tottenham, but it is not obvious he'll be first choice in the league. Eric Dier and possibly Federico Fazio will have their shots as well to win the starting job alongside Jan Vertonghen. The value in Wimmer is not that he absolutely and unquestionably drops another player to the bench, but that Tottenham now have depth of quality center backs for the long season ahead.
The job here is managing uncertainty. For most of the season Tottenham will be playing 180 minutes of football a week, and they will be playing it at Pochettino's preferred high pressing speed. Modern football is a meat grinder, and injuries are a known uncertainty. A club cannot identify beforehand the players who are most likely to be unfit to play for weeks or months at a time, but they need to prepare for some unknown players going down.
Failure to manage uncertainty can be just as big a failure as any signing. In the 2013 offseason, while Tottenham were splashing cash for flops Roberto Soldado and Paulinho, another mistake may have doomed the season just as seriously. Spurs inexplicably concluded the 2013 transfer window with only one left back, Danny Rose. The club thought that between playing Kyle Naughton out of position at LB and moving Jan Vertonghen over from center back, they could bridge any injuries. This plan failed. Danny Rose got hurt early on, Naughton was predictably terrible and Vertonghen, forced to play long minutes as a width-providing left back, got injured. The predictable loss of Vertonghen was immediately felt in the 5-0 Liverpool loss, where a comically poor back line was shredded time and again.
This is the proper context for understanding the Trippier rumors. Kyle Walker should be seen as a massive man-shaped haze of uncertainty. He lost nearly a full season to injury, and in the time he played Walker showed worrying signs of being unable to maintain match fitness, as his quality notably declined from his first matches back until he was removed from the squad again. Moreover, Walker relies on exceptional athleticism more than the average player, so even a moderate decline in pace might be the end of his time as an every week contributor.
This means that Pochettino, Mitchell and Levy cannot reasonably go into the next season with just Yedlin and Walker as their right backs. This has nothing to do with Yedlin. Even if Spurs were in love with the kid and locked in to giving him league starts from the first week, the club still would have to manage uncertainty at right back by acquiring another quality Premier League player.
The uncertainty that clouds Kyle Walker's future thus also does the same to Yedlin's. Uncertainty over Walker means a quality right back in the Trippier mold is needed. If Walker cannot return to his pre-injury level, then Yedlin will still have an important place in the squad. But if Walker does make that recovery, then Yedlin may be looking at a Premier League loan.
However it works out, Spurs fans should not see the driving issue as Yedlin's "rating" by his coaches. Perhaps a loan tells us he isn't rated as an already-excellent right back, but that is about the limit of it. The issue here is managing risk, and specifically the risk posed by Kyle Walker's rough injury history. Yedlin's role may have to be sacrificed in order to have a better backstop against the risk that Walker is no longer a Premier League player. It is not an ideal situation for any parties, but it's the sort of issue that football teams must account for in the offseason if they mean to make runs in multiple competitions in the following season.