With Tanguy Ndombele close to a loan to PSG and Tottenham Hotspur actively trying to offload Dele and Giovani Lo Celso before the close of the window, the question in many Spurs fans’ minds is who will come in to replace them. We might have an answer. Viola News is reporting that Spurs have come to an agreement for a loan for Fiorentina and Morocco defensive midfielder Sofyan Amrabat until the end of the season with a €15m purchase option. The report states that the deal just needs Amrabat to give the final okay.
This is a rumor that kinda sprung out of nowhere late yesterday and also has a lot of Tottenham watchers scratching their heads. Amrabat, who is currently away with Morocco at the African Cup of Nations, has not been a regular starter for Fiorentina this season with only 223 minutes of first team football with La Viola and one start. That’s compared to last season where he had over 2400 minutes and was a regular in Fiorentina’s starting lineup.
Even so, his numbers don’t exactly pop. He has good dribbling and passing numbers and looks to be a pretty capable passer from medium and long distances. But his defensive numbers are pretty meh and he’s god-awful at scoring, as Spurs Twitter (who seems to universally hate this move) will be quick to point out — he has scored just three goals in his entire career.
That said, Viola News also says that both Fabio Paratici and Antonio Conte are keen on him in this window. So what’s going on?
I haven’t watched much of Amrabat beyond the odd highlight package, but based on that, it’s pretty clear he’s an athlete. His movement is pretty good, he’s built like a brick s—thouse, and he’s a tough tackler. He also appears to be a plus passer from a deeper midfield position, and in a world where we’re losing both Ndombele AND Lo Celso, that seems like something that would be of high priority.
Look, I’ll be honest — at first blush this looks like an extremely underwhelming signing. But let’s drink the Conte Kool-Aid for a second and postulate. We know that Conte is not happy with Tanguy and Gio but for different reasons: Tanguy appears to be too much of a free spirit to fit into Conte’s regimented tactical structure, and he seems to just not get along with Lo Celso for whatever reason. And creativity appears to be something that is a bonus, but not necessarily required in Conte’s midfields — the structure is built on being able to recognize and execute passing patterns in order to progress the ball. For sure Conte has had brilliant creative midfielders at his other clubs, but all of them were able to regiment themselves to his system.
So you can see a scenario here where Conte felt the need to overhaul Spurs’ midfield in the short term, but the January window is a pretty bad time to be doing that. Spurs are also acting like a club that knows it has money, but just not right now — a rich club that is temporarily cash poor.
In that sense, Conte might be just fine in the short term with some athletic “randos” who are limited but teachable, and who can quickly learn The Patterns™. He doesn’t need players who are excellent at ball progression because the system creates the ball progressions and he just needs people who will do what he wants in the middle of the pitch. Harry Winks and Oliver Skipp seem to be in that mold as well. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg too. Maybe Amrabat is one as well. We’ve already seen Conte take limited players and elevate them far beyond what we thought they’d be capable of (hi, Winksy). And if the purchase is a loan with an obligation, Spurs minimize the damage if things don’t work out and kick the can down the road to this summer, which is where the rubber REALLY hits the road.
TIFO and The Athletic writer Seb Stafford-Bloor certainly thinks so — he thinks this could potentially be an astute, under the radar signing for Tottenham in this window.
don't go to YouTube for the highlights, because that won't show him right. He'll play for Morocco this evening, so watch him there if you can.— Seb Stafford-Bloor (@SebSB) January 25, 2022
Me, I’m on the fence. I haven’t seen enough of Amrabat to know if he’s the kind of player Conte can plonk into the deepest midfield role and make it so that everyone else plays better. It feels like in a world where Aston Villa can get Rodrigo Bentancur on loan, Spurs should surely be able to do something better than this. Everything I just wrote above feels — even to me! — like wishcasting, but honestly I’m pretty desperate to cling to anything that might be good in the face of potentially losing three of my favorite players at the club. Any port in a storm. And, at the end of the day, Antonio Conte has earned our trust to make these kinds of decisions, even if they’re painful ones. What other choice do we have?