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Tottenham, surprisingly, cancels Matt Doherty’s contract instead of loaning him out

And BOY do we have a theory as to why!

Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal FC - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The biggest shock of Tottenham Hotspur’s January transfer window just took place in the last half hour when the club announced via social media that it had mutually agreed with right wing back Matt Doherty to terminate his Tottenham contract, allowing him to sign with another club as a free agent in this window. That club is expected to be Atletico Madrid, but it is as of yet not confirmed.

The text of Tottenham’s official release is short, succinct, and doesn’t explain a damn thing.

We have mutually agreed to the termination of Matt Doherty’s contract to enable him to join another club.

Signed from Wolverhampton Wanderers in August, 2020, the Republic of Ireland international made 71 appearances for us in all competitions, scoring three goals.

We should like to thank Matt for his service and wish him well for the future.

So this is weird, right? After all, the news coming out of the rumor mill today, and it was all reliable, suggested that Doherty had already agreed to join La Liga side Atletico Madrid on a straight loan, with no purchase obligation or option. And then... nothing. Crickets. It was as if something was wrong.

And we have a pretty amazing theory as to why!

It starts, crazily enough, in Cartilage Free Captain’s writer’s Slack channel. Ryan Rosenblatt, former Carty Free author and Friend of the Blog™, noticed something that caused a great deal of discussion among all of us — new FIFA regulations that were enacted in June state that clubs are now only allowed to have eight incoming and eight outgoing loans at any one given time. Tottenham currently have eight foreign loans — Destiny Udogie, Giovani Lo Celso, Tanguy Ndombele, Harry Winks, Sergio Reguilon, Joe Rodon, Bryan Gil, and Djed Spence. And that’s before Doherty’s proposed loan!

The new rules were designed to curtail the creation of Chelsea-style “loan armies” by which rich clubs can hoard players and potentially flip them for profit, sometimes without them ever playing a single match for the club. It’s a pretty good regulation, and there are even exceptions, but the player has to be both 21 years of age or younger AND be club-trained in order for that exception to go through. None of Spurs’ foreign loans met that criteria.

It’s also worth noting that the foreign loan limit drops to seven in 2023-24, and to six the year following. FIFA is serious about stopping player hoarding and loan abuse.

Surely, we thought, Tottenham wouldn’t be so foolish as to not think about this, right? Surely there’s a loophole! Surely they’ve thought of this already! So we all started digging into the FIFA regulations, and couldn’t find any way that Matt Doherty’s loan to Atletico Madrid wouldn’t fall afoul of these regulations.

Ryan took it to Twitter, and Joel Wertheimer and I even took it to the Extra Inch Discord of which we’re both members... nobody could make heads or tails of it. It didn’t seem possible that Spurs would be able to complete the loan... at least legally.

And then Tottenham tweeted the above.

So here’s our theory, and it should be noted that this is 100% pure speculation but it’s now part of my head canon so I’m going to assume it happened exactly this way.

  1. Tottenham fully intended to loan Matt Doherty to Atletico Madrid as per the previous reporting, and all of the work had been done to complete a standard loan with no option or obligation.
  2. Someone at Spurs had an OH SHIT moment when they realized that Spurs would be over the foreign loan limit. (I’ll never be able to prove it but I’d LOVE to think that the club didn’t realize this until after we had brought it up on Twitter and other Spurs forums and various people and/or journalists had contacted the club asking for comment)
  3. The long delay in announcing Doherty’s loan was precisely because Spurs had to figure out a way to either find a loophole that would allow the loan, another domestic club that would take Doherty on loan, or figure out how Atletico could purchase Doherty straight.
  4. The mutual termination of Doherty’s contract was the easiest way as it allowed Spurs to get Doherty’s wages off their books and allow him to sign with Atletico on a Bosman.

I think this theory is (at least mostly) accurate because of the way that Tottenham’s tweet is worded — We have mutually agreed to the termination of Matt Doherty’s contract to enable him to join another club. It’s a weird wording, and oddly specific, right? It implies that there was a plan ahead of time, and that this is a kinda bizarre way of allowing Matt to join Atletico.

Going from a loan to cutting Doherty doesn’t really hurt Spurs financially, or if it does it’s pretty minimal. Doherty is 31 years old and wouldn’t have had much of a long term future at the club. It’s probable that the club would’ve tried to sell him this summer regardless of what happened tonight. This is a way that Spurs could have gotten out of a (hypothetical) pickle with a minimum of embarrassment, and without causing disgruntlement to a player who was ready to leave, and Spurs also gets out of paying his salary for another year. It’s not a bad end result for all involved!

I want to state again — I have no proof that any of the theory above is true or accurate. But holy crap does it make a lot of sense. I almost think Occam’s Razor explains it. We may not ever know, but it sure is fun to think about, right?

I’ve just written 1000 words and haven’t really addressed Doherty leaving. He never really hit the ground running but he was a good servant to the club in the years that he was here and formed a solid and fun relationship with Harry Kane and Eric Dier. I like him. I hope he has a good rest of his career.

And the transfer window isn’t yet closed!