2023 was a year of much change for Tottenham Hotspur but Ange Postecoglou has navigated through great turbulence and is starting to stamp his mark on the club.
It was never going to be easy; Antonio Conte’s dismissal last March was the fourth in as many years and with Spurs heading inexorably toward a lowly Premier League finish, the summer sale of talisman Harry Kane increasingly looked a foregone conclusion.
But Postecoglou’s savvy style married well with Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy’s shrewd eye for business, and the club’s (and England’s) record scorer’s loss was countered by multiple influential signings.
January has seen two further signings in the form of defender Radu Dragusin and versatile forward Timo Werner, and while Postecoglou is eager to secure a midfielder to complete the spending this month, he appears to have one eye on the summer.
The hubbub of the summer transfer window borders on frenzied at times so it’s a good thing that preliminary plans are being drawn up, with a certain defender at the top of the shopping list.
Spurs’ summer transfer targets
According to various reports, Tottenham are going to target a centre-forward at the end of the campaign and in-form Bournemouth star Dominic Solanke and Eredivisie phenom Santiago Gimenez are both on the radar.
However, the lack of defensive depth has not been sorted yet despite the addition of Dragusin, especially with Eric Dier moving to Bayern Munich last week after falling out of favour under Postecoglou’s guidance.
Spurs could still seal late £50m move for Mousa Dembele 2.0
Ange Postecoglou is pulling all the stops in the transfer market this month.
Therefore, there’s likely truth behind recent rumours surrounding Spurs’ interest in Borussia Monchengladbach centre-back Ko Itakura, with Sky Sports Germany reporter Florian Plettenberg confirming that the north London club are “keen” on the player, who Postecoglou has huge admiration for after trying to sign him for Celtic in 2022.
Itakura has €15m (£13m) release clause in his contract that is free to be activated in the summer and given the outlay required on one of the aforementioned strikers and the fact that Postecoglou already boasts three high-class centre-halfs, this shrewd avenue is certainly worth delving down.
Ko Itakura’s style of play
Itakura, standing at 6 foot 2, has been a colossal presence in the defensive third for Borussia Monchengladbach since signing from Manchester City – where he failed to make a senior appearance – in a €5m (£4m) transfer in 2022, spending the previous season on loan with FC Schalke in Bundesliga 2, winning promotion.
During that nomadic period of many loan spells, Itakura started to find his feet and even received a glowing endorsement from pundit Hans Kraay after a successful stint in the Netherlands with Groningen, where he said that the Japanese defender was “one of the very best central defenders in the Eredivisie.”
As per FBref, Itakura ranks among the top 16% of centre-backs across Europe’s top five leagues over the past year for goals scored, the top 13% for pass completion and the top 5% for blocks per 90, highlighting his rounded arsenal.
Ko Itakura: Key Characteristics
*Sourced via WhoScored
Die Knappen would love to keep hold of their star but with Spurs’ interest showing little sign of disappearing, there’s every chance that he will reject any contractual offers from his club, instead seeking a second shot at a career on English shores.
While the 23-cap Japan international has been injured for the lion’s share of the 2023/24 campaign, he has scored twice across just seven Bundesliga appearances and averaged 4.4 ball recoveries per game to showcase his athleticism, as per Sofascore.
Last term, across 24 league outings the phenom completed 91% of his passes, succeeded with 89% of his dribbles (which albeit were infrequent) and won 62% of his contested duels.
By comparison, Cristian Romero has completed 93% of his passes and won 70% of his duels in the Premier League this season, and while these are superior numbers, the £31k-per-week Gladbach ace is clearly capable of playing at a level not too far away.
In fact, given that the 26-year-old has drawn comparisons to former Spurs stalwart Jan Vertonghen over in Germany, it does seem that signing Itakura is paramount to complete Postecoglou’s new-look backline.
Why Ko Itakura could be the next Jan Vertonghen
After closing the door on his time in Manchester with Pep Guardiola’s outfit, Itakura joined his current German and received comparisons to Vertonghen in an official profile crafted by the Bundesliga, which noted his two-footedness, rangy style and speed, which is backed up by Kraay’s comments in the past that he is “incredibly fast.”
In that Bundesliga profile, Gladach sporting director Roland Virkus heaped praise on Itakura and hailed his dynamism, with his exploits since backing up these remarks.
The long-time Gladbach executive said: “Ko covers an unbelievable amount of ground and is a tactically disciplined player who can operate in different positions in defence, including as a No.6. He had a number of attractive options in terms of a transfer, so we’re all the more delighted that he’s decided to join us because he’s a cornerstone of our planning.”
Vertonghen, aged 36, completed 313 matches for Tottenham after signing from Ajax for just £10m in 2012, and while he never won a major honour during his time in north London, the Belgian earned his place as one of the finest defenders in the division and was crucial throughout his years at the club.
Left-footed and adept with his ball-playing ability, Vertonghen has been praised as a “Tottenham legend” by The Athletic’s Jack-Pitt Brooke and completed 86.5% of his passes on average across the duration of his professional career – as per WhoScored – also averaging 4.5 clearances, 1.6 tackles and 1.7 interceptions per 90.
While Van de Ven’s arrival as the starring left-sided centre-back at Tottenham has been a first-rate signing, Itakura could be the carbon copy of Vertonghen’s style to open up a whole new realm of dynamism within Postecoglou’s project, and he must be signed, especially given the affordable price tag.