Conte’s caution over signing Spence shows how far Spurs hope to go | Tottenham Hotspur

Jhe Sixth Spence unveiling video had been released and the excitement among Tottenham’s support was palpable. After weeks of back and forth, Djed Spence could be touted as the club’s sixth signing this summer and on July 19 as well – a detail that almost deserves an exclamation point, given the way chairman Daniel Levy, previously liked to operate.

The real reception would come later that night when Antonio Conte’s take on the transfer was published on various newspaper websites. “Spence is an investment of the club,” said the manager. “The club wanted to do it. I said, ‘Okay. This player is young but he has shown that he can become a good and important player for us. The club decided to buy him.

Conte had given the quotes to reporters during the club’s tour of South Korea a few days earlier and they had been withheld until the announcement – ​​just in case there was a late hitch; not that anyone expected it. What is also worth pointing out is the context. Conte was asked a general question about incoming club business and he ‘offered’ the line on Spence, to use journalistic parlance.

Conte always thinks carefully about his messages in media interviews and it’s common to hear him return to his central theme for emphasis. “I repeat,” he says, before drumming it home. Thing is, it wasn’t a slip on his part in the Seoul humidity; a fall of the mask. Conte wanted to clarify some things, all of which were entirely consistent with his vision.

Spence seems like an ideal candidate for the right-back role in Conte’s 3-4-3 system. Listed at 6 feet, he is physically imposing, a powerful runner. He is fast. He loves to move forward with the ball. But there is something he cannot call himself yet and, for Conte, it is a fundamental shortcoming. Spence lacks experience.

The 21-year-old was so good for Nottingham Forest when promoted to the Premier League last season, where he played on loan from Middlesbrough, he was named in the EFL and PFA Championship Teams of the Year. But the fact remains that Spence has never played in the Premier League and all three of his England caps have come at Under-21 level.

Djed Spence celebrates his promotion with Nottingham Forest. Photograph: Steven Paston/PA

Conte doesn’t really have any potential. He gives the impression that he is in no rush to bring in young players because he is in too much of a rush to win the league title. He prefers battle-hardened internationals to help him straight away – like Ivan Perisic, the 33-year-old Croatian, who joined to play at left-back. Or Richarlison, just 25 but a regular in Brazil, arriving with Premier League know-how from Everton.

One of Conte’s accomplishments at Spurs was persuading Levy to prioritize adding established talent, onboarding them quickly and worrying about sales later. The fifth signing of the summer – Clément Lenglet, the 27-year-old French centre-half on loan from Barcelona – signed on July 8.

Richarlison cost £50million up front and he wouldn’t appear to be an automatic starter given Spurs have Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Dejan Kulusevski up front. But he will get his minutes and he will increase both Conte’s options and their level. This is the kind of purchase that the big clubs make.

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Conte wants to manage expectations around Spence but the other reading of his comments was that they were a challenge; a test of character. It’s up to Spence to work like a demon and prove to Conte that he’s ready to play ahead of Matt Doherty, Emerson Royal and, possibly, Lucas Moura, who the manager believes could be turned into a right-back. As Conte said in his preview of Saturday’s season opener at home to Southampton, it’s up to the players to make him happy – not the other way around.

Spence is unlikely to start against Southampton, having only made a brief substitute appearance in pre-season against Rangers. It’s as if he had a long road ahead of him; adjustments to make, patience to show. Spence entered the big moment. And Conte’s school of hard knocks.

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