League Cup exit puts state of Tottenham’s squad into sharper focus as deadline looms

After all the positivity of the early weeks of Tottenham’s season, their penalty shoot-out exit from the League Cup at Fulham on Tuesday night was a stark reminder of the work that still needs to be done. And it’s not just new signings that are required.

There are three days left of the transfer window, and yet there is still uncertainty — to varying degrees — surrounding Hugo Lloris, Japhet Tanganga, Eric Dier, Davinson Sanchez, Sergio Reguilon, Tanguy Ndombele, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Harvey White.

Of those players, Sanchez started but endured a difficult evening and saw his penalty saved, Hojbjerg also started and didn’t do a great deal to impress, while Lloris, Tanganga, Reguilon, Ndombele, Dier and White didn’t even make the bench (indeed, none of the six have made a matchday squad yet this season).

Tuesday did at least see Tottenham come to an agreement over a season-long loan for Djed Spence with Leeds United.

For the others though, the next few days will see Spurs pushing to find agreements as they attempt to make Ange Postecoglou’s squad more manageable (their difficulties in shifting players were explained here last week).

This matters for a number of reasons. Postecoglou said a few weeks ago that “we can’t just keep accumulating players,” and this is partly because Spurs already have a squad that is too big. Players need to go out before they can come in, and Tuesday night was a reminder that despite their positive start this season, Tottenham still need to strengthen. Postecoglou made nine changes for the trip to Fulham, and this was a disappointingly disjointed performance. “We need to trim the squad to get it to a more manageable state and we’ll see what’s available for us to then bring in players to strengthen the squad in a couple of areas where we may need them,” was Postecoglou’s summary after the game.

And the reality is that the early Carabao Cup exit, coupled with no Europe this season, means there will be even fewer opportunities for Spurs’s fringe players. They are in a strange position of having a huge squad but very few minutes to go round.

The Premier League is the only competition they’ll be competing in until January, and the league’s rules state that clubs can name a squad of up to 25 players after the transfer window closes on September 1, but it cannot include more than 17 non-homegrown players. The remaining players must be homegrown — defined as “a player who, irrespective of nationality or age, has been registered with any club affiliated to The Football Association or the Football Association of Wales for a period, continuous or not, of three entire seasons, or 36 months, before his 21st birthday (or the end of the season during which he turns 21).”

The Spurs team during their penalty shoot-out loss (Photo: Jacques Feeney/Offside via Getty Images)

Spurs’ currently have 31 players in their first-team squad, not including Spence or the young goalkeepers Brandon Austin and Alfie Whiteman, but including the teenage summer signings Alejo Veliz and Ashley Phillips. Veliz and Phillips do not eat into Spurs’ 17 non-homegrown players as they can be included in a separate under-21 list. The same is true of 20 year olds Pape Matar Sarr, Destiny Udogie, who both meet the criteria of having been born on or after January 1 2002. England under-20 international Dane Scarlett can also be added to the under-21 list, and the striker’s impressive second half performance at Craven Cottage was one of the few positives for Spurs on an otherwise miserable night. However the 19 year old, who spent last season at Portsmouth, could yet be sent out on loan in the coming days.

But it is senior players that Spurs really need to move on, or they will have no option but to leave some unregistered for the Premier League squad, and with no other possibilities for minutes until the transfer window reopens in the new year. As it stands Spurs have 20 non-homegrown players, which if none are moved on would mean leaving out three players from their Premier League squad. Lloris if he stays would surely be a leading contender for this indignity. As it stands, Lloris has been unable to find a suitable club in Europe where he would be the No 1, leaving him with the dilemma of choosing between two options that wouldn’t be ideal for him: being a No 2 at a European club or moving to Saudi Arabia (if the interest there from May is rekindled).

Eric Dier, Sergio Reguilon and Tanguy Ndombele would also be in the running to miss out on being registered for Spurs’ Premier League squad given they all count as non-homegrown (Dier, who along with Spurs is hopeful of a resolution to his situation before the window closes, spent his formative years in Portugal) and haven’t been named in a match-day squad under Postecoglou.

It would be a far from ideal situation having any of those players still at the club if they were excluded, but the former club captain and No 1 goalkeeper of 11 years Lloris hanging around the training ground but not even being eligible for selection would feel especially uncomfortable.

Which raises the question of whether, as the days drag on, Spurs would consider taking the nuclear option and terminating the contracts of any of their unwanted players. This is something they have done previously with Serge Aurier in 2021 and then Matt Doherty in January. Aurier had a year left on his contract, Doherty had six months with Tottenham holding the option of an extra year. He had initially been slated for a loan but Spurs had already reached their limit and so they mutually agreed to terminate his contract.

Tottenham are not alone in having done this in the last few years. Chelsea terminated Ross Barkley’s contract last year, while Real Madrid did the same thing this summer with Eden Hazard. Arsenal ripped up all of Mesut Ozil, Shkodran Mustafi, and Sokratis’s contracts in the same window at the start of 2021, and then Sead Kolasinac’s a year later.

But there are downsides to taking this option. It’s a sizeable one-off payment in and of itself and has the potential to set a precedent whereby potentially interested clubs think they can risk holding off trying to sign players knowing there’s a chance they’ll have their contracts terminated anyway and soon be available for nothing. Likewise players might not be in a rush to move on if they think there’s a chance they’ll be effectively paid off if they sit tight.

All of which is why terminating a contract is very much a last resort for any club. But that’s the dilemma Spurs would face with someone like Lloris if Friday’s deadline (and indeed the Saudi Premier League cut-off later in September) comes and goes without a resolution.

That it might even be considered is a reminder of how hard Spurs have found it to shift their unwanted players this window. The performance at Fulham meanwhile was a reminder of Spurs’ difficulties in building a squad with the necessary depth to compete on even two fronts.

(Photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

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