By Charlie Eccleshare, The Athletic
Fabio Paratici has spent much of July alone in his hotel room only able to communicate with his family back in Turin via telephone, but this has been the week when the toil has finally started to pay off.
A hugely exciting winger and promising keeper on their way in, a player surplus to requirements on his way out. When Paratici was hired as Tottenham’s managing director of football last month, his remit was to use his contacts to make these sorts of deals.
Having officially started his role on July 1, Paratici has worked tirelessly to intensify the “painful rebuild” of the Tottenham squad that has been required since the then manager Mauricio Pochettino used that phrase more than two years ago. His days spent calling and texting contacts from his hotel room will come as little surprise to his former colleagues at Juventus and Sampdoria. It was while he was with the latter that Paratici spent 20 hours per day on the internet for pretty much 10 days solid before realising the hotel he was staying in was charging him for every minute he spent online.
Paratici will thankfully be spared that kind of bill this time, but over the last few days he has all but tied up deals for Bryan Gil to arrive from Sevilla, with Erik Lamela and €25 million (£21.6m) going the other way, and Pierluigi Gollini joining initially on loan, with the obligation to buy for €15 million (£12.9 million) should he make 20 appearances, from Atalanta.
Paratici was at it again before Spurs’ friendly at Colchester on Wednesday night — spending most of the build-up to the game pacing around taking phone calls.
This is how he and Spurs have finally got their summer business underway.
Bryan Gil is a player Paratici has admired for some time. He is held in extremely high regard in Spain for his fearlessness and directness, and aged 20, is viewed as one of the country’s most exciting young prospects. Head coach Nuno Espirito Santo, meanwhile, feels that he will add another dimension to the team’s attack. An old-school left-footed left winger whose best asset is running at defenders, Gil had a very impressive year on loan at Eibar last season and is currently in Tokyo as part of a strong Spain Olympic squad that also includes Barcelona’s Pedri.
But at the end of last season, there were whispers in Spain that Gil might be available for transfer this summer. Sevilla have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and Gil, like another Spurs target Jules Kounde, was viewed as one of their most saleable assets. But unlike Kounde, who Sevilla’s all-powerful sporting director Monchi would also be willing to sell, Gil did not feature particularly highly in head coach Julen Lopetegui’s plans. Lopetegui prefers to play with inverted wingers and in more of a regimented system than suits the wildcard Gil.
With Lucas Ocampos, Suso, Papu Gomez and potentially Youssef En-Nesyri all ahead of Gil in the pecking order, there was a risk of the youngster not getting enough game time and his value decreasing. And with only two years left on his contract, there wasn’t the option of him being loaned out again. It feels like a case of right place, wrong time for Gil at Sevilla, and that could be massively to Spurs’ benefit given his potential.
Paratici was made aware of Gil’s availability a couple of weeks ago while negotiating with Monchi over a possible exchange deal involving Kounde and Davinson Sanchez. Paratici and Monchi found agreement on that particular deal, but Kounde said no, preferring to stay at a club playing in the Champions League and hopeful of a move to Real Madrid.
The two directors are not especially close but they negotiated Fernando Llorente’s move from Juventus to Sevilla in 2015 and are very familiar with each other’s work as two of the biggest hitters in the world of football recruitment.
Once Monchi made it clear that Gil was available, Paratici started to work out how a deal would be workable. As with Kounde, he quickly turned to one of his favoured strategies from his Juventus days: offering a player in exchange. But doing so in deals between two Italian clubs was more straightforward, when he would typically throw in a youngster who had promise but whose wages were modest.Gil in action with Eibar against Real Madrid last season (Photo: Getty Images)
The challenge with negotiating from a Premier League club is that often the players based in England are on prohibitively high wages for the club from abroad. Then, of course, there’s the challenge of finding a player surplus to requirements that another club wants.
Lamela is a curious case, with many observers wondering why Sevilla would want an injury-prone, inconsistent 29-year-old. Part of the answer lies in why the club are willing to let Gil go.
They feel that after finishing fourth last season they have a genuine chance of taking advantage of the chaos at Barcelona and Real Madrid and going for the title. Lopetegui’s squad is full of experienced players such as Ivan Rakitic, Jesus Navas and Diego Carlos, with the emphasis very much on the here and now. The idea is that Lamela will similarly give them a bit of edge and street smarts, while the money from the Gil sale will allow them to reinvest in players at peak age.
It’s a big call and there’s a lot of frustration among Sevilla fans at letting one of the crown jewels go, but ultimately Monchi felt that €25 million plus add-ons and Lamela made sense. Especially as money is so scarce in La Liga at the moment that being cash-rich will put him in a good position when looking for cheaper replacements. It’s also worth remembering that Sevilla have a history of developing youngsters to sell early at a big profit rather than necessarily seeing them stay and develop at the club. Jose Antonio Reyes, Sergio Ramos and Navas (later re-signed from Manchester City) are a few of the more high-profile examples.
For Gil and Lamela, who have now agreed personal terms ahead of the swap being announced formally, the deal also made sense. Gil is understood to have sounded out Sergio Reguilon, a former team-mate at Sevilla, and been encouraged about joining Tottenham. The prospect of them linking up on the left is an extremely exciting one, and Gil is aware that he may get more game time in north London than if he had stayed put.
It’s not yet clear what Gil’s signing means for the likes of Steven Bergwijn and Lucas Moura, although The Athletic understands the latter would be available if the right offer came in. Although predominantly used to playing from the left, it’s also hoped that as Gil develops he will also be able to play centrally and cutting in from the right. If Nuno’s first couple of friendlies are anything to go by, he will want his attackers to be flexible in the positions they take up.
As for Lamela, there is a strong Argentinian presence at Sevilla, with compatriots Gomez, Ocampos (who is represented by the same agency) and Marcos Acuna all in Lopetegui’s squad. And when Lamela was made aware at the end of last season that Spurs would be willing to let him go, he knew he had to find a new club. He was never universally popular with fans in north London and may have a job on his hands to convince some of his new club’s supporters that selling Gil and bringing him in was a good idea.
For Sevilla and Tottenham, there is a willingness to formalise the deals soon.
Gil’s presence at the Olympics could mean Sevilla waiting and seeing if his value and profile are raised by good performances in Japan, but doing so also leaves them running the risk of him getting injured on international duty and jeopardising the deal. Monchi also wants as much time as possible to flex his muscles in the transfer market and rejig his squad with the Gil money.
So it may be that Spurs don’t have to wait too long to welcome this rare talent — a youngster who has been compared to Jack Grealish for his flamboyance and old-school style.
This week also saw Spurs reach an agreement with Atalanta for 26-year-old Gollini. The deal will see the goalkeeper join on loan with that obligation to buy him for €15 million (£12.9 million) if he plays 20 times in the coming season and the option to pay that price if he doesn’t. Gollini completed his medical on Wednesday and is due to arrive in London today (Thursday) to finalise the move.
It is anticipated he will be the second-choice keeper and provide competition for Hugo Lloris while getting plenty of minutes in the cup competitions. As The Athletic reported last week, Lloris is currently on a post-Euros holiday and will sit down with the Tottenham hierarchy to discuss his future when he returns. It’s not expected that he will leave this summer — those discussions will centre on what happens when his contract expires next year. Italy is a possible destination if he does go, with a return home to France looking unlikely given how well-stocked Paris Saint-Germain are for goalkeepers now they’ve signed Italy’s Euro 2020 final matchwinner Gianluigi Donnarumma as a free agent.
As for Gollini, having lost his place at Atalanta last season and with the club bringing in Juan Musso from Udinese as a replacement, he feels he has as much chance of playing at Spurs as if he had stayed in Bergamo. Having been at Manchester United as a youngster and then Aston Villa, Gollini already has roots in England and will hopefully be able to adapt quickly.
This is also Tottenham’s hope — even though his time at Villa was not a great success — and from their perspective, it was a deal that Paratici began working on pretty much as soon as he was hired, and pre-dates Nuno’s appointment. Paratici knew that Gollini had fallen out with manager Gian Piero Gasperini last season, and that he might be available. Atalanta are not a club to be bullied, but the financial muscle of the Premier League does also give directors such as Paratici the upper hand in negotiations.Nuno gives instructions at Colchester on Wednesday night (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
Paratici also has a good relationship with Gollini’s agent, who is one of the up and coming intermediaries in Italy, so it was a pretty straightforward deal to complete. And while it wasn’t necessarily a priority area for the summer, having a succession plan for Lloris, who turns 35 on Boxing Day, is something Spurs have been putting off for a while. Nuno, a former keeper himself, agreed that Gollini is a pretty low-risk attempt for a future No 1 — if he doesn’t cut it this year, then he simply won’t be kept on.
He also offers something different to Lloris, with his greater height (he’s taller by two inches) making him less susceptible to being caught out when dealing with crosses, even if he doesn’t have the France captain’s shot-stopping ability.
While negotiating with Atalanta over Gollini, Paratici also made enquiries over Argentina’s Copa America-winning centre-back Cristian Romero. Paratici signed Romero from Genoa while at Juventus and would love to bring him to Spurs. A no-nonsense, sometimes hot-headed defender who was named as Serie A’s best defender in 2020-21 at the league’s MVP awards, the 23-year-old is seen as having the ideal profile to boost Tottenham’s shaky defence.
He is Paratici’s first-choice target for what is one of Spurs’ priority areas this window, but the two clubs are apart in their valuations. Atalanta are believed to want more than €40 million (£34.5 million) on the understanding that they can sign him for far less from parent club Juventus (he’s on loan, with an option to buy), which Spurs are not willing to meet.
Tottenham do have other targets, underlining Paratici’s habit, as The Athletic touched on earlier this month, of having multiple options on the go at any one time. There have been talks with Lyon over a move for Joachim Andersen after his year on loan at Fulham, but at the moment an agreement on price cannot be reached.
Then there’s Bologna’s Takehiro Tomiyasu, who can play as a central defender or right-back, for whom Spurs have offered €15 million (£12.9 million) plus add-ons. Tomiyasu’s preference is to join them but for the moment, Bologna are holding firm on their valuation of around €17 million (£14.6 million), as well as add-ons. Others, such as Southampton’s Jannik Vestergaard, are also in the frame, but cheaper, older options like him are more viewed as replacements for Toby Alderweireld, should he be granted his wish to leave the club.
It’s been a busy week, and we can expect plenty more like this as Paratici hammers away at his phone trying to make the Tottenham rebuild as painless as possible.