Three players Tottenham should scout at 2023 AFCON, Asian Cup | THT Opinions

The 2023 Africa Cup of Nations and the Asian Cup are right around the corner, and The Hard Tackle lists three players Tottenham scouts should keep a close watch on.

Tottenham Hotspur entered a new era when they lured Greek-Australian tactician Ange Postecoglou away from Scottish Premiership giants Celtic during the summer. And he had a significant budget after Harry Kane’s £100 million switch to reigning Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.

More than £200 million was spent on reinforcements ahead of the September 1 deadline. That featured signings such as James Maddison, Micky van de Ven, and the deadline-day purchase of Brennan Johnson, with all three making an immediate impact.

However, despite the heavy outlay in the summer, it is widely suggested that more bodies might be needed during the January transfer window as well to maintain their top-four push. This is because Spurs are one of the worst-hit teams in the Premier League as the 2023 Asian Cup (13 January to 11 February) and African Cup of Nations (12 January to 10 February) get underway in Qatar and the Ivory Coast, respectively.

Tottenham have seen captain Son Heung-min join up with South Korea for the AFC Asian Cup, while midfield duo Pape Matar Sarr and Yves Bissouma have gone to the Africa Cup of Nations, which leaves them severely short in numbers in midfield and attack.

But head coach Postecoglou remains adamant that the prospect of losing players to mid-season international tournaments should not impact future transfer business. The Tottenham boss also dismissed claims they may avoid African and Asian players in the future due to the mid-season tournaments.

After all, the AFCON and Asian Cup are tournaments that not only showcase the best talent from Africa and Asia but can also act as a window of opportunity for clubs across Europe to spot the next up-and-coming stars.

The Asian market, in particular, has been a happy hunting ground for Postecoglou during his Celtic days, signing some very notable talents such as Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi, and Reo Hatate, among others. With all that in mind, The Hard Tackle takes a look at three stars who could be genuine transfer targets for the Lilywhites either in January or in the upcoming transfer windows.

Ko Itakura, Japan

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Spurs will almost certainly sign a new centre-back in January, given their obvious lack of depth at the moment. Ange Postecoglou has largely relied upon Cristian Romero and Micky van de Ven to be his main centre-backs when both fit and available. However, the Dutchman’s injury has resulted in their makeshift defence leaking plenty of goals in recent months.

Tottenham are thought to be interested in defender Radu Dragusin, with the North Londoners currently in talks with the Genoa man. Spurs are poised to submit a revised offer, closer to Genoa’s asking price of £26 million, as they try to wrap up the 21-year-old’s transfer as soon as possible.

However, they may need another centre-back reinforcement should Eric Dier depart this January, and Borussia Monchengladbach’s Ko Itakura is someone Spurs should seriously consider.

The Japanese international has excelled in Germany, having initially made a big impression on loan at Schalke from Manchester City. Itakura never made an appearance at the Etihad after arriving from his homeland in 2019. But he has rebuilt his career in Germany and become one of the Bundesliga’s most impressive defenders. He has been with Borussia Monchengladbach since the start of last season.

Though right-footed, Itakura has often played as a left-sided centre-back, while he is also capable of operating as a defensive midfielder. Gladbach still have him under contract until 2026, but they might be bracing themselves for interest from suitors ready to pay big bucks for his services.

Spurs are said to have been keeping track of the progress of the Borussia Monchengladbach defender this season. In terms of his qualities, Itakura is renowned for his blistering pace, comfortability on the ball, and versatility, akin to van de Ven, and would almost be a like-for-like replacement for the Netherlands star.

Postecoglou’s knowledge of the Japanese market only adds to the interest, having made multiple attempts to sign the Japan star in 2021 and 2022 during his time at Celtic.

Mehdi Taremi, Iran

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Still early into the January transfer window, Tottenham stunned everyone with revelations that they are closing in on a six-month loan deal for RB Leipzig’s Timo Werner, who won the UEFA Champions League with rivals Chelsea in 2021.

In many ways, it is not surprising: Ange Postecoglou will be without his captain and talisman Son for a month — possibly a bit longer — due to the Asiam Cup, while 20-year-old striker Alejo Veliz injured his knee on New Year’s Eve and will be sidelined for a few months.

Harry Kane was sold to Bayern Munich in the summer after Spurs missed out on European football with a lowly eighth-placed finish, and while Postecoglou spread quality across the squad, a direct replacement was not signed, with Veliz deemed something of a star in the making. It is now suggested that Spurs are not in the market for a traditional centre-forward in the winter window as well.

It has taken the best part of 18 months. But there are encouraging signs that Richarlison is finally coming to the boil for Tottenham. He is starting to look like the striker Spurs paid £60 million for in the summer of 2022, and he is playing with more freedom since surgery on a longstanding pelvis injury last month.

27-year-old Werner has been identified as a player who would suit his tactical plans due to his pace, intensity, and ability to meet the pressing demands integral to Tottenham’s style of play.

A traditional centre-forward could well be on Postecoglou’s wishlist for next summer, and one player who could be a solid bargain option is Porto veteran Mehdi Taremi, who is out of contract at the end of the season and has been linked with a number of Europe’s top clubs.

The 31-year-old has plenty of experience playing in major competitions like the AFC Asian Cup and will be looking to inspire Iran to fight for the championship. The FC Porto striker has endured an iffy season with just three goals in 15 league games after scoring 22 in 33 appearances last time out.

He boasts a brilliant record on the international stage, with 41 goals in 71 caps, and has impressed since leaving the Middle East for Portuguese football in 2019. In total, he has racked up 86 goals from 171 games across all competitions in three-and-a-half seasons at Porto.

His vast top-level experience and clinical exploits indeed certify his skill set as incredible enough to succeed in a division such as the Premier League. He may not be a superstar talent who will elevate Spurs’ to the next level. But he would be a clever squad addition, and adding him should ease the burden on Son and company.

Victor Boniface, Nigeria

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Finally, the one player that almost every top Premier League club will be keen to scout during the upcoming AFCON is Bayer Leverkusen striker Victor Boniface, a player who features on the radars of top clubs like Arsenal and Chelsea.

Boniface’s form earned him a call-up to the Nigeria senior team, where he could prove vital for the West African nation this winter if they are to win the AFCON, which could provide him with the platform to showcase his talents and earn a big-money move to the cash-rich Premier League.

Having joined from Union Saint-Gilloise in the summer, the 23-year-old has been critical to Bayer Leverkusen’s success under Xabi Alonso, scoring ten goals in the opening 16 Bundesliga matches of the season. With 16 strikes in 23 outings in all competitions, he has proven himself as a capable finisher.

Postecoglou wants so much more than goals from his number nine, though, and the eight assists he has registered will certainly be of interest. It is easy to see how he could fit in at Tottenham. Plus, he is only 23 years old, which means there is plenty of time for him to emerge as a truly world-class player.

It may be a move that has to wait until the summer if it goes ahead, though. Bayer Leverkusen are leading the way in the Bundesliga title race and will not want to give up their best striker. Die Werkself would likely also want a significant fee for the Nigerian, who is one of the most prolific players in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

Any fee would likely be a hefty one as a result, and there is also said to be competition from Arsenal, Chelsea and other clubs around Europe for the Nigerian. Spurs do, at least, have one massive advantage over almost every other club chasing after his signature: they have an enormous amount of room to work within the FFP rules, so while other clubs are forced to wheel and deal and pinch pennies, Spurs can do what they want and splash the cash on Boniface.

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