Japhet Tanganga and Antonio Conte’s big decision that could alter Tottenham defender’s career

Japhet Tanganga is reaching a crossroads moment in his Tottenham Hotspur career and Antonio Conte will decide what comes next for the young defender.

The 23-year-old academy product has been threatening to become a regular Premier League starter on a number of occasions but either injury or a dip in form has prevented him from taking the next step. Tanganga’s biggest problem is one of his strengths, with his versatility ensuring his various Spurs managers have employed him all over the back line, in the center of the defense and sometimes on either flank as a full-back without any real rhythm or regularity.

Yet Tanganga’s most impressive performances have come in the biggest games, not least the opening game of last season when he put in a man of the match display at right-back as Spurs beat champions Manchester City 1-0, with the England U21 defender crucial in the hosts keeping a clean sheet.

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His then boss Nuno Espirito Santo is not a man to single players out but that August day even he said: “All the team did very well but Japhet was huge today. He faced too many one-v-ones today against fantastic players and he dealt fantastic with the situation.”

Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville, an England international right-back in his day, went even further with the praise, saying: “He handled Raheem Sterling and Jack Grealish in that channel, with Sanchez and Hojbjerg, brilliantly. I couldn’t have done that on my own 20 years ago – and I was a good full-back, played for Manchester United, played for England, but what that kid did out there today was really special from a one-on-one defending point of view.

“So I’m going to give credit to Tanganga today because he did something out on that pitch that I thought was really special, which was play one-on-one against, sometimes, two players who are exceptional going against players, dribbling against players, and he stuck at it and that’s why he won man of the match.”

It’s not the first praise Tanganga has received. After throwing him in for his Premier League debut against Liverpool as a 20-year-old in January 2020, Jose Mourinho said: “The kid has reason to be very happy with his level, not with the result obviously, but with his first game it couldn’t be a bigger one and he did it amazingly.

“First on the right and then on the left, first [Sadio] Mane and then [Mohamed] Salah, and I think he was fantastic so I don’t want to take any credit for that. I worked with him only for a couple of months. I think academy, coaches who worked with him for so many years. I think it’s a good moment for him and I think it’s also a message for the kids in the academy that when the player is the right player with the right attitude and right qualities, the opportunity arises.”

This season, Tanganga, who has a contract with the club until 2025, was a mainstay of the side in the opening weeks until a red card in a chaotic game at Crystal Palace began his slide out of the team under Espirito Santo, including a half -time substitution in the north London derby defeat at the Emirates Stadium.

However, with the arrival of Conte and injuries in the defense, Tanganga was back in the line-up and under the Italian he started nine out of the new managers first 16 games.

Conte praised both Tanganga and fellow academy product Oliver Skipp after impressive displays in a 3-0 home win against Crystal Palace as the defender got some form of retribution against the Eagles.

“In our starting XI there were two young players. Two very young players, Oliver Skipp and Japhet Tanganga,” said Conte. “Don’t forget that I think he played a really good game as the third central defender on the left. I think he made a great performance and I’m happy. I’m happy for him because Japhet is a player that has a great sense of belonging.

“It’s the same for Oliver. For Skipp, he’s playing with me regularly no? In every game he’s playing and he’s good. He’s making big improvements and I think that he could become one, a very strong midfielder, a really good midfielder. He Has to continue to work. We are talking about a humble boy, a humble player. Oliver feels a lot of sense of belonging to play for Tottenham. For Japhet, for Oliver, it’s a dream. During the game you can see this.”

Tanganga did make some mistakes in the games ahead as a young defender in a constantly changing backline that had not yet found its feet under Conte, and was missing its senior guiding figures, and then came a serious knee injury that ended his season in February.

The young defender eventually underwent surgery on that right knee in March and had to sit out of the rest of the season frustrated on the sidelines. now football.london understands the 23-year-old is fully fit again and ready for the pre-season period ahead and Conte’s gruelling summer sessions.

He will return to Hotspur Way on Monday, a week earlier than the rest of the non-internationals in the squad, along with Skipp and Matt Doherty, as the trio play catch-up following their season-ending injuries.

Tanganga is expected to get plenty of game time across the pre-season friendlies next month before Conte makes a decision on what comes next for the young defender.

Most summers Tanganga is linked with Italian clubs and he has a few admirers in Serie A looking to either loan him or take him permanently. The dilemma for Conte will be what is best for the club and what is best for the player.

Tanganga’s versatility means he could be an important squad player in a season with Champions League football that will bring games aplenty and he can cover every position in Conte’s back three if required as well as playing as an emergency wing-back at a push. Working under the Italian will also help the player improve his game.

However, sticking around for minutes here and there would not be the best long-term move for Tanganga’s development. He will have seen the transformation in fellow academy graduate Skipp following his loan season at Norwich and the impact week in, week out starts can do for a young player.

The decision that Conte and Tanganga take together this summer could have a major impact on the years ahead for the young Spurs defender.

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