‘Hot newcomer’ Radu Dragucin (22, Tottenham Hotspur) is increasingly likely to start off the bench.
Tottenham will face Manchester United in the 21st round of the 2023-2024 Premier League (PL) season away at Old Trafford in Manchester, England on April 15. Spurs are currently fifth in the standings with 39 points (12 wins, 3 draws, and 5 losses), while United is eighth with 31 points (10 wins, 1 draw, and 9 losses).
Spurs have closed the gap on the leaders significantly. They trail first-place Liverpool (45 points) by six points. If they win this game, they could leapfrog Arsenal (40 points) into fourth place.
One of the key things to watch is Tottenham’s center back combination. With Mickey van der Vaart back from his hamstring injury, the big question is who his partner will be.
There are three candidates. Newcomer Dragucin, Christian Romero, who is preparing to return from a hamstring injury, and Emerson Royal, who has been playing as a “makeshift center back”.
First up, Dragucin is a new face who joined Tottenham on December 12th. “We are delighted to announce the signing of Dragucin from Genoa, who has signed a contract with us until 2030 and will wear the number 6 shirt,” Tottenham said in a statement. The transfer fee is reportedly €25 million base plus an option of €5 million, which is very easy to fulfill.
Dragusin is a 6-foot-2 defender with strong physicality. He came through the ranks of Juventus’ U-23 team as a youngster and later spent time on loan with Sampdoria, Salernitana, and Genoa before landing in a Tottenham shirt.
His biggest strengths are his ability to fight aerial balls and his ability to intercept dribbles. Dragusin has been a force to be reckoned with in Serie A this season, leading the league in headers cleared (45), fewest dribbles allowed (1), ball won (88), and blocks (12). The Italians even nicknamed him the “Romanian Van Dijk”.
For now, Postecoglou hasn’t ruled out Dragucin’s availability, saying in his pre-match press conference, “From what I’ve heard, we are confident that he can play on Sunday,” adding, “We’ll see (if he starts). I hope all the paperwork is done. If so, he will be in the squad.”
He was not without praise. “Dragusin fits in well with us from a footballing point of view,” Postecoglou said. “He obviously has great qualities as a young player and as a person who, having spoken to him, comes with the right motivation.
It was widely expected that the game against United would be Dragucin’s Premier League debut. Tottenham fan community Spurs Web and the UK’s 90min predicted that he would play next to van der Vaart. “Tottenham fans will get their first glimpse of Dragucin in action on Sunday evening,” said Football London, adding that “Postecoglou will have no hesitation in putting him straight in.”
However, the outlook changed when Romero recovered faster than expected. “The only player who has returned to the main training group is Romero, and he has only just started training, so it might be a bit of a stretch to say he could play this weekend,” Postecoglou said.
He has a 50/50 chance of starting against United. Postecoglou made a surprise return for Rodrigo Bentancur against Bournemouth last time out, so it’s not out of the question. “Romero is recovering well from the hamstring injury he picked up against Everton last month,” says The Athletic. He was expected to be out for a month, but he is targeting a return against United as his recovery progresses.”
Football London also changed their prediction to start Romero instead of Dragucin. Reporters Alasdair Gold and Rob Guest both predicted that the van der Vaart-Romero combination would be activated for the first time in a long time. The UK’s Evening Standard agreed.
Another freshman, Timo Werner, is also waiting to make his Tottenham debut. With captain Son Heung-min, who currently has 12 goals and five assists for Spurs, away at the Asian Cup, Werner’s role will be crucial.
Both Gold and Guest expect Werner to start on the left wing. Werner-Dejan Kulusebski-Brennan Johnson will form the attacking second line, with Hichalisson up front.
Postecoglou said: “With Son Heung-min leaving, we felt we needed another player up front. I thought Werner would be a good fit stylistically for us, he can play in all three positions and adds quality in the attacking third.”
Meanwhile, Dragucin was mired in controversy before he even made his debut. His agent Florin Manea made outrageous statements, telling Romania’s Digisport that “Dragusin aims to play for Real Madrid or Barcelona in the future,” adding, “We are just at the beginning of the journey. We want him to reach the best clubs in the world.”
He even added: “Bayern Munich is a world-class club and we were close to a transfer. But Dragusin’s dream is Real Madrid or Barcelona. I can see him playing for Real Madrid in three or four years,” he said, dropping a bombshell.
Regardless of what Dragucin actually thinks, it’s not something he’s willing to talk about publicly. “His agent has made some bizarre comments about the future and he’s talking about the possibility of him moving to Real Madrid or Barcelona when the ink hasn’t even dried on his contract,” complained Spurs Web, a Tottenham fan community.
Tottenham also seem to be uncomfortable with the situation. Charlie Gordon of the UK’s Daily Express wrote: “(Mane) does not appear to be a good fit for Spurs. “It’s very unusual for an agent to make public comments to the media and then have those comments quoted in an article,” he said. “It’s strange for him to say that when he’s on the verge of joining Tottenham and trying to endear himself to the fans.