Hiroki Sakai: The Ligue 1 Right-Back Currently On Spurs’ Radar
Tottenham Hotspur’s route to their first ever Champions League final at the end of 2018/19 while simultaneously qualifying for next season’s competition by virtue of a strong Premier League position was made all the more impressive when one considers that the last player to arrive at the club was the £25million purchase Lucas Moura on January 31 2018.
£1.39billion had been spent by their rival clubs in the English top tier since that time that season’s winter transfer window shut.
Spurs’ manager Mauricio Pochettino will, however, likely recruit this summer to try and emulate what turned out to be a very good season for the North London club, despite falling short at the last cup hurdle and a tepid end to their league campaign which saw them slither down to fourth.
Sky Sports News suggests that Olympique de Marseille’s Hiroki Sakai has attracted the interest of the Lilywhites, and though no formal offer has been tabled, he looks a solid experienced right-back option.
This isn’t the first-time Tottenham have looked to Ligue 1 to fill the position, with Serge Aurier arriving from Paris Saint-Germain in a £20million-plus deal in 2017. However, the Frenchman has reportedly now been deemed surplus to requirements at the ‘new White Hart Lane’. The Daily Mail suggests that Kieran Trippier - who also vies for the role in the current set-up and has struggled with injury - could also be shown the door, with a move to the Italian Serie A mooted.
The Japanese international has participated in two World Cups with the Samurai Blue and has been at Marseille since 2016. Sakai began his career in his hometown of Kashiwa at the Reysol before earning a move to the Bundesliga with Hoffenheim where he suffered relegation and subsequently moved to France upon completion of his four-year contract after over a century of appearances.
At Marseille, he’s earned 122 caps in his three years, a high watermark being helping the side reach the UEFA Europa League Final 2018, though Sakai didn’t come off the bench in a 3-0 defeat for Rudi Garcia’s side to Atletico Madrid.
On occasion Sakai has demonstrated his versatility to switch flank when required, but one disadvantage that may irk the Spurs’ system is the defender’s weak crossing proficiency.
He also made headlines after Japan’s defeat to Qatar in the 2019 Asian Cup final, where he was dismissive of his country’s media and reporting on his post-match comments.
The arrival of the 29-year-old would mark a change in tact from recent Spurs’ business, and not just their unusual foraging into the market. Only one player above the age of 27 has arrived since 2015. Spurs currently have a squad average age of 25 years and seven months.
With the departures of Michel Vorm and Fernando Llorente, this will be reduced further, with only four players aged 29 or over as of the start of July 19. There are the expected transfers of their two-time Player of the Year, 27-year-old Christian Eriksen, a player who has been at the club since 2013, and the 26-year-old Aurier.
Interestingly, Sakai is represented by Base Soccer Agency, whose clients include Spurs defender Danny Rose, and ex-Tottenham man Kyle Walker. The Premier League however is a different beast, far more tenacious and challenging than the French Ligue 1, something which Aurier has found to his chagrin. It’s a transition Sakai could be wary off should a move to north London proceed.