Levy saves on a stopper but Vicario is a gamble when Spurs could use some security

Ian Watson
Empoli goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario pleads with a referee while sat on the ground.

Signing Italian goalkeeper Guglielmo Vicario could prove to be a Spurs masterstroke – but it’s a gamble at an uncertain time that Daniel Levy could have avoided.

After more than a decade, there’s a changing of the guard in the Tottenham goal. Guglielmo Vicario is the man Spurs have identified as the ideal fit to replace Hugo Lloris. Or, at least, the most reasonably priced.

Vicario, a 26-year-old Italian who has minded Empoli’s net for the last two seasons, is set to sign for Spurs after a deal worth a reported £16million was agreed with the Serie A side. If Vicario, currently uncapped as Italy’s back-up to Gianluigi Donnarumma, develops as Spurs hope he will, it could be a very good bit of business on Daniel Levy’s part.

But it remains a gamble. All transfers are to some degree, but Spurs had the option of signing something much closer to a dead-cert. They opted for the cheaper, riskier choice.

Spurs have been eyeing up David Raya for some time and the Brentford keeper has been fluttering his eyelashes back at them. With a year remaining on his contract, Raya made it clear to Brentford that he wouldn’t renew while talking openly of his desire to play at a higher level.

Brentford have been cool with that. They have already replaced him while inviting offers. But knowing him to be one of the Premier League’s best, they want the best deal for them too. A price of £40million for an international goalkeeper, one well-suited to the style required from so many of the big clubs shopping for stoppers, does not seem unreasonable. Certainly as a starting point.

Man Utd targets David Raya and Harry Kane

Spurs weren’t having it. Nor were Manchester United, apparently. They will go up to £60million for Mason Mount, also with a year left on his contract, but two-thirds of that figure is too much to strengthen an obvious, important weakness for both United and Spurs.

In isolation, refusing to spend big money on a goalkeeper is a ludicrous standpoint, especially in the modern game. To Spurs, though, we have to give the benefit of the doubt until we see what they have seen in Vicario.

One look at him is enough to know he’s a physical presence. Standing at 6’4″, Vicario ought to dominate Spurs’ box, which will contrast with Lloris’s style. The France World Cup-winning captain preferred the comfort of his line, especially on set-pieces, and relies on his agility to save Spurs should the need arise. But Vicario’s record at stopping crosses doesn’t vary too greatly from Lloris’s. The Italian stopped 5.6 per cent last season; Lloris has averaged 4.7 per cent over the last six seasons.

Vicario is a fine shot-stopper. Of course he is. He’s a goalkeeper. As Roy Keane will insist, that’s his job. And it remains his primary function, as much as we want No.1s to moonlight s No.10s.

For Empoli, who finished 14th in Serie A last season, he conceded 2.9 goals fewer than his xGA. Only two keepers in Italy’s top flight performed better in that metric, though neither were their club’s established No.1s. Lloris, in stark contrast, shipped 4.1 goals more than his xGA, while Raya stopped 5.0 more. Only Alisson and Bernd Leno had a better number than the Bees keeper.

Vicario’s style, initially, will probably rub Prem pundits and punters up the wrong way. He’s very typically Italian – funny, that – often preferring to punch or parry. One of his most renowned saves last season, a triple stop against Roma, came as a consequence of not dealing safely with the first shot. And you might argue that he should have come for the corner, stopping the danger at its source.

With the ball at his feet, Vicario might give some Spurs fans the jitters. But Ange Postecoglou has demonstrated that he will defend his goalkeeper to the hilt as long as they are trying to be brave in possession. The new boss made a sweeper-keeper of Joe Hart last season, though teams did not press Celtic in the way they will pressure Spurs. Vicario can play. But Raya, we already know, is one of the Premier League’s best in that respect.

That is not to say that Spurs have made the wrong move by moving for Vicario over Raya. We don’t know yet and might not for some time. That’s the point, though: In Raya, they had the chance to go for a goalkeeper already established and comfortable in the Premier League. They opted for Vicario’s potential, with the added bonus of saving £15-20million.

But that money can’t rest in Spurs’ bank account. They need a centre-back, and the recruitment of a keeper unfamiliar with the Premier League makes a more experienced defender a necessity. Leicester also might have noted Spurs’ saving and Levy shouldn’t expect a bargain price for James Maddison, even if Newcastle appear to have piled their eggs into Sandro Tonali’s basket.

Levy might play a waiting game with Maddison but he had to act with greater urgency over a goalkeeper. Perhaps that was the compromise. Regardless, it adds an extra layer of intrigue to Spurs and how they adapt to life under Postecoglou all the while bedding in a goalkeeper that will need and deserve his own acclimatisation period to the Premier League.