For Steven Bergwijn, it comes down to a single issue, which involves a question for Antonio Conte. Does the Tottenham manager intend to play him? If he does, then Bergwijn would be a happy man – as he was on Wednesday when Conte started him in the Carabao Cup quarter-final against West Ham.
The Netherlands winger, who scored one and set up the other for Lucas Moura in Spurs’s 2-1 win, wants to succeed at the club. It is his priority. Not every player can make the step from the Eredivisie to the Premier League and Bergwijn wants to prove that he can do it, having moved from PSV Eindhoven for an initial €30m in January 2020.
It has been a struggle, Bergwijn’s attempts to find his groove not helped by injuries and the club changing the manager three times. The 24-year-old has five goals and nine assists from 63 appearances – not the return that he or anybody had hoped for.
But if Conte cannot grant him his minutes for whatever reason – it is too hard to find the room; he does not rate him; he does not trust him – then Bergwijn wants to be allowed to leave in January.
It is an open secret that Ajax would take him on loan with an obligation to buy – they tried and failed with a move for him last summer – and clubs from Italy, Spain and Germany have contacted Spurs in recent weeks to inquire about the situation.
With the World Cup looming at the end of next year, Bergwijn – who has 16 caps – is under no illusions as to the importance of regular football and the signs, so far, under Conte have not been encouraging. Before the West Ham cup tie, Bergwijn had made two substitute appearances totalling 13 minutes across seven games. He was unavailable for one of them because of illness: the Europa Conference League match at Mura.
Bergwijn’s previous start – under Nuno Espírito Santo – had been in the Carabao Cup win at Burnley on 27 October and, while it is lovely to play in the tournament, it is a long way from being enough. To repeat, it is all about the league.
His situation is mirrored elsewhere in the Spurs squad – most notably with Joe Rodon, Harry Winks and Dele Alli – and it will provide a litmus test for the club’s managing director of football, Fabio Paratici, in the January transfer window.
Conte wants to upgrade the squad, with his biggest wishes being a centre-half and a player for the right flank, and the starting point for Paratici is that sales will be vital to the size of the budget. Conte has always been aware of this. So what can Paratici generate to spark the renewal or, to ask the question a more pertinent way, to what extent can he persuade the chairman, Daniel Levy, to cut his losses in certain areas?
Take Bergwijn. He is no longer worth €30m because of the deflationary effect of the pandemic and, more to the point, because he has scored five Spurs goals in two years.
It is one thing for Levy to tell clubs to forget about a loan for the player because, as everybody knows, there is next to no value in that for Spurs. A loan with an obligation to buy means that the bulk of any money raised would not be immediately available, which is not ideal and, plainly, a straight sale would be preferable.
But it stands to be about compromise, realism – and that takes in the fact buying clubs are working in the same market and under the same constraints.
The former Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino became frustrated in the summer of 2019 – his last at the club – when outgoing business was slow, with stalemates taking hold and some players sitting on their contracts, their appetite for the project not as great. The dynamics were heavier; things felt clogged.
Those who know Paratici describe a pragmatist who will pay more for a player he deems essential. When he was at Juventus, he did so to secure the €100m purchase of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2018. Javier Ribalta, who worked alongside Paratici at the club from 2012 to 2017 as head of scouting, noted that when needs must “you cannot lose the player for a few million”. Paratici’s mentality, he said, was to “pay and move on”.
It is no great leap to see the approach extending to the sale of players. Can Paratici un-Levy Levy? It could hold the key not only to Bergwijn’s future but Conte’s tenure at Spurs.