Meet Juan Foyth: Tottenham's new stopper, as told by the coaches who helped him get here
After publicly questioning Tottenham’s transfer policy, Danny Rose may well have needed to Google at least one of the club’s latest recruits. But while many will question whether 19-year-old Juan Foyth is ready to be plunged into action, those who know him best are in no doubt.
Despite his lack of senior experience, the coaches who have overseen his development at boyhood club Estudiantes and within the Argentine youth ranks are confident that Foyth is not only one of the country’s best defensive prospects for the future, but talented enough to provide Mauricio Pochettino with an immediate option.
Spurs identified Foyth months ago, but that didn’t prevent a transfer saga that dragged on until late in the window. Estudiantes president, the former Argentina international and ex-Pochettino team-mate Juan Sebastian Veron, travelled to London to discuss the move. But when PSG rivalled Tottenham and the price was hiked up, it appeared as though the youngster would slip Spurs' net.
The persistence of compatriot Pochettino proved instrumental in securing Foyth’s signature, though, and Tottenham eventually tied the youngster down to a five-year deal for a fee of around £8m.
After several telephone calls between Pochettino and the player, Foyth explained his decision: "It's a club [Tottenham] that bets on the young and I think I'm going to have a chance to play.
“I also spoke with Mauricio Pochettino and I liked what he said. It's what helped me decide that Tottenham was the right place to continue my career. He told me to go train and, if I deserved it, that I would play. He also told me what the club was like and what his work ethic was."
He will want to play and the responsibility will not weigh on him at all. This is perhaps one of his strongest characteristics
Hermes Desio, Argentina’s new youth coordinator after excelling in the same role with Estudiantes, expects Foyth to genuinely challenge for a first-team spot – and not be afraid about the prospect either.
“Juan has the ability to arrive there [Tottenham] and play,” Desio tells FFT. “He is a player who will ask for that; he will want to play and the responsibility will not weigh on him at all. This is perhaps one of his strongest characteristics.
“His mentality will be to go there with the firm idea of playing – the pressure of the stadium, the people or the supporters won't enter his thoughts. Nothing will stop him, and his desire to play so much will mean he will feel at ease."
Desire to learn
Amid his impressive displays for Estudiantes and Argentina U20s, those most familiar with Foyth’s strengths make similar statements about the youngster’s mentality and temperament.
Above everything we taught Juan, I always emphasise his will, and his desire to learn and to perfect himself
Martin Gaimaro, the head coach of Estudiantes’ U16s and the man credited with transforming Foyth into a central defender only a few years ago, is in complete agreement with Desio.
“When we began working on coaching him in that position [central defence], we obviously concentrated on the aspects of the game that it requires. But above everything we taught Juan, I always emphasise his will, and his desire to learn and perfect himself.”
These mental qualities are evident in Foyth’s calm approach to defending; his outstanding technical ability and comfort with the ball at his feet enable the youngster to dribble out from the back and really impress.
With a wonderful range of passing and the ability to turn out of tight spaces, beat a man and drive forward, Foyth exhibits many of the skills associated with players that feature much further upfield. It's not too surprising, however, when you consider that Foyth played as an attacking midfielder until Gaimaro spotted his potential and converted him to central defence shortly before the player turned 16.
“I saw that he had many qualities to play in central defence, and he also had the physical qualities – tall, skinny and fast,” Gaimaro explains. “He is very good technically, to be able to play that first pass and provide a good option out of defence, but also has a personality that is unique.
"Juan is calm, with the maturity of an older player – and that calmness is great on the pitch when things are chaotic. It allows a player to make very good decisions, but Juan also has a love for the game and a desire to win.
"These characteristics are not taught in football – they are his own, and it was these that we were watching and thinking his future was as a central defender."
From attack to defence
Such a significant change in roles at an advanced stage of development is not too common, but Desio – who oversaw the transition in his role as youth coordinator in La Plata – believes there are advantages from once being at the other end of the pitch.
“I think having played as an attacking midfielder helped Juan a great deal," he attests, "because he had seen the situation from a different perspective. Juan was able to interpret where the problem was and how to resolve it.”