By James Eastham
If Tottenham sign Etienne Capoue they’ll have secured the arrival of one of Ligue 1’s most coveted players.
In recent years the 25-year-old France midfielder has been linked to a host of clubs at home and abroad, including Monaco and Atletico Madrid this summer, but Spurs appear to have won the race after Toulouse's president Olivier Sadran confirmed on Wednesday the player was on his way to north London.
Over the past three seasons Capoue has developed into one of France’s best central midfielders. At Toulouse he has normally operated as a holding player, sweeping up in front of the defence.
Under manager Alain Casanova Toulouse have become a powerful, athletic team set-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation until experimenting with 3-5-2 towards the end of last season. In the former system, Capoue operated as the ‘sitter’ in front of the defence, a role that allowed him to use his immense physical power to break down opposition moves and launch attacks from deeper areas.
It’s a position he’s learned perfectly, so if Tottenham are looking for someone to protect their back four Capoue would be an ideal choice. As a youngster Capoue also played centre-half for France U21s so has a good understanding of defensive positions.
Capoue’s development has been steady rather than meteoric: he made his league debut at 19 and France debut at 24. If you compare that to one-time Toulouse team-mate Moussa Sissoko – league debut at 17, France debut at 20 – you’ll see Capoue spent much of the early part of his career in the shadows.
Capoue is a year older than Sissoko but when the pair broke into the Toulouse first-team around the same time it was Sissoko that first caught the media’s eye. Perhaps Capoue’s unintrusive style of play was why he initially had a lower profile but he has always been highly-regarded within the game.
If there’s a criticism of Capoue, it’s that he doesn’t do enough going forward. There is a feeling he could use his good passing ability more broadly than he does, that he is too happy to keep things safe rather than trying to be more progressive in possession.
There is some truth in this – at times, he can look a touch too static, a little too willing to settle for picking up the ball and moving it on rather than really driving his team forward. Rightly or wrongly, he can give the impression of playing within himself.
And yet some of this is also down to the nature of the game in France. In Ligue 1 it’s far more common for midfielders to stay in their zone rather than get about the pitch as much as they do in England. Having played in a tactically restrictive role at Toulouse Capoue would surely relish the greater freedom and movement that midfielders in the Premier League normally enjoy.
And on the occasions he has ventured forward for Toulouse he has shown he has plenty to offer – he can pass the ball smartly higher up the pitch and get into the box.
At 25, this is the most important moment of his career. He briefly lost his place in the France squad this year so needs to excel, to remain a part of Bleus coach Didier Deschamps’ plans for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.
He faces a battle to win his place in Andre Villas-Boas' starting XI with Spurs already well stocked in his preferred position having added Paulinho to their ranks this summer, while Sandro and Scott Parker would provide futher competition.
After five seasons at Toulouse, however, you could sense he was growing stale. A new challenge should refresh him. The time is right to move on and his best years are ahead of him..
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