It was like the news that Tottenham fans were dreading.
Tullio Tinti, the agent of Alessandro Bastoni (and others at Inter), emerged from a meeting with the Inter Milan hierarchy on Wednesday and was surrounded by at least six young men filming him on their telephone with a very clear message: his client would stay at the club.
Asked if he could reassure Inter fans who feared the club’s outstanding young centre-back – a lifelong Inter fan himself – was going to Tottenham, Tinti was pleased to calm their fears. “Bastoni is definitely staying at Inter,” Tinti said. “He’s an Inter player. He’s happy to play for Inter.
Bastoni — for people who care to parse these things — seemed to approve of the message by posting blue and black heart emojis on Instagram shortly after.
On the surface, everything seems very open and closed. Tinti, one of Italy’s leading football agents, has a reputation for being outspoken. For Bastoni, leaving Inter now, after this firm commitment, would be even more difficult politically than it would have been before. Maybe Fabio Paratici will have to admit defeat and turn his attentions elsewhere.
But there is another reading of the situation. We are still only at the beginning of June and there is still plenty of time in the window for the situation to change. Club seasons do not resume for two months. And, hypothetically, if Bastoni ends up leaving Inter later this summer, then he could point to this moment as a sign that he hasn’t forced his exit from the club.
Because while Inter’s public stance is that they wouldn’t want to sell Bastoni, the real situation might not be that simple.
If Inter were to sell Bastoni, they could reasonably expect to get around €60m for him. For a club who have had financial problems over the past few years and need to make another profit in this summer’s transfer market, that would be a lot of money to ignore.
(Remember last summer, for example, when there was long speculation about Romelu Lukaku’s future; Lukaku insisted he didn’t want to leave, but it ended anyway with his arrival at Chelsea for €115m or £97.5m Inter had to sell somebody for big money and if it hadn’t been for Lukaku, they probably would have sold Lautaro Martinez instead, maybe even Tottenham. But after selling Lukaku, Inter bought Edin Dzeko and Denzel Dumfries and they still had plenty of money left.)
The possibility of a similar scenario this summer cannot be ruled out. Gleison Bremer is one of Italy’s most sought-after defenders after four good years in Turin. Inter want him this summer, and while they are in pole position to sign the Brazilian, they face competition from Milan and Chelsea. But if Inter were to secure Bremer (for, say, €30-40m), then they could sell Bastoni for double that and make a nice profit.
The other option for Inter would be to sell Milan Skriniar, who at 27 is older than Bastoni, and who would result in less fan outrage if he went. Similarly, Skriniar wouldn’t fetch quite the same fee as Bastoni, but he himself is a highly rated player in Europe. Tottenham themselves came close to signing him two summers ago when Jose Mourinho was in charge and wanted an upgrade at centre-back.
So right now it feels like the futures of Bastoni, Bremer and Skriniar are all intertwined, and there’s plenty of time for things to move in different directions.
But even if Tottenham miss Bastoni, that won’t be the end of their quest for someone to play on the left-of-three for next season. Paratici and Antonio Conte have been clear for some time that this is the main priority for the summer window, and they also know that the level of player they want for this role won’t come cheap. (An established Premier League centre-back who is away this summer was recently sent to Tottenham as an option, but they said no as their priority was someone who can play on the left of a three.)
Paratici agreed a €50m (£42.5m) fee with Atalanta for Cristian Romero last summer, which was a triumph, and the club accept they should pay that. which could be described as “Romero’s money”. for an equivalent on the left side again this summer.
The two main targets at the end of the season were Bastoni and RB Leipzig’s Josko Gvardiol, although Gvardiol is likely to be even more expensive than Bastoni. The Croatia international is so highly rated at Leipzig that it would likely cost significantly more than Bastoni – up to €80m – to sign him. Spurs were also very keen on Germany international Nico Schlotterbeck in the same role, but he will join Borussia Dortmund instead this summer. (They also monitored Sven Botman, who has less experience in a back three, and is currently being chased by Milan and Newcastle United.)
Perhaps the search for Tottenham will force them to look in another direction. Spurs are big admirers of Marc Guehi at Crystal Palace, but he has four years left on his contract, meaning Palace have no incentive to even negotiate with Spurs. It would take a huge fee to get him out at this point. And finally there is Pau Torres at Villarreal. Spurs went for him last summer and he turned them down so he hasn’t been a priority this time around but he still ticks all the boxes he did in 2021. And he could see Tottenham as a destination more appealing this year than they were last time around.
Tottenham will surely end up with one of these players, or someone who looks a lot like them. But we may all have to be patient. There’s plenty of time left in that window and things don’t always end in July and August as they appeared in early June.
(Top photo: Getty Images)