Forget Conor Gallagher - Spurs can fix their midfield with a future England star

Spurs have been linked with a move for the Chelsea midfielder, but could sign an even better alternative this summer
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The chance for Tottenham Hotspur to sign Chelsea star Conor Gallagher has been and gone – perhaps just for now, perhaps forever. Either way, it’s not surprising that the rumour mill has Spurs linked with several midfielders who could fill Ange Postecoglou’s requirements. One of those rumours, and an eminently plausible one, has them bidding for Everton’s James Garner.

Garner only signed for the Toffees in the summer of 2022, with the Manchester United academy graduate joining for a fee rising to £15m with add-ons after impressing on loan in the Championship with Watford and Nottingham Forest. Since then, the 22-year-old has become one of Everton’s most consistent performers.

It has even been reported that England manager Gareth Southgate is considering calling him up to the national squad for the March friendlies against Brazil and Belgium – less than a year after he was a starting member of the Under-21 side that won the 2023 European Championship. It may be a reach to describe his rise as meteoric, but it has been strong and steady.

You can see why Spurs’ avuncular Australian coach might be interested. Postecoglou demands an all-action approach from his midfielders, and the willingness to get all over the pitch to press opposing ball-carriers, chase lost causes and offer passing options. Garner does all of that and then some – even for a disciplined, rigid side like Everton, who typically look to regroup when they lose the ball rather than counter-press, Garner gets all over the field. His heat maps show him cropping up all over the pitch, hassling and harrying the opposition, and while he may not be especially quick, he has the stamina to make up for it.

He isn’t just a willing runner, either. In the Premier League this year, he’s averaged over five ball recoveries per game, as well as nearly three successful tackles and 1.5 interceptions every 90 minutes. Those are very impressive numbers, and tell the story of a player who makes everything far harder for the teams he faces.

His passing is impressive, too. His completion rate is nothing special but it has been depressed somewhat by Sean Dyche’s style of play, which prioritises territory over accurate balls to feet – but given the system he works under, 90% accuracy in his own half and 70% accuracy in the opposing half, when he is asked to play a lot of high-difficulty direct passes, are still good marks. Beyond the raw numbers, he passes the eye test too, and clearly has the vision and passing range required to create chances and keep moves ticking over. He generates three shooting opportunities per game on his own, a very good number for a nominally defensive midfielder.

A midfield engine room who can shut down attacks and spark some for his own team is precisely what Postecoglou wants, but there are some gaps in Garner’s arsenal. He isn’t at his best in one-on-one situations and only wins just over half of his ground duels with opposing players, and he isn’t much of a ball-carrier himself, with a fairly low dribbling success rate. Nor is he much of a goalscorer, with just one goal (and two assists) to his name in his short Premier League career.

That may put Postecoglou off somewhat, and it’s fair to say that Conor Gallagher offers more in the final third while replicating most of the defensive and passing work that Garner does so well – but then, Gallagher may not be available and even if he is, the price would be steep, with reports in January suggesting that Chelsea wanted up to £60m for him. Garner would cost a fair bit less. Even if Postecoglou might prefer Gallagher as his new box-to-box brawler, the famously stingy Daniel Levy might see Garner as a better option.

Everton are not in a great financial position. They are facing charges for consecutive breaches of the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules, and between an owner who is unwilling to continue their investment, the cost of their new stadium and their struggles to sell the club to 777 Partners, they are not in a good place to keep their best players or play hard-ball over transfer fees. They would at least want to turn a profit on their initial investment, but it is unlikely that they will be laughing all the way to bank. They are over a fiscal barrel, and the vultures will circle this summer regardless of whether they avoid relegation or not.

So Garner – who has two more years left on a £30,000 per week contract – will likely be one of the names on the auction block, along with Amadou Onana. He looks like he would probably fit in very nicely at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, where the manager wants depth for the midfield. Rodrigo Bentancur has injury issues, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg is out of favour, and there is a clear desire for a new face. This is a transfer rumour that seems about as plausible as you can get, and while Garner may not be at the very top of the shopping list, it would probably be a very respectable bit of business for Spurs.