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Is the old Matt Doherty back?

The Irish star has started the last two Premier League matches for Tottenham.

AS HE was replaced in the 93rd minute of Tottenham’s 2-0 win over Everton at the weekend, Antonio Conte firmly embraced Matt Doherty.

The moment was an interesting one and perhaps the Italian was sending a message as to his relationship with the Irish international.

Earlier this month, the perception of the experienced defender at the club felt different, amid suggestions he still had not fully recovered from a long-term injury.

On the back of Emerson Royal’s costly red card against Arsenal in the recent North London derby, the Italian coach was asked by reporters about his alternative options at right wing-back.

Neither had started a single club game this season at that point, despite Djed Spence being bought for £20 million (€23 million) in the summer and Doherty serving as first-choice in the position for a spell last season before the untimely injury ended his campaign prematurely.

“The fans have to be fans,” said Conte, when asked initially about supporters calling for Spence to be given a run. “I understand they can think [that they understand] everything but I see every day what happens during the training session.

“I try to do the best for the team. If they trust me, then they trust me, but the choices are mine. If I didn’t decide to pick one player, it’s maybe because he’s not ready.

“We are talking about a young player with a good prospect, but I repeat I try to pick the best team.

“Also [Matt] Doherty, Doherty last season played every game. And now, I am not seeing him in the right way to start the game. I am not stupid. I don’t want to lose.

“I try to put the best team, to pick the best team. If they trust me it’s okay, if they don’t trust me then I’m the coach and I need to take the best decision for Tottenham.”

English is not Conte’s first language and sometimes his words can sound harsher than intended, such as when he appeared to heavily criticise Tottenham’s transfer policy last season, only for both club and manager to subsequently suggest the comments had been misconstrued.

In relation to the Doherty case, some people interpreted the aforementioned quotes as Conte saying that Spurs would lose if they played the Irishman from the outset.

However, Conte’s actions thereafter suggested otherwise — Doherty started the next two Premier League games, and the North London side won on both occasions.

Yet whether it’s enough for the Dubliner to start in the long term remains to be seen.

The 30-year-old will almost certainly feature in the Man United match on Wednesday, as Emerson Royal is ruled out for the final game of a three-match suspension.

And Conte hinted after the weekend’s game that Doherty was back to the type of form that won him a regular place in the side last season.

“About Matthew, honestly I’m really happy, really happy. He played a good game against Brighton but on Saturday he played better than the last game,” the Italian said.

“He played well in the last game and I was happy also with it but today I have seen again the Matt Doherty of last season. I was really pleased and said to him ‘finally now you are the player that I know!’. It’s important, important for us because to play all these games in a short period, it is important to have all the players available.” 

Spurs captain Harry Kane was similarly effusive in his praise, telling SpursPlay: “I’m really happy for him. He’s been waiting for his opportunity. Since he got injured last season he’s had to be patient this year, just biding his time, working hard and getting as fit as possible, just waiting for his chance.

“We’ve got good competition for places. He’s come in and I think he’s been fantastic in the two games he’s played. I’m delighted for him. I know him really well and I know how much he wants to do well and how much he’s been working behind the scenes.

“That performance will only give him confidence and it will give the team and the manager confidence. It’s really good to have a lot of players playing well.”

Yet there is no guarantee that Doherty will maintain his place in the team.

Despite the assured display at Brighton, Royal was still preferred for the subsequent 3-2 Champions League win over Eintracht Frankfurt and may come back into the starting XI once again when his suspension ends.

The Brazilian defender is not the most popular player with fans. Signed for a reported £25.8 million (€29.8 million) on the last day of the summer transfer in 2021, he is considered more of a natural right-back than a wing-back — in other words, more renowned for his defending than attacking prowess.

Yet recent matches have indicated he is not the most reliable player at the back either — in addition to the Arsenal red card, he was nutmegged for one goal in the Sporting Lisbon defeat and gave the ball away for one of the goals in the win over Frankfurt last week.


Yet Conte clearly views the former Barcelona player as solid defensively for the most part, and Doherty, in many ways, is seen as the opposite — at times thrilling going forward, but not the strongest defensively, as was highlighted at Hampden Park for Ireland recently when he was poor in the build-up to Jack Hendry’s equalising goal.

That incident prompted ex-Ireland manager and Premier Sports pundit Martin O’Neill, who has had his own run-ins with Doherty in the past, to quip: ‘That’s what happens when you can’t defend.”

It was an unduly harsh criticism certainly, but one that perhaps partially reflects the doubts that previous managers Jose Mourinho and Nuno Espírito Santo had surrounding Doherty and the reason why the Irishman found himself out of the Spurs team more often than not during the pair’s respective reigns.

The situation was a stark contrast with his time at Wolves, for whom Doherty made over 300 appearances and was a virtual ever-present in the starting XI for most of his 10 years at the club. And per Football.London, in his last two seasons at Molineux, he was second only to Trent Alexander-Arnold when it came to direct involvement in goals at the other end of the pitch.

Yet the defensive question marks were seldom raised last season when Doherty was showing the type of form that earned him a £13.4 million (€15.5 million) move from Wolves in the first place.

Having not started a single Premier League game prior to Christmas in the 2021-22 campaign, he was one of a number of Tottenham players who ostensibly benefitted from Conte’s arrival as manager, and got a good run in the team, featuring nine times from the outset in the second half of the campaign before that unfortunate injury.

There are factors that could work against Doherty. Royal and Spence are 22 and 23 respectively, whereas the Irishman is 30.

Moreover, both Royal and Spence were signed by Spurs’ current director of football Fabio Paratici, while Doherty was brought in during the Jose Mourinho era and is perhaps unfairly judged in some quarters as belonging to a bygone era.

All of these factors do not mean Doherty won’t be given a chance, but perhaps he will have to perform especially well and work extra hard to consolidate his place in the team.

There was consistently talk of the former Bohemians youngster leaving the club last season, but back in April, the player explained that he never had any intention of departing the club. 

Doherty signed a four-year contract upon initially joining Tottenham, and if he continues to show the level of resilience he has demonstrated thus far in his career at Spurs and maintains the performance level of recent outings, there is no reason why he won’t be able to see that deal out at the very least.

Premier League fixtures:

Tuesday (all games kick off at 7.30pm unless stated otherwise)


Brighton v Nottingham Forest
Crystal Palace v Wolves (20.15)


Bournemouth v Southampton
Brentford v Chelsea
Liverpool v West Ham
Newcastle v Everton
Man United v Tottenham (20.15)


Fulham v Aston Villa
Leicester City v Leeds (20.15)

- Originally published at 07.00

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