Tottenham’s Bryan Gil is ready to go wild in the Premier League
Antonio Conte tried everything: play Richarlison on the right, use a 3-5-2 formation, even bring in a rusty Lucas Moura in the Champions League against Sporting Lisbon this week. And very little worked: Spurs won three (against Brighton, Eintracht Frankfurt and Everton) of their last eight games since Kulusevski’s injury. They seemed stiff, slow and unimaginative.
But maybe there is an answer to this problem, an answer that would have been implausible just a few weeks ago but is now staring us in the face with its own compelling logic.
Bryan Gil was a spare at the start of this season. He had spent the second half of last season on loan at Valencia and the assumption was that he would be free to return this summer. If Spurs had signed another wide forward at the end of the window, they would have let him go back there. It would have been another season of development for him and then who knows what would have happened in the summer of 2023?
So Gil stayed put, even though at the start of the season he was late Harry Kane, Son Heung-min, Richarlison, Kulusevsky and Moura. It felt like another long season on the bench awaited him. And in a way, it has been: Gil has yet to start a game this season. His nine starts for Spurs all came last season, all in the Europa Conference League or domestic cups.
But in Gil’s three appearances in recent weeks, all in the Champions Leaguehe asked a question to which there is only one correct answer: is it finally time to give him his first premier league beginning?
Tottenham find themselves at an impasse. Without Kulusevski, they struggle to create chances. Conte wants to stick to the 3-4-3 system as much as possible (even though he has reluctantly played 3-5-2 three times this season). They need someone to play that role on the right of the front three, staying wide to stretch the field, rushing behind, creating chances, even cutting inside to shoot with his left – all they lack with Kulusevski in the stands. And who better than the hailful Spaniard they signed with Seville?
It all started in Frankfurt on October 4 when Spurs attempted to open a game that was deadlocked at 0-0. It was quite a surprise that night at Deutsche Bank Arena when, with 11 minutes to go, Conte took off Richarlison and brought in Gil. It was the 21-year-old’s first appearance for Spurs since the loss to chelsea in January when Conte attempted to play a 4-4-2. Gil struggled to adjust to the rhythm of the match and was repeatedly kicked off the ball by stocky Frankfurt Italian international Luca Pellegrini. But Gil clearly wanted the ball, kept showing it, kept trying to trigger something. It felt like there was something to work with.
Eight days later, Frankfurt came to Tottenham. With five minutes to go, Conte hired Gil to Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg. And he immediately seemed hungry for the ball and committed to pushing them down the field. He should have scored the goal that sealed the victory: Gil won a header in defence, recovered the loose ball, advanced to the right, lost the ball, recovered it, drove towards the goal, cut inside Hrvoje Smolcic and won a penalty. .
If Kane had scored it would have been 4-1 against Spurs and everyone would have been talking about Gil. In fact, he missed and Frankfurt made it 3-2. But everything about Gil was present in that moment: his speed, his directness, his ability to both lose the ball and win it back, and his quick thinking in the box.
But that was not all for Gil. He came close to scoring a remarkable first goal for Spurs in the dying seconds of the game, sprinting half the length of the pitch in an attempt to get into the end of Kane’s cross from the left. The ball was just too high and too hit, and even with Gil’s spectacular dive he couldn’t connect. But in terms of energy and effort, it was impossible to fault him.
These two cameos set the stage for Wednesday night against Sporting. Gil had more time on the pitch – 19 minutes, coming for Matt Doherty, allowing Moura to move to right-back. It was his best performance of the lot. He always showed the ball, helped Spurs support their attacks and troubled Sporting’s well-organised defence.
Gil’s abandonment won the corner from where Rodrigo Bentancur headed in the Spurs equaliser. He made a smart run to the touchline, only for Emerson Royal to attempt an inexplicable no-look pass that shot straight out of play. And, after getting the ball off Bentancur’s toes, he gave him a chance of winning the game he threw over the bar.
Put these three cameos together and you’ll have a clear idea of what Gil offers Spurs. He’ll never have the physical strength of Kulusevski or the all-around athleticism of Richarlison, but he’s got a lot going for him, especially on a team that needs a whole new creative mind.
Conte obviously knows this. He talked about Gil – how he was one of the options, with Moura and Ivan Perisic, which could slot into the top three if needed. At a press conference earlier this month, Conte spoke about Gil’s performance in Frankfurt and said the physical side of his game was the only thing he still lacked.
“Gil is a very good prospect,” Conte said. “He’s getting stronger. He has only one gap for the Premier League – the physical. Otherwise, technically he understands football in a big way. I’m sure we’re talking about a player who will be an important prospect for the future. Now he is also building, he is improving physically and for us that is important.
Granted, the eye test suggests that Gil looks stronger and fitter than he did when he arrived. Gil was just 20 and weighed 60kg when he showed up at Spurs and was immediately told to get stronger and fitter if he wanted to make it happen.
Spurs being in the Europa Conference League meant he had chances early on, usually in his favored position on the left wing. He provided an assist for Kane when they beat Pacos de Ferreira last August, started again at Rennes (in an unusual front line with Dane Scarlett and Royal), and after Spurs drew 2-2 at Molineux in the Carabao Cup, club insiders were left behind. raving about Gil. The hope was that he could build on this performance and start to become a regular in Nuno’s side.
Things didn’t turn out that way. Nuno’s rapid Spurs decline meant Gil was never able to start a league game and when Conte arrived it was only cameos and a start against Morecambe before he was loaned out.
Conte wanted ready-made players for the break-in, and that’s understandable. But Gil came back from that loan looking stronger and sharper than before. And in a team whose imaginative supplies are running low right now, he looks like precisely the antidote. Conte just needs to give it a chance.
(Top photo: Vincent Mignott/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)