It was the arrival of Davinson Sanchez at Hotspur Way that told Kevin Wimmer what Mauricio Pochettino could not say – his time at Tottenham was over.
With Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Eric Dier already ahead of him in the pecking order in N17, the move to sign the Colombian after a stellar year with Ajax was a real signal of intent from the club.
Going close in the Premier League title race in the two seasons before, Spurs needed to keep up with their rivals and it saw Daniel Levy shell out big money as they signed the highly-rated centre-back in a club-record move.
Cleary showing that they meant business in the transfer market after very rarely splashing the cash in previous years, the move also signalled the end of Wimmer’s two years at the club following his move from Koln in 2015.
Making 21 appearances in all competitions in his first year at Tottenham, including a run of ten successive games in the Premier League with Vertonghen out injured, his numbers plummeted in his second season as he only featured ten times in total.
Wimmer knew deep down that his game time would be further limited by the acquisition of Sanchez so he made the decision to move on for regular game time elsewhere.
“Of course you always want to play more but he [Pochettino] said that you train good, everything is ok and keep believing,” the Austrian told football.london in an exclusive interview. “You have to understand there was so much class in a team like this and that it’s difficult maybe to get game time.
“I said I was expecting more game time than in the first season but the end of the first season was my better year as I thought I came to Tottenham and maybe it takes some time, but because of that run of games for sure it was much, much more successful.
“The second season it was difficult if you only play the FA Cup games or something like this. Pochettino said keep working hard and everything but as a player if you don’t play for a long time it’s always difficult and you are not satisfied with yourself, you always try your best in training but if you don’t play as a footballer it doesn’t make you happy.
“If that happens for a longer period like a few months or for a season and you play like ten games or something in one season, with so many games in England it’s not what makes you happy.
“After my second year he didn’t tell me to leave but for me it was clear as they signed Sanchez the beginning of the third season before I left. For me it was like it would be even harder to get game time and that’s why I made the decision to move to Stoke.”
Starting his professional career with LASK in his home country of Austria, the centre-back’s impressive performances saw him earn a move to Germany in June 2012 as he linked up with Koln.
It was in his second campaign when he became a regular in defence and it eventually culminated in Pochettino and Tottenham making an early move as they got their plans in place for the following season.
“It was already in the winter time like when in Germany you always have a little break in December and start again in January,” explained the 28-year-old when discussing how his move to Tottenham came about.
“First the contact came up and my agent at this point called me and said Spurs are interested in me because I played a very good first half to the season in Koln. When I first heard about Spurs’ interest in me it felt like it was not real.
“Koln is an amazing club, a very big club in Germany with big tradition, but when you hear a name like Tottenham it’s different class. As a player it was always my dream to play in the Premier League, and then when you get the chance to play in the Premier League with a team like Tottenham, I didn’t need one second to think about it. I said straightaway of course I want to go there if possible.
“I played a few more games and it got more and more concrete. I went there, we spoke with the manager and everything and I had a very good time with Pochettino there and he made me feel already very welcome. That’s why I signed during the season and not in the summer because for me if I get a chance like this I don’t want to waste time. I want to take the chance and that’s why I signed a few months before the summer transfer window opened.”
Not knowing it at the time, the Austrian would soon become teammates with a player he knew quite a bit about following his time playing in Germany.
When Wimmer was making waves at Koln after their promotion, Son Heung-min was making quite an impression himself at Bayer Leverkusen, having joined them in 2013 after learning his craft at Hamburger SV.
Coming up against each other twice in 2014/15 as Leverkusen came out on top with a 5-1 win before drawing 1-1 in the reverse fixture at the end of April, four months later they would be playing alongside one another at Tottenham after the club agreed on a deal to sign the South Korea international.
Not only was it the start of a fantastic career in England for Son, it also proved to be the start of a beautiful friendship.
“I think for us the best thing was that because he lived in Germany for six years he could speak near perfect German. It’s my mother language so from the first day on we had a special relationship because his English was not the best and he was still trying to learn it,” Wimmer admitted.
“It was for him as well much easier that he came to Spurs and he had one guy who could speak German with him and for me also it was very nice. From the first day on we were next to each other in the dressing room and outside of training we did nearly everything together. We had food together, we just spent time together all the time.
“From the first day on I could see that he’s not just a special player but also a humble guy. He was always so down to earth and even now if I speak to him nothing has changed over the years. He’s still the same guy. He’s so successful but he doesn’t change.
“For me, and for him, it was perfect that we came at the same time to Tottenham and that we spoke the same language as that really helped us. That made it also easier for him to get settled.”
With Son in and out of the team in his first season at Tottenham as he struggled to get to grips with the intense nature of the Premier League, his close friend was also in the same boat as Pochettino left him out of the matchday squad in the league a total of 13 times before he got his big break in January.
One man’s loss is another man’s gain and that’s exactly what happened as Vertonghen was facing a two-month layoff due to a knee injury sustained in the 3-1 win over Crystal Palace.
Wimmer in fact replaced the Belgian international for the final 15 minutes of the contest at Selhurst Park and he subsequently remained in the side for the following nine league matches.
In that period Spurs’ only defeat came away at rivals West Ham as they lost 1-0 at Upton Park, with an impressive victory over Man City and draws against Arsenal and Liverpool putting them right in the mix for the title alongside unlikely favourites Leicester City.
Vertonghen did return in time for the memorable 3-0 win over Manchester United and he was put straight back into the XI by Pochettino as Wimmer made way.
Certainly not looking out of place in his ten-game run as the summer signing caught the eye, the ex-LASK man knew that his competitor, who he rates incredibly highly and believes is surprisingly underestimated by some, would instantly slot straight back in despite him really making a case for a regular starting spot.
“At this time we had an unbelievable run where we lost one game from either nine or ten in the league,” he recalled. “It was my best football and it was because I knew I had to perform because we were fighting for the title.
“I felt really good and then of course for me it’s clear Jan Vertonghen is maybe sometimes a bit underestimated, but for me he’s like the perfect centre-back. For me it was clear he has more class than me and if he’s fit he will go straight into the team and that’s what happened.
“As a player you are disappointed when you play like ten games very well and after you get dropped again and sit on the bench again. It’s not easy as a football player but this run of games I did my best and I had a really good run.
“Personally for me I felt I played very good games. This run of games I don’t regret anything because I really, really did my best and was a very good time. After of course when Vertonghen was fit again it was difficult as I didn’t play anymore but if you compare I think he’s an amazing player and that’s why also I understood everything.”
As well as Wimmer did perform during that run as the Lilywhites upped the pressure on Claudio Ranieri’s Foxes in the title race, what didn’t help his cause one bit was that he had two of the Premier League’s best centre-backs in Alderweireld and Vertonghen ahead of him in the pecking order.
The former also joined Wimmer at the club in the summer of 2015 from Atletico Madrid after an impressive loan spell at Southampton the previous year, forcing his way straight into Pochettino’s backline and forming a rock-solid partnership with his fellow countryman in the process.
“For me it was clear as long as these two are at the club it would be difficult to get ahead of them because I think they are just amazing,” admitted the now Karlsruher defender. “In the Premier League at this time I think there were not much better partnerships than these two.
“For me it was clear that as long as they were both fit and at the club it really wouldn’t be possible for me to get ahead of them.”
Wimmer did remain on the bench in five of Tottenham’s remaining six league fixtures, including the infamous ‘Battle of the Bridge’ that took place at the start of May.
Needing a win over rivals Chelsea to keep their title aspirations alive heading into the final two rounds, it all looked good for Pochettino’s men as they took a two-goal lead into the break following strikes from Harry Kane and Son.
However, Gary Cahill’s goal shortly before the hour mark sparked the hosts into life and they duly restored parity seven minutes from time as Eden Hazard struck the knockout blow to Tottenham and crown Leicester City Premier League champions in the process.
With four yellow cards brandished by Mark Clattenburg in the first half in SW6, a further eight were shown in the remaining 45 minutes as Tottenham finished the match with nine of those to their name.
A memorable game for all watching on as the title race went down to the wire, Wimmer had a prime position as he watched on from the substitutes’ bench at Stamford Bridge.
“Chelsea and Tottenham are rivals and the teams don’t like each other. The atmosphere was just so electrifying. It was crazy as the only target for Chelsea that day was that we don’t win, no matter if they draw or something they just had the target that we don’t win,” remembered Wimmer.
“After the first half you thought maybe we’d win this game but the second half the atmosphere and everything went crazy. Then at 2-1 it was really, really loud in the stadium and then after it went 2-2 the emotions went crazy I think. I’ve never seen so many hard tackles and fouls in a game. I think the referee didn’t know what was going on as there was so many bad tackles and he didn’t even give yellow cards for some of them.
“It was just for us very difficult as we were fighting the whole season for the title when this game happened and after the game you knew ok it’s over you can’t reach your target anymore. Everybody was frustrated and that’s what you could see at the end of the game already that most of the players were disappointed and frustrated.
“Watching outside what happened after the game there was so much trouble and so much arguing and everybody was going crazy. It was a special game but for us was hard to take as we didn’t win. If you watched it from outside it was unbelievable and entertaining. The atmosphere was so loud you couldn’t understand your own words, so it was definitely a very special game I would say.”
Keen to build on his 21 appearances from his first 12 months at White Hart Lane after penning a fresh five-year deal to extend his stay in the capital until 2021, Wimmer’s game time dropped dramatically the following year as he was only called upon ten times.
Mainly utilised in both the FA Cup and EFL Cup, the talented centre-back also featured in the Champions League as he played the full 90 minutes in the 2-1 defeat away at Monaco.
HIs first season was undoubtedly his best at the club but training day in, day out at Hotspur Way still helped his game even if pitch time in 2016/17 wasn’t there.
“I think especially in the first season I had a better time there,” he confessed. “Of course for me it was very lucky when Jan Vertonghen got injured and then I had ten games in a row or something like this. We were playing very well but unfortunately for us it was difficult as Leicester this season was unbelievable when they were winning every game.
“When you were playing a game like this with Toby Alderweireld next to me and Kyle Walker, to my left was Danny Rose, in front of me Mousa Dembele and behind me Hugo Lloris, even in training you can just enjoy because you play with so much class every day in training and then the games as well. It makes you better as a player as well because it’s easier. You always have so many options during the game because all the players have so much ability and so much class.
“It was of course for me much easier to play in a team like this. I think it was just enjoyable for me, it was a very good time and I didn’t want to miss it. I think I learnt a lot in this time for me and I really enjoyed to play with players like I did. Hugo is now a world champion, Jan has had an amazing career, Sonny and Harry Kane the best striker for me. All the players. Mousa for me was the best player I’ve ever seen.
“It was an incredible time for me but of course as a football player you want to play as much as possible and in this team I felt it was just very difficult for me. When everybody was fit it was just very difficult. In the second season I didn’t play as much anymore and if you don’t play a lot, if you always just train, of course with this team I got so many benefits from it as I trained every day with players like this, but the second season was difficult as I didn’t play so much again. Then I made to move to Stoke after as I wanted to try something new to get more and more game time.”
Most definitely benefitting from his time at Tottenham working with top players every day, the chance to work under the guidance of Pochettino at the club’s training base also helped Wimmer improve his game.
Putting together such an impressive, young team in such a short space of time, Spurs unfortunately couldn’t go on to win the trophies that many predicted they would and the Argentine’s time at Tottenham sadly drew to a close in November 2019 as Jose Mourinho replaced him in the hotseat.
Rated incredibly highly by those who have played under him, Wimmer only has good things to say about his former boss.
“For sure I think he’s no doubt an amazing manager,” he said. “Of course there are some great managers in the world and in Europe and you can also see now that if you weren’t a great manager you wouldn’t make a move like this to Paris.
“For me it was also great as I learnt so much under him and in training you just enjoyed to work hard for a guy like this because training you always did so many different things and you learnt so many things.
“He was a very good guy and a funny guy as well. Sometimes he played together with us in training and made a lot of fun but then also when there was working time and when everybody knew we need to work hard, it was just very enjoyable.
“If you’re a football player and you get the chance to train under a coach like Mauricio, it’s the best thing that can happen to you. For me, he’s an amazing manager.”
Training alongside the likes of Kane, Son, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli at the club’s Enfield base, there was a certain player who stood out.
Unsurprisingly, that man was Mousa Dembele.
“For me he was crazy. His left foot was just so good. The most incredible thing always was if it was in training or in a game no matter what, if you gave him the ball and there was two people running at him from behind, he never lost the ball,” claimed Wimmer.
“When you played in training games like four vs four or three vs three, 99% of the games the team with Mousa won. You gave him the ball in a difficult situation, you didn’t know where to play and you gave him the ball you know he won’t lose it. He was just incredible.
“I think from this time at Spurs if you ask the players they will all say that Mousa Dembele is just incredible. I’ve never seen a player like this. Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli, Sonny are all world-class players, but, for me, Mousa Dembele is just amazing. When you saw that every day in training what he did you just think how is that possible that he can have so much ability and never lose the ball. Even going forward when he had the ball on his feet and driving forward he was so quick and you couldn’t stop him. For me he’s the best player I’ve seen so far.”
Following the arrival of Sanchez at the club from Ajax for a club-record fee a week before the summer transfer window closed for business, Wimmer was on his way six days later as Stoke City paid out £18million for his services and tied him down to a five-year contract.
Bringing his stay at Tottenham to an end a lot sooner than expected with four years still remaining on the deal he signed 12 months earlier, it also meant that he would now be 156 miles away from his close friend Son.
“He always said ‘I’m happy for you because you are a good player and you have to play as well’. Of course he understood my decision,” revealed the Austrian.
“We hung out every day so he was of course not happy that I left but he understood because I wanted to try and get more game time than at Tottenham. It was not so far so we still saw it each other quite a lot on days off for food or just to chill out together. It was still ok but of course it was different than when we were playing together in one team.
“That was really nice the two years when you could always see each other nearly every day, have a good time in training and then also after training we did a lot of things together, so that was really, really nice. When I did move to Stoke for sure I think he was also a bit sad.”
Wimmer could have remained in the capital and close to Son as he was talking to West Ham at the time when it was clear that he needed to move away to get regular first-team football.
In the end Mark Hughes convinced him to head to Staffordshire instead and the move initially appeared to be going smoothly as he featured in 19 games for the Potters in the first half of the season.
However, Stoke’s poor form saw Hughes lose his job and he was replaced at the helm by Paul Lambert.
Wimmer’s summer move soon turned into a nightmare as he didn’t even make the matchday squad once under the Scot, with the defender now in his third different loan spell away from the bet365 Stadium after failing to feature for his parent club since his 45-minute cameo appearance at Manchester United before Lambert fully took charge.
“This time I was talking to West Ham and West Brom. For me it was just like Mark Hughes at this time at Stoke he gave me a very good feeling, we had good contact and he always told me that if you come you will play and that’s also what happened,” said Wimmer.
“For me Mark Hughes was a very good guy but unfortunately he got sacked a little bit before the January transfer window. In the first half of the season I played like 19 games, so I nearly played everything. Of course we had a difficult time at Stoke but we weren’t in the relegation zone or anything.
“Then when Paul Lambert came to the club after Mark Hughes everything changed. He was there like two days and after two days in the first game I wasn’t even listed on the bench. I really thought ‘what happened’ and after the first game he maybe wants to try something new but then he was in charge for 15 games or something and he won the first game and after 14 games he won only the last game of the season when everything was already done and we were relegated.
“When you see the games that are going so wrong and you get dropped and every game you lose and then sometimes draw but most of the games we lost and always conceded goals and you still don’t get a chance, for me I couldn’t explain it. I spoke like every week with him but he always said so many reasons just to try and keep me motivated or something. I just thought ‘why don’t I get a chance anymore?’
“This time at Stoke was really difficult and then every year since when I’ve come back from a loan to Stoke, from the first day they’ve said you can leave. A new manager all the time who doesn’t even know me but from the first day on they’ve said they don’t have you in their plans and you can leave.
“I don’t know what happened really, it would be sometimes nice but I think Stoke did it with a few players like they did with me. It makes the players look bad but for me I still don’t know until today as I’ve never had a good explanation why after the first half of the season under Mark Hughes when I played nearly every game why I got dropped and never got used again and just sent out on loan all the time.
“Every time I come back from the loan they said you have to leave again, you can leave as you’ll only play U23s. That’s difficult but as a player if the club says that it’s difficult to accept but what can you do against it.”
You couldn’t blame a player in Wimmer’s current situation for having regrets given what’s happened to him over the past four seasons, the defender has stressed that he would do the same all over again.
“Tottenham for me was a very, very good time and I really enjoyed my two years there, but for me it was clear in my second season there was like Toby, Jan and Eric Dier, who was also playing more like a centre-back than central midfield, and then after they signed Sanchez and for me it was clear I was maybe the fifth-choice centre-back,” stated the centre-back.
“If I’m lucky maybe I get five games or something in the season. That’s why I wanted to go away for one season to Stoke and then play there and see what can happen again. For me at this time it was just the question I don’t want to leave Tottenham because I like the club and everything was perfect, the team was amazing, staff and manager everything was great, but for me it was just clear that if I stay I won’t play and I’ll train all the time but not get a lot of game time. That’s why I made the move.
“In the end it was not difficult because if maybe Mark Hughes was still manager today things would be different. Things at Stoke have definitely gone totally wrong. Not like for me but for some other players, good players. It’s difficult. I wouldn’t say I regret the move to Stoke but my time at Tottenham was amazing and that’s what I don’t want to miss as I played a Champions League game, Europa League, I played Premier League and all my dreams came true.
“That’s why I’d do it anytime if I had the chance again. If I go back the years and if I had the decision again I would do the same again. Maybe I would do it different with the move to Stoke, but with Tottenham it would definitely be the same again.”
Known for his bromance with Son at Tottenham, the pair’s friendship is still going strong to this day even though Wimmer is currently out in Germany on loan at Karlsruher.
There may be just over 500 miles between the pair now but they are still regularly talking to one another over WhatsApp or on FaceTime.
“Still a lot of contact with each other,” he revealed. “When it’s possible, of course with this crazy situation with Covid it’s nearly impossible, otherwise normally if life would be normal we try to see each other on days off. We still have good contact over WhatsApp and we also FaceTime a lot.
“It’s good to have a friend like him. I would say in football you meet a lot of nice guys but as soon as you leave the club normally it’s difficult to stay in touch and everything, but with Sonny it’s really nice. Over the years we’ve built a very good friendship, so for me it’s very nice that we still keep in touch.”
Plans are also already in place for a reunion once everyone can travel freely again given what’s gone on across the globe over the past 12 months.
“Yeah for sure. I said I want to come to London anyway soon again because I like the city a lot and it has been a while since I was there,” added the Wels-born defender. “I think the next time when it’s possible again I will travel to London and we’ll have dinner together. Not sure when it will be but for sure it will happen.”
Wimmer may no longer be a Tottenham player but that hasn’t stopped him visiting the club’s stunning new home to take in a game and watch his good friend and his former teammates in action.
Certainly a lot different from their former White Hart Lane home, Wimmer, as is the case with everybody who has set foot inside the 62,850-seater stadium since it opened in April 2019, was left very impressed.
“The stadium is amazing. When I first saw it on TV all the time and on pictures it looked amazing, but when I was there and watching a game it was really, really nice. I think it’s such an amazing stadium if you can play all your home games always there, hopefully again soon with a crowd,” said the 28-year-old.
“The stadium I think is really, really unique. I think last season he [Son] was playing so, so good and then every season it feels like he’s getting better and better. As a football player to watch a player like Sonny, you can just enjoy it because it’s just fun to watch him play.”
Tottenham fans are certainly enjoying watching the South Korean international play this term after hitting an incredible 18 goals and 16 assists from his 41 games in all competitions.
Building a formidable partnership alongside Kane, Wimmer believes Son could now be displaying his best form in a Tottenham shirt since joining the club back in 2015 from Bayer Leverkusen.
“I think it’s difficult but I think yes. Like I said, he just gets better and better every season,” he pointed out.
“Of course his partnership with Harry Kane this year is incredible. I think he’s doing so, so good and for sure he’s one of the best players in the Premier League for me. With so many goals and assists maybe it’s his best season so far, but all his seasons I think were amazing and outstanding.”
While Son and Kane may have been in the headlines all season for their heroics in the final third, Tottenham themselves have struggled of late after dropping down the table after previously looking on course to contest for the title at the turn of the year.
Wimmer still keeps close tabs on his former side and is confident that they can end the year on a high by finishing in the top four.
“Bit of a rollercoaster,” he claimed when asked about how Spurs have fared in 2020/21. “At the beginning of the season I thought, or even this year, it was possible as Man City were struggling at the beginning, now they are playing an incredible season, I thought something was possible this year for Tottenham.
“Then I remember some games like West Ham at home when they drew 3-3 when they were in front 3-0 and a few other games like this, in the Premier League if you lose points like this if you want to win the Premier League or come top four then it’s always difficult because there’s so many good teams. It was a bit unlucky in games when they dropped points right at the end of games.
“I think they still have a good season as they still have the chance to get top four which I hope they do it. Premier League is always difficult and every game is hard to win. They can still have a good season and if they get top four at end then for sure it was a good season. Hopefully they can make it.”
In each football.london Tottenham bulletin, we’ll bring you the latest breaking news, transfer features and comment pieces, as well as the key talking points for fans.
You won’t miss a thing – you’ll get all the Spurs news you need right to your inbox. We’ll also send special newsletters when big stories break or there’s a special event happening.
And with the January transfer window now open there’s plenty of content to get your teeth into.
How do you sign up?
It’s easy and only takes seconds. Simply type your email address into the box at the top of this article – or any article in the Spurs section of football.london in fact – labelled ‘Get the biggest daily stories by email’ and click ‘Subscribe’.
And that’s it, you’re all set. If you decide later you no longer wish to receive the emails, hit the unsubscribe link in the newsletters – but we don’t think you’ll want to. For more details, click here.
So what does the future hold for the former Tottenham man?
Making three appearances for Karlsruher in 2.Bundesliga since his switch from Stoke City at the start of February, Wimmer is hopeful that his time at his new club can be extended beyond the end of this campaign providing that of course he can finally cut ties with his parent club.
“Yeah it’s ok but I have one more year left at Stoke from summer on, so hopefully we can sort something out before,” he confessed.
“It’s always difficult when you come during the season but I feel very good here, the team is good, the manager and everything suits me well. For me it would be nice if I could stay after this season one or maybe two more years here.
“First of all the question is if I can get out of my contract or something at Stoke and what that line is. It’s my last year at Stoke next summer. Hopefully, for me, it would be nice that I don’t have to go back to Stoke anymore and I can stay here or something like this would be very good and hopefully it can work out.”
It may have only been a short time for Wimmer in north London but it’s clear to see to this day that he still has a deep affection for Tottenham and he cherishes his two years working under Pochettino and alongside his talented teammates.
Things may not have ultimately panned out the way he would have liked, but his boyhood dream came true at Tottenham and for that he will be forever grateful.