Matt Doherty is talking about tweets. The ones from 2012 and 2013 when he declares his everlasting love for Arsenal. “I wasn’t even young,” says Tottenham’s summer signing from Wolves. “I wasn’t even, like, 12 so I can’t even say: ‘Ah, well, I was only 12 so I didn’t know what I was saying.’ So, yeah, it was a bit embarrassing.”
How to deal with the skeleton in the virtual closet, wondered Spurs and their social media team? Head-on, was the verdict and so came Doherty’s announcement video where he looks sheepish and clasps his hands as he rereads the tweets before deleting them. He finishes by nodding and tapping the cockerel on his new Spurs shirt.
Fair play to him and the club. It was good fun and struck the right note, managing to get across Doherty’s easy-going charm into the bargain. “It’s well documented that I had previous tweets and they asked me to do a few shots on the video,” says the 28-year-old Dubliner. “I knew they were going to put something together but when I saw the end product it was quite funny and I’m glad it went down really well. People have messaged me and said how bad the acting was and that’s probably fair.
“My mam is Dutch and Dennis Bergkamp is Dutch and that link got me interested in the game and watching him going forward. So it’s an unusual link [to Arsenal] but that’s what it was.”
The video was a case study in how to take ownership of a potentially tricky situation but it only mirrored what Doherty has been doing on the field over recent seasons during what has been a meteoric rise. Having moved to Wolves as an 18-year-old from Bohemians, the right-back went down with them into the Championship and League One while also spending time on loan at Hibernian in the Scottish Premier League and Bury in League One.
Then came the fightback. Doherty was a part of the Wolves team that topped League One in 2014 and four years later won the Championship title as Nuno Espírito Santo ignited revolution in the Black Country.
Never mind Doherty’s Dutch blood – he credits his mother, Joni (pronounced Joan-ee), with giving him his laid-back nature – it is a Portuguese influence that has shaped and is shaping his top-level career. Nuno took Doherty and Wolves to places they could scarcely have dreamed of and now a second Portuguese manager, José Mourinho, believes he can add something to Spurs’ quest for silverware. Linking them and other elements is Doherty’s agent, Jorge Mendes, another Portuguese. Mendes represents Nuno and Mourinho and he is an adviser to the Wolves owners, who have a stake in his Gestifute agency.
“I signed with them [Gestifute] to see where I could go,” says Doherty. “They kind of said to me they would move me on and I assumed to something bigger and better. They’ve been very good for me so I’ve got nothing but respect and thank them for what they’ve done.”
Doherty says he did not speak to Mourinho until his £14.7m move was “pretty much done” but the prospect of working with him was one of the factors that drew him to Spurs. “He has been even better than I expected,” says Doherty. “He has that relationship with players on a personal level where he has a great sense of humour, he can joke around with them. He cares a lot for his players.”
In many respects, Doherty is the prototype Mourinho signing – 6ft 1in tall, aggressive runner, entering his prime years. It has gone slightly under the radar but Mourinho is assembling a lineup with virtually all the first-choice selections 6ft or above. One of the exceptions is the 5ft 9in left-back Sergio Reguilón, who is newly arrived from Real Madrid. Doherty came up against him in last season’s Europa League quarter-final when he was at Wolves and Reguilón on loan at Sevilla.
“We were directly against each other and I know what type of player he is – very attack-minded, who attacks you in behind, which is not a nice thing for a full-back to have to defend against,” says Doherty. “I like to run in behind, too – in the last three years [under Nuno] especially, that’s been my game, a constant runner. Hopefully myself and Sergio might be able to bomb forward up the flanks for the rest of the season.”
Doherty’s drive, his determination to seize every opportunity, stems from the memory of multiple rejections by English clubs after trials during his teens and how he worked from the age of 16 to 18 with his father, Tom, in his carpet and upholstery cleaning company. The hours were long; the graft extremely physical.
“You’d be up at 6 or 7am and back at 5 or 6pm and then back up early, working on a commercial job, maybe – at a big bank,” says Doherty. “All the offices are empty at the weekends so you’re cleaning all the floors … you get there at 6am and wouldn’t leave until 6pm. Your weekend was gone, put it that way.
“It gave me a sense of what real work was like and the kind of work that I didn’t want to do in terms of how hard it was, how tough it was going around in the van. Those two years matured me a lot and meant that when I did get over to England [with Wolves], there was no way I was going to let anything get in the way or stop me from giving it 100%.”
Doherty glances down at the seemingly pristine carpets at Spurs’s training base. “I’m looking at them thinking: ‘There’s a stain there, a stain there, I could get that out.’”
More seriously, Doherty wants to win his battle with Everton’s Séamus Coleman at right-back in the Republic of Ireland lineup, adapt to Mourinho’s back-four system, having played as a wing-back under Nuno, and have Gareth Bale, Spurs’ marquee signing, in front of him on the right wing.
Tribal allegiances being what they are in football, Doherty may not have heard the last of his Arsenal previous. But this is a player who has his heart and soul on the job in hand. “I’ve got Spurs gear on – that’s all I care about,” he says.
“I am a professional and when I go out there with the badge on, that’s all I’m thinking about. Everything else is in the past. Tottenham is what it is for me now.”