by Jack Howes
There were a number of shocking, incredible events than stunned Great Britain in the summer of 2012. A Brit winning the Tour de France for the first time in history. Another Brit doing the 5000m and 10000m double at the Olympics. Yet another Brit winning a Tennis grand slam for the first time since saying you were ‘gay’ was an indicator of your happiness and not of homosexuality. London Transport functioning with the reliability of an honest milkman delivering the daily pint. England going out of a major tournament in the quarter-finals on penalties (joke). And most shockingly of all, Tottenham Hotspur signing a player NOT on transfer deadline day.
Of course, Spurs didn’t sign all their players before transfer deadline day. Where would we be without Jim White barking at the screen in a Red Bull/amphetamine/just killed a hitchhiker and buried him in the boot Billy Batts style (possibly) powered craze at the news coming from Spurs Lodge? Spurs made an eerily Redknapp-esque last ditch swoop for Clint Dempsey when his mooted move to Liverpool didn’t pan out, along with the will-they won’t-they transfer of Jose Moutinho which never actually happened.
But they made two signings, in July before the pre-season started, a sight as rare at White Hart Lane as a ‘Christian Gross is a Spurs legend’ banner. Gylfi Sigurdsson was signed from Hoffenheim after impressing at Swansea on loan last season to add creativity and goals from midfield. So far he has shown flashes of promise but hasn’t performed on the big stage yet and now looks set to be behind Dempsey in the pecking order for the first team. Their other signing though, Jan Vertonghen has made a superb start at Spurs.
With the insides of Ledley King’s knee resembling Dresden in 1945 after the British bombers had had their way and condemning King Ledley to a tragically early retirement, a centre back was badly needed. Vertonghen, coming from the wonderful footballing academy that is Ajax was the man chosen to help replace him, both as a defender and as an on-pitch leader.
His biggest asset is his skill and comfort on the ball. As expected from an ex-Ajax player he is superb technically. He’s able to pass the ball beautifully, comfortable on both left and right foot, blessed with excellent touch and ball control and going forward is as good a defender as any in the Premier League. He’s better than most Premiership midfielders running forward with the ball and also blessed with a thunderous shot on his left.
Centre backs who can pass the ball have, like communists, French people and Piers Morgan generally been viewed with suspicion in Britain. Defenders are meant to head the ball, hoof it, punt it down the field with all the skill and grace of a Darius Vassell penalty. Not caress the ball lovingly and play with skill, grace and superb technique.
Those at the back who can pass it to a teammate, keep calm under pressure and not have to resort to flying headers and desperate tackles have been sneered at if their names weren’t Bobby Moore or Rio Ferdinand. And even those two probably endured umpteen coaches at youth level blithely screaming at his players to ‘hoof it!’ and ‘get it in the mixer!’ rather than instilling the sort of footballing virtues that will do England and English players the world of good in future years.
But centre backs who can pass the ball have become more prominent in recent years. Ferdinand, King, David Luiz, Thomas Vermaelen (who like Vertonghen is Belgian, played at Ajax and has a name starting with ‘V’ and ending in ‘en’) and others are excellent footballers who help teams cultivate the short ‘n’ slick passing style that’s becoming ever more prominent in the Premier League.
While Vertonghen is very impressive on the ball, exemplified by his excellent goal against Man United when he rampaged down the left, ran into United’s area and with the help of a deflection slotted home, he’s a very good defender. He keeps his head up, has an air of calmness about him, and unlike his compatriot Vermaelen who has a habit of being caught too high up the pitch and letting strikers run in behind, Vertonghen’s positioning and anticipation is excellent.
If he has a weakness in his game, it is that he is prone to a shirt pull. Against United he blatantly pulled Nani’s shirt in the penalty area and was fortunate not to concede a penalty. This was something he was also guilty of at Ajax and which he needs to cut out of his game before referees notice this and start awarding more free kicks and penalties against him.
On the whole though Vertonghen has made a flying start at Spurs and looks an absolute bargain at only around £9m. His tackle on Junior Hoilett of QPR with Spurs hanging on to a 2-1 lead was probably the finest tackle seen at White Hart Lane since this magnificent challenge by King Ledley. Off the field too his behaviour has been exemplary, he’s said all the right things and his leadership qualities were renowned at Ajax, where he was immensely popular by all accounts with fans, teammates and coaches.
While Vertonghen is not a direct replacement for King in the way Steven Caulker, a graduate of the Spurs academy who’s a fine player on the ball and has been touted as a future England captain is, he’s certainly a fine defender who will add quality to Tottenham’s back line. Whether’s he’s partnering Caulker, William Gallas or Younes Kaboul when he returns from injury, he looks set to fill Spurs left centre back position for a long time to come.
Spurs don’t need Superman. They have Super Jan.