Jan Vertonghen has shown in the opening games of the season that he is undoubtedly a player fit to replace Ledley King in the Tottenham team. His performances in those first six matches in the Premier League and the Europa League have been outstanding and he has grown in stature during his first month at White Hart Lane. It was a devastating blow for Spurs supporters to think of their Tottenham team without Ledley King. The announcement of his retirement due to his chronic injury problems had not been unexpected – the more amazing factor was that King and the Tottenham medical staff had managed to delay it for so long. Yet in spite of the major problems with his knees, only a year ago King was at the heart of Tottenham’s long unbeaten run which set up their season. It was only in the spring that it became apparent that he was no longer able to meet his outstanding level of performance. It was a sad end to a great career for a loyal Tottenham player and left Spurs fans with two questions. How much would King and Tottenham have achieved if he had been fully fit throughout his career and, of greater urgency, who would fill the gap left in the team where everyone had looked up to and respected Ledley King, their captain, and ‘King of Tottenham’.
Tottenham have faced similar problems in the past and taken years to find a suitable replacement but this time they look to have found an immediate solution. Jan Vertonghen who was signed from Ajax with vast experience in Holland with Ajax and also in European competition. He is an established member of the Belgium international team and he has experience of winning. The Ajax team in which he played won the Dutch League and when he took over as captain last year, he led them to retain the title as well as winning individual honours at national and club level. He is a winner and can cope with the pressures associated with the responsibilities of a captain at a major club where expectations are high. Such credentials seemed perfect for a career at White Hart Lane and there was the added bonus that he was adamant that he wanted to come to Tottenham. Speaking after Tottenham had missed out on Champions League football due to Chelsea’ win in Munich, Vertonghen said,
“‘I am aware of Arsenal’s interest, but that is not an option I am thinking about. I will wait for Tottenham and Ajax to sort things out, and what happened in Munich makes no difference. It might affect Tottenham’s budget, but it doesn’t change my mind about joining them.”
Jan Vertonghen made his Tottenham debut at home to West Bromwich Albion. For an hour he strolled through the game – untroubled defensively, comfortable on the ball and always willing to show his footballing capabilities as he moved forward into midfield. He could have had a debut goal in the first half, having linked well with Gareth Bale on the left but shot over when in a good position. The final thirty minutes introduced Vertonghen to the rigours of the Premier League when West Bromwich brought on, Lukaku, Vertonghen’s Belgian compatriot. Lukaku’s powerful running and strength unsettled the otherwise composed Vertonghen and he had a difficult end to the match. Tottenham’s defensive display suffered and they conceded a late equaliser to drop two home points. A week later, Spurs also dropped two pints to a late equaliser but Vertonghem had learned his lesson and stood up to the physical presence of the Norwich strikers and was not found wanting.
Tottenham claimed their first win at Reading, drew with a competitive Lazio team at White Hart Lane in the Europa League and gained the first home win against Queen’s Park Rangers. In all three matches Vertonghen was outstanding but particularly in the London derby against QPR. Against Lazio he had supported Steven Caulker who was making his European debut and they formed a very effective partnership. Starting in central defence with William Gallas against QPR, he had been comfortable in all that was required although the team performance was disappointing. At half-time, he was switched to left back, a position he regularly plays for his country, and displayed his versatility to play a major part in turning the game around for Spurs.
It was like watching Gareth Bale
Although a defender, Vertonghen has a natural instinct to attack and from left back he was able to fully utilise it. In the first half, Gareth Bale had been unable to get forward from that position but after the interval Vertonghen bombed forward delivering dangerous crosses – it was like watching Bale at his very best. Vertonghen was the inspiration for the winning goal scored by Jermain Defoe. He collected the ball inside the Spurs half as they defended from a Rangers free-kick. He powered forward towards the heart of the Rangers defence with Bale to his left and Defoe on his right. At the perfect moment as he approached the QPR area with defenders in retreat, he passed to Bale whose shot was deflected by the goalkeeper on to the bar but fell for Defoe to score. Vertonghen will not appear on the records with an ‘assist’ for that goal but he was the creator with his surging run and precisely timed pass. It was a ‘Man of the Match’ performance.
It was like watching Ledley King
Not satisfied with that contribution, defensive duties called and as Rangers caused confusion in the centre of the Spurs defence, just as Hoilett prepared to shoot, Vertonghen stepped in from the left to clear the danger, just as Ledley King did so often in a Tottenham and England shirt. It was like watching King at his best.
It must surely be only a matter of time before Andre Villas-Boas names Jan Vertonghen as Tottenham captain. Even, in such a short space of time he has displayed the qualities and abilty to take on that role. He knows what it’s like to be captain and he takes responsibility willingly on the pitch, frequently wanting the ball when others may be reluctant to step forward when the pressure’s on. Having compared Vertonghen to Bale and King may be unfair but he can also be likened to Richard Gough who spent sixteen months at White Hart Lane in 1986-87. He was a footballing central defender who was composed and confident on the ball, calm in all that he did and who took on the captain’s role although new to the club. The one comparision with Gough that I hope is not repeated is the brevity of his sojourn at White Hart Lane.
Vertonghen has made an excellent start to his Tottenham career. He has been a great signing and with more displays like those we have already seen, he will grow in the hearts of all Tottenham supporters.