Aaron Lennon’s Still a Tottenham Player

Jul 26, 2014; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Aaron Lennon (7) dribbles around Chicago Fire goalkeeper Kyle Reynish (28) to score the Hotspur
Jul 26, 2014; Bridgeview, IL, USA; Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Aaron Lennon (7) dribbles around Chicago Fire goalkeeper Kyle Reynish (28) to score the Hotspur /

It doesn’t sound correct, but it is: somewhere deep in the account ledgers of the club’s back offices lies proof that Aaron Lennon is still under the employ of Tottenham Hotspur.

No, he’s not featured in any of the three games so far this season, nor did he feature in the preseason friendlies. His name and number – 7 – were absent from the roster Tottenham were required to submit to the Premier League before the season began. Along with fellow exile Emmanuel Adebayor, Lennon’s been training with the U21 side since returning from the offseason break.

RELATED: Tottenham’s Adebayor Problem

How we got to here, how a player who has been with the club since 2005 would suddenly find himself on the far outskirts of the first team, isn’t all that hard to fathom. If anything, it’s more difficult to understand how it didn’t happen sooner.

Over 26,512 minutes played for Tottenham in all competitions Lennon’s scored 30 goals and assisted 77 others per Transfermarkt. That means he has had a hand in 0.36 goals per 90 minutes. Nacer Chadli, by contrast, has contributed 0.54 goals or assists per 90 minutes over his two years with Tottenham. And that’s Nacer Chadli.

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As ever, the numbers don’t tell Aaron Lennon’s whole story. His workrate is unquestionable, his defensive contribution admirable. With Kyle Walker at his back he made Tottenham’s right flank one of the most intimidating in the Premier League, and certainly the quickest. The bulk of his starts came under Harry Redknapp’s counterattack-heavy system, where Luka Modrić’s longballs over the opposition midfield were usually found by either Lennon or Gareth Bale. He was a good, if not great, fit for that team.

The problem – and there was a problem – was that Lennon lacked ideas. His pace, his well-timed runs, his willingness to track back all mean significantly less if he can’t discern the relative value of a pass or a shot. Too frequently he’d make a deft run into the box, have a perfect angle on goal, and flub a cutback pass to a teammate who was never going to reach the ball.

It seemed as if those problems would only worsen with Redknapp’s departure in 2012. André Villas-Boas’ arrival at Tottenham meant that Lennon suddenly found himself in a system not built for him. His main virtue – pace – was best exploited on the break, when the ball could be launched forward into plenty of space for the England international to build up speed. Villas-Boas’ preferred high-line, possession-based approach didn’t leave much of that room ahead of the offense in which Lennon used to thrive in.

Despite that, Lennon did a job in Villas-Boas’ opening term. He scored four goals and set up eight more over 34 appearances in a season that saw Tottenham reach it’s highest point total ever the the Premier League. Given the minutes played his goal contribution was only a modest improvement over his career record, but it at least suggested that he was willing and able to jive to Villas-Boas. Admittedly, Lennon’s efforts were helped by the fact that opposing defenses were much more concerned about Bale’s influence over proceedings by that point to worry much about anything else on the pitch. Still, it’s a testament to Lennon’s adaptability that he found a way to survive in such different environs.

Were Lennon able to sustain that level of play, it might have made it easier to justify him at least a spot on Mauricio Pochettino’s bench this season. Since Bale’s departure in the summer of 2013 however, Lennon has played 51 times in all competitions for Tottenham and scored exactly once. Injury along with Érik Lamela’s arrival and Andros Townsend’s ascent from the loanee ranks cut into his playing time. It appears as if he might have suffered under the pressure of competition. For lack of options he went on loan to Everton for the latter half of last season, scored twice and set up one more over 14 appearances, but still didn’t do well enough to earn a place on Tottenham’s roster so far this season.

If it were simply that Lennon were simply a mediocre player, this might be an easier story to tell. That story certainly would not have included a ten year stint at one club. It would not have included 21 appearances for the England national team. It would not have included this:

That goal came against Arsenal at White Hart Lane, the second goal of a 2-1 win for Tottenham. Gareth Bale set up the ball wonderfully, but it’s Lennon who ends up shining. He accelerates past Nacho Monreal so quickly that the fullback barely starts jogging before Lennon has rounded Wojciech Szczęsny and had the shot away.

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  • Perhaps the best analogue for Lennon in recent years has been Gervinho. The Ivorian winger came to Arsenal in 2011 on the back of a sterling performance in Lille’s Ligue 1 championship season. He was quick, agile, great with the ball at his feet. All traits that should have made him ideal for the Premier League. And yet he wasn’t. Not nearly as prolific as Arsenal had hoped – though still more than Lennon at 0.53 goals/assists per 90 minutes – he was summarily shipped off to Roma after two seasons with the north London club.

    That Lennon hasn’t shared the same fate likely comes down to one factor: his Englishness. His ability to take up a homegrown slot on the roster of any club increases his value in the Premier League significantly. Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy no doubt recognizes this and has thus demanded a price for Lennon far in excess of his actual footballing worth. Everton’s clear desire to sign Lennon on a permanent deal has been thwarted by Tottenham’s unreasonable demands, either in the form of cash or in the form of midfielder James McCarthy.

    For all the criticism above, there’s still a lot going for Lennon. He’s only 28-years-old and only two years removed from a decent season. He might not quite be good enough for this Tottenham side, but he’s certainly good enough to start for a team in the middle or lower half of the Premier League table. Were he an adventurous sort of Englishman he’d likely thrive in Serie A much as Gervinho has since his move to Roma. Instead, he finds himself to be the longest serving player currently on Tottenham’s payroll, stuck on the training pitch with the youngsters and far too far away from football.

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