Jan Vertonghen was left out of the first two matches, casting doubt over the his future at Tottenham while exposing an oft cantankerous relationship with Mauricio Pochettino.
Most pundits and supporters, prior to the 2019-20 campaign, would have guaranteed Vertonghen’s inclusion in Pochettino’s starting 11. The Belgian was an integral member of Tottenham’s improbable, breathtaking run to last season’s Champions League Final.
Vertonghen’s warrior-like performance against Ajax in the first leg of the semifinal, when the stalwart suffered a frightening head injury in the heat of battle, epitomizing his dedication and devotion to the badge. Akin to most elite centre backs, Vertonghen leaves everything on the pitch, battling, bleeding and sacrificing for club and teammates.
Those rare intangibles have endeared the 32-year-old to Spurs supporters, making recent developments all the more difficult to come to terms with. Left out of the squad completely in the opener against Villa and resigned to the bench at the Etihad, Vertonghen is clearly the odd man out at Spurs.
The gaffer, who dropped Vertonghen for lacklustre fitness levels, is pulling no favours, possibly even making an example of the veteran. Like Pep Guardiola, Pochettino now has the depth to make bolder, more controversial decisions with senior squad members.
As expected, the decision didn’t sit well with Vertonghen, with the Metro referring to the Belgian’s discontent. As an influential member of the team, a usual shoo-in for inclusion in the starting 11, one can see why Vertonghen is so exasperated.
Where does it leave Super Jan?
A rift between player and manager is a natural byproduct when passion and emotion runs so high. How these recent developments evolve from here is up to Vertonghen. Albeit a tough pill to swallow, Vertonghen must react positively and earn back his rightful spot in the first 11.
An adverse reaction will only heighten tension and deepen the rift. Pochettino is an honest, salt of the earth manager, who places a high imperative on work ethic. If Vertonghen shows the fight he has throughout the years for Spurs, his return to the starting 11 is inevitable.
However, the seasoned, stout centre back can ill-afford to put his back up and let pride get in his way. At 32 years old, the sands of time aren’t on Vertonghen’s side. Out of contract in June 2020, performing well this season is crucial in determining whether the Belgian has a future at Spurs.
Tottenham hope for a long fruitful campaign on many fronts. And for Pochettino’s men to thrive, both domestically and in Europe, they’ll need Vertonghen’s composure, wily experience and learned ability to inspire.
While Davinson Sánchez is standing in admirably for Vertonghen, separating Toby Alderweireld and his compatriot, the brash Belgians, at the heart of defence will only hurt Spurs in the long run.