Tag Archives: Jan Vertonghen

Super Jan takes it to the next level

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When Spurs threatened to come apart at the seams in the dismal 2013/14 campaign, few players’ reputations suffered as much among fans as Jan Vertonghen’s.

Hugo Lloris was a picture of quiet misery, emerging every now and then to pick the ball out of the back of the net before disappearing back behind his sad puppy eyes to daydreams of life in Paris, Madrid, or wherever he could be sure Tim Sherwood wouldn’t be managing next.

But stuck in central defence in a team with no shape or cohesion, and sometimes shunted out to left back due to the shortcomings in the squad that had been assembled out of the wreckage of the Gareth Bale transfer, Vertonghen was more exposed.

Vertonghen’s form, excellent in his first campaign after joining from Ajax, declined. In the 4-0 rout at Stamford Bridge — the fifth time Spurs had conceded three or more goals in a game that season — an atrocious error from Vertonghen was the spark that lit the collapse.

Vertonghen is no stoic, and as the season unravelled, the Belgian was unable to contain his unhappiness: the legend of “Grumpy Jan” was born.

There is a prickliness to the Belgian, and an impression grew that he was someone who saw himself as a man apart. Vertonghen has the misfortune of being an intelligent man in an environment where intelligence — and it truly is a fucking mystery why English football is so shit — is treated with suspicion.

Despite a tradition of ball-playing centrebacks, and more patience with the odd defensive slip than most fanbases, a view developed among the Spurs faithful that Jan may not quite be the fighter that Spurs needed at the back. Too quick to moan, too many aerial challenges lost, too easily brushed aside; beautiful with the ball, but not quite to be trusted. He was a quality player stooping to the level of those around him, rather than a leader who would singlehandledly pick the others up.

Utter bollocks, of course.

It turns out, the problem with Vertonghen wasn’t so much him as it was all the other defenders he was forced to play with, as well as the midfielders in front of him, and the squad-wide absence of discipline, unity and tactics.

In hindsight, it’s hardly surprising that Vertonghen’s form should improve when he went from playing alongside Younes Kaboul and Federico Fazio, and behind Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb, to playing alongside Toby Alderweireld in a defence protected by Eric Dier and then Victor Wanyama.

Unfortunately for Jan, his connection with the past robbed him of much of the credit he was due in Tottenham’s excellent 2015/16 campaign. There wasn’t a mention of Vertonghen in any season reviews, despite him being a core part of the league’s joint-stingiest (and comfortably most improved) defence.

For Spurs fans, Vertonghen’s performances weren’t a surprise, rather a reaffirmation of a longstanding belief — that Vertonghen, when in form, is a superb footballer and one of the best defenders in the Premier League. This was the level expected of Vertonghen when he joined from Ajax, which he initially delivered before being caught up in the ebbs and flows to come.

The surprise with Vertonghen came this season. Already looking like a defender in his prime, at the age of 29 and with a new contract in hand, Vertonghen has found another level to go up.

This improvement coincided with Mauricio Pochettino’s switch to three at a back — and in Vertonghen there is one of the purest fits of player to system you will ever see. Vertonghen fits the left-sided centreback role like leather trousers on a WAG — it’s like he was born into it. The role accentuates all of his skills — his ability to carry and play the ball, his ability to read the play — while minimising his aerial and physical short-comings. Already one of the best defenders in the Premier League, this season Jan has stepped up to being one of the best in Europe — try to name a better left-sided defender than Vertonghen, right now. It’s very hard to think of any.

From Grumpy Jan, we now have Happy Jan — a player in the perfect tactical situation, with best mate Mousa Dembele on hand for marathon games of Monopoly between matches.

Does this mean any credit is coming Vertonghen’s way? Unlikely. Praise for Tottenham’s sustained defensive excellence must be divided up among the whole unit — defenders, midfielders and manager — and understandably much of the credit will go to the jaw-droppingly good Alderweireld. When the clickbaitists write their Top Tens and the ex-pros have their Teams of the Week ghost-written, Vertonghen’s name won’t be seen. When the transfer rumours are made up to fill click quotas when international games are on, it’ll be Toby, or Kyle, or Hugo who are linked with “big-money moves” elsewhere.

But at this point, that’s just the way it is for Jan.

Much more important than what the pundits and the elite Twitterati think, Spurs fans understand the step that Vertonghen has taken this season. The reception for Jan is one of the warmest in the stadium before matches, and everyone watching knows how utterly integral he is. The crowd lifts when he is on the ball, and the team clicks.

And that’s all I wanted to say: Jan, we noticed how good you’ve been. And we love it. If you think the noise for Vincent Janssen’s open-play goal was loud, just you wait til you score. The roof will come off — so best do it this season otherwise it’ll be really bloody expensive when we’re at Wembley or New White Hart Lane.

Thanks for reading. Please follow me on Twitter for more Spurs chat.

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No Exit: A dramatic re-imagining of Tottenham’s summer transfer window

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No Exit

A one-act play.

Starring Hugo Lloris and Daniel Levy.

HUGO (enters, accompanied by the chairman, DANIEL, and glances around him): So here we are?

DANIEL: Yes, Mr. Lloris.

HUGO: And this is what it looks like?

DANIEL: Yes.

[HUGO observes a large room filled with high-tech fitness equipment emblazoned with logos of a cockerel on a football. It appears to be part of a newly built training facility off the M25 in North London, but it is unclear how HUGO knows that]

HUGO: Really?. ..Yes, yes, I dare say. ..Still I certainly didn’t expect — this! You know what they tell us up there, in the media briefing room?

DANIEL: What about?

HUGO: About.. .this- er… residence.

DANIEL: Really, sir, how could you believe such cock-and-bull stories? Told by people who’d never set foot here. For, of course, if they had—

HUGO: Quite so. But I say, where are the instruments of torture?

DANIEL: The what?

HUGO: The racks and red-hot pincers and all the other paraphernalia?

DANIEL: Ah, you must have your little joke, Mr. Lloris.

[HUGO continues to examine the room. It is a curious room. Just gym equipment with the logos, and nothing else. Barren, especially as he must spend the entire summer transfer window here. No comforts at all.]

HUGO: So that’s that; no toothbrush. And no trophies, either. One never qualifies for the Champions League, I take it?

DANIEL: That’s so.

HUGO: Just as I expected. Why should one try to qualify? On Tuesday and Wednesday evenings, a sort of drowsiness steals on you, tickles behind the ears, and you feel your eyes closing. Maybe Thursdays in the Europa League are actually better. Miles and miles away. Rub your eyes, get up, and it starts all over again.

DANIEL: Romantic, that’s what you are. You shouldn’t have hinted in The Guardian that you wanted to move to a bigger club. You forced me to lock you in this room all summer and break your wrist.

HUGO: Will you keep quiet, please! …I won’t make a scene, I shan’t be sorry for myself, I’ll face the situation, face it fairly and squarely. I won’t have it springing at me from behind, before I’ve time to size it up, liked a Kyle Walker back pass. And you call that being “romantic!”

[Hugo paces the room, searching for an exit, a light switch or a window. But there is none.]

HUGO: I used to have dreams. Happy little dreams. There was a green field. Just an ordinary field, with a 76,000 capacity stadium around it and a statue of an angry Scotsman outside. Old Trafford I called it. I dreamed that I played there. By the way, is it daytime now?

DANIEL: Can’t you see? The floodlights are on.

HUGO: Ah, yes, I’ve got it. It’s your daytime. And outside?

DANIEL: Outside?

HUGO: Damn it, you know what I mean. Beyond that wall.

DANIEL: There’s a passage.

HUGO: And at the end of the passage?

DANIEL: There’s more rooms, more passages, and stairs.

HUGO: And what lies beyond them?

DANIEL: Real Madrid. Manchester United. PSG. But not for you, Mr. Lloris. For you, this is all.

[HUGO is by himself. He goes to a piece of equipment with the cockerel logo and strokes it reflectively. He sits down; then gets up, locates a bell-push, and presses the button. It remains silent. He tries two or three times, without success. Then he tries to open the door, also without success. He calls DANIEL several times, but gets no result. He beats the door with his fists, still calling. Suddenly he grows calm and sits down again. At the same moment the door opens and HARRY enters, followed by the chairman, DANIEL.]

DANIEL: Did you call, Mr. Lloris?

HUGO: (About to answer “yes”, but sees HARRY and says) No.

DANIEL: This is your room for the summer, Mr. Kane. If there’s any information you require—? Most of our players have quite a lot to ask me. But I won’t insist. Anyhow, this gentleman can tell you anything you want to know as well as I could. We’ve had a little chat, him and me.
(Exits.)

HARRY: Where’s Ryan? Didn’t you hear? I asked you about Ryan. Where is he?

HUGO: I haven’t an idea.

HARRY: Ah, that’s the way it works, is it? Torture by separation. Well, as far as I’m concerned, you won’t get anywhere. Ryan constantly gave away the ball and failed to track runners from deep, and I shan’t miss him in the least.

HUGO: I beg your pardon. Who do you suppose I am?

HARRY: You? Why, the captain, of course.

HUGO: Well, that’s a good one! Too comic for words. I the captain! So you came in, had a look at me, and thought I was— er— one of the staff. Of course, it’s that silly fellow’s fault; he should have introduced us. A captain indeed! I’m Hugo Lloris, goalkeeper and man of culture by profession. And we’re both in the same boat, so to speak…

[An awkward pause]

HUGO: Right. Well, now that we’ve broken the ice, do you really think I look like a captain? And, by the way, how does one recognize captains when one sees them? Evidently you’ve ideas on the subject.

HARRY: They look frightened of being sold to Sunderland or Aston Villa.

HUGO: Frightened of being sold? But how ridiculous! Of whom should they be frightened?

HARRY: Laugh away, but I know what I’m talking about. I came up through the youth academy and have been at the club for 10 years. Sunderland or Aston Villa. Or Hull.

HUGO: Sunderland? Aston Villa? Hull? How beastly of them! They’ve removed everything in the least resembling a cosmopolitan European capital where I would like to go. Anyhow, I can assure you I’m not frightened. Not that I take my position lightly; I realize its gravity only too well. But I’m not afraid.

HARRY: That’s your affair. Must you be here all the time, or do you head outside for a kick about, now and then?

HUGO: The door’s locked. They don’t want any opposition scouts or analysts seeing us, especially with the new social media team all over the place.

HARRY: Oh!.. That’s too bad.

HUGO: I can quite understand that it bores you having me here. And I too— well, quite frankly, I’d rather be alone, if I can’t get a move to Manchester United or PSG. But I’m sure we’ll manage to pull along together somehow. I’m no talker, I don’t even have a Twitter or Facebook page.

HARRY: Your mouth!

HUGO: I beg your pardon.

HARRY: Can’t you keep your mouth still? You keep twisting it about all the time. It’s grotesque.

HUGO: So sorry. I wasn’t aware of it. It’s not grotesque, it’s just normal for a mouth to move up and down, it is you who has a strange mouth as you seem unable to close it.

HARRY: That’s just what I reproach you with. There you are! You talk about politeness, and you don’t even try to control your face. Remember you’re not alone; you’ve no right to inflict the sight of your fear on me.

HUGO: How about you? Aren’t you afraid you won’t get your move to a Champions League club?

HARRY: What would be the use? There was some point in being afraid before, but I figure if I bang in another 30 goals this season it’s the Bernabeu here I come.

HUGO: We haven’t yet begun to suffer.

HARRY: Well? What’s going to happen?

HUGO: I don’t know. I’m waiting until the transfer window closes. It’s 6pm this season. I have no idea how Jim White is going to handle that.

(Enter JAN with the chairman, DANIEL. He looks at HUGO whose face is hidden by his hands.)

JAN: No. Don’t look up. I know what you’re hiding with your hands. I know you have no face left. What! But I don’t know you!

HUGO: I’m not the captain, sir.

JAN: I never thought you were. Kaboul and Adebayor were chosen instead or me, not that I am bitter about it. Is anyone else coming?

DANIEL: No, sir. No one else is coming. I thought about sending in CHRISTIAN but this play only has four characters and surprisingly we’ve not had any serious interest in him this summer.

JAN: Oh! Then we’re to stay by ourselves, the three of us, this goalkeeper, this promising striker and myself, a world-class centre back. (They all laugh.)

HUGO: There’s really nothing to laugh about. We’re here all bloody summer, and that chairman has just broken my wrist so watch out for your ankles.

[The chairman, DANIEL, exits, and the doors shut on a move out of the room for all three of them, permanently]

JAN: Oh, well, the great thing is to keep as cheerful as we can, don’t you agree? Of course, you, too, were—

HARRY: Yes. Last month. Manchester United leaked to the papers that I was their number one target and were prepared to pay £40 million, and since then I’ve consistently appeared on websites and newspaper columns as a possible “mystery” striker signing. Ironically, I’d actually rather stay for another year. But nobody seems to believe footballers when they say that, for some reason. What about you?

JAN: I’m— quite recent. Or not. You see my contract may be running out, despite the club claiming that there is a two-year extension clause. I was hoping to move to Barcelona, but they signed Thomas Vermaelen and then got banned from buying any more players.

HARRY: Did you suffer much?

JAN: No. I was only half conscious most of last season, but so was Federico Fazio and we shipped a ton of goals.

[JAN looks at HUGO]

JAN: And you, Mr. Lloris?

HUGO: My agent leaked to The Guardian in April that I would like to move to a Champions League club, particularly as David de Gea looked as if he was leaving Manchester United. I am the captain of France and one of the best goalkeepers in the world. The French press have never forgiven Spurs for benching me when I joined to play Brad Friedel instead, and have consistently stirred up transfer rumours. I knew Spurs would drive a hard bargain, but this….this state of things, I didn’t expect.

[The summer months pass. Just HUGO, HARRY and JAN, locked in the large room filled with high-tech fitness equipment emblazoned with logos of a cockerel on a football. May turns into June. June turns into July. July turns into August. HUGO and JAN become close. HARRY’s youthful enthusiasm grates. Meanwhile DANIEL, the chairman, is nowhere to be seen.)

HUGO: I’m looking at this thing, the newspaper, and I understand that I’m a Spurs player forever. I tell you everything’s been thought out beforehand. They knew when I signed that new deal, I’d be too expensive and there was a glut of good goalkeepers on the market. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. Hell is the summer transfer window as a Spurs star wanting Champions League football.

JAN: Hugo! Please-

HUGO: No, let me be. Harry is the problem. We both cannot move to Manchester United when they are after him, as they don’t have enough money while the Glazers still control the club.

JAN: Right! In that case, I’ll stop him moving. (JAN picks up a replica Turfie and smashes HARRY with it several times.)

HARRY: But, you crazy creature, what do you think you’re doing? You know quite well I’m staying at Spurs.

JAN: Staying?

HARRY: Staying! Staying! Staying! Manchester United, Real Madrid, PSG- useless. Do you understand? Once and for all. So here we are, forever.

JAN: At Spurs. Forever. My God, how funny! Can I have a new double-my-money contract then? Forever.

HUGO: For ever, and ever, and ever.

(A long silence.)

FIN

The original can be, erm, found here