All Tottenham Hotspur fans know the club’s primary objective is the UEFA Champions League. As things are, it is the most reasonable target and holds the key for future success. However, a brief association with the competition is not enough to maximise the profits or ensure football of the highest quality. With this in mind, it is essential that Spurs prepare for a prolonged period of European football and, to do so, they must ensure the team has a solid backbone. This is where Jan Vertonghen and Vlad Chiriches come in.
For decades the greatest of football sides have relied on great defensive partnerships. In the 1990’s, AC Milan’s Paolo Maldini and Franco Baresi brought the club back-to-back silverware and became universal symbols of the club’s success. In more modern times, Barcelona’s Gerard Pique and Carles Puyol have created an excellent bond that’s seen them conquer Europe and even the World together. While many Spurs fans may doubt the quality of their own defense when compared to these players, none of them started playing football with their names already etched on trophies.
The very best example for Spurs right now is Borussia Dortmund. The Germans were a former glory: a team that had once taken to the European stage and won. However, in 2009, Dortmund began playing with the centre-back partnership of Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels. Since then, the club have won the Bundesliga and come within a whisker of winning the Champions League were it not for their rivals Bayern Munich. Dortmund have become something of a blueprint for success: build the team on a strong defense and slowly add quality in the attacking third. Spurs have been adhering to this philosophy but it remains to be seen the extent to which their defense will be modelled on Dortmund’s, or whether there is even potential for a future partnership.
As far as defenders go, both Vertonghen and Chiriches are among the more talented. Both are mature enough to know their own limits and should by now have worked any defensive kinks out of their game. Vertonghen is a product of the Ajax academy and is therefore used to winning. He has been known to bomb forward and join in the attack, which should be encouraged so long as the team provide adequate cover. He’s shown early signs of being a real leader, having succeeded Martin Stekelenburg as captain at Ajax, and he’s also proven to be good enough in the Premier League. Any football fan could tell you that Jan deserves European football.
Less is known about Chiriches. He’s the younger of the two and is also two inches shorter but by no means less adventurous. Confident in possession and happy to lend a hand in attack, the Romanian has been one of Spurs’ best signings of the season and continues to improve week in, week out. He’s been on the winning side in eight of his eleven Premier League matches and like his Belgium counterpart has already scored his first goal for the club. His adjustment to English football from the Romanian league has been staggering and he still has a long career ahead of him.
The only thing that presents a threat to both Spurs, and for that matter Dortmund, is whether the centre-back partnership is broken. Mats Hummels has long been on the radar of football’s elite and while the Germans still have a chance of repeating their European adventure, they stand much less of a chance with a makeshift back line. Injuries are obviously a problem and not one that can be predicted, but in times of crisis the team must rely on their back-ups, as is the case with all great teams.
Tottenham will need to get to a point where their defensive duo becomes untouchable. It’s been a problem for Spurs to hold onto their best players, let alone those guarding the goal, so it will be a tall order. Vertonghen showed a willingness to reject other interested buyers to join Spurs so it could mean he’s onboard for the foreseeable future, but would his answer be the same if Real Madrid or Barcelona came knocking? The longevity of the club’s fortunes rest on keeping their defense together for a prolonged period of time.
If all comes to fruition, then we may find ourselves looking back on what was a glorious period in Tottenham’s history. In the world of football, strikers and attackers can be easily replaced, but a genuinely impregnable defensive partnership can be the rarest commodity in the game.
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