A team with as historic an attacking style as Tottenham Hotspur will always be more renowned for the scoring of goals rather than the prevention of them. However, this is not to ignore the massive contribution keepers and defenders can make to the team ethic as a whole. In the case of a goalkeeper, a defence can be inspired and even more relaxed knowing that the only man behind them can be relied upon to perform should mistakes creep in. This creates a licence for the midfield to go and create, which in turn gives the strikers the chances they need to score goals. In the case for the defence (apologies for sounding like we’re in court), they can add to their skills of stopping goals by adding to their own team’s tally over the season, particularly at set pieces and, as is becoming common, free kicks or penalties which offer a shooting opportunity. Either way, these positions are just as vital for a club chasing to join the European elite in the Champions League.
In terms of the goalkeeper, Spurs are lucky enough to have the French number one Hugo Lloris. Lloris, having won titles in France with Olympique Lyon, arguably the most dominant side in France prior to the huge investment in PSG, is used to winning and had many potential suitors before choosing us in the summer of 2012. Unlike previous keepers we have signed in the past decade or so, Lloris is the younger side of 30 and offers greater longevity than the likes of Brad Friedel, Heurelho Gomes or Carlo Cudicini ever did when they were signed. He is also becoming renowned for sprinting off his line to clear the danger, something which the three other keepers mentioned above rarely did. Whilst possessing the reliability of Friedel and Cudicini when it comes to making world class saves, he also bears similarities to Gomes in that, although a good shot stopper, he has the potential to be almightily error prone. One notable example was fouling Wayne Rooney, who would not necessarily have scored from where he was, to concede the equalising penalty in the 2-2 draw with Manchester United. Yet Lloris, I feel, has had good reason to come tearing off of his line, especially under AVB, whose insistence on playing a high line despite not possessing centre backs fast enough to cover the gap led to us leaking goals to sides with quicker attackers, examples being Liverpool’s Luis Suarez and the incredible forward line of Manchester City. Prior to his arrival, I had not seen much of Lloris in his Lyon days, nor for his country, so couldn’t say if this was a regular characteristic or one he has learnt since arriving in England. The main idea I am trying to penetrate is this: Can we keep him without Champions League football on offer? I know we did last summer, but who wouldn’t hang around at a club who had missed out by a point and then spent over £100m on transfers? It was worth seeing what happened. Now he has, has he become infuriated with having to play as a sweeper keeper? Is he having thoughts of moving to a Champions League side with a quicker and/or more preferably organised defence? Would he rather be at a club where he knows who the long-term manager is? Personally, I think this could well be the case and should we remain as a Europa League side next year, he may well be considering his options elsewhere, particularly if he has a good World Cup.
Another man in our back line that I would be worried about losing is Jan Vertonghen. The Belgian signing from Ajax, who also arrived in the summer of 2012, has proved to be a snip at the £10m paid for his services. He has quickly established himself as a fan’s favourite, scoring vital goals, able to play in his lesser preferred role as full back as well as being one of the best ball playing centre halves in the league and, dare I say it, in our history. Similar to Lloris, he will have been gutted at missing out on the Champions League by a point last year, and, just as equally, will have wanted to see how the large number of new signings fitted in. However, he has made it clear that he does not want to play at left back and would prefer to keep the central role he was signed to occupy. My personal preference would be to have him as a central pairing with either Younes Kaboul or Vlad Chiriches, but with Vertonghen as the undisputed number one centre back. Does he look at the other centre backs and see a partner he feels comfortable with? He must see, like the fans, that the left back role is currently unfulfilled, with Danny Rose looking unconvincing and Benoit Assou-Ekotto on loan at QPR, thus leaving the potential for him to fill it more regularly? Not ideal for him, nor is an unhappy Vertonghen ideal for Spurs. Similar to Lloris, he would also have (and has had) a number of possible candidates for his signature. It is unlikely he will be pleased with seeing a managerial exit, little idea of who the long term manager is, or being on the end of several thrashings this season by top four rivals. He will also, like many, lack enthusiasm for another year in the Europa League and is another who would benefit from the new signings hitting top gear sooner rather than later. Let’s also remember that he will be in the Belgium squad for the World Cup, a side that is widely tipped as one to watch with the emergence of top class talent in every position. With many eyes on this squad, it seems unlikely that, with a decent tournament, clubs will not be making offers for him and many of his international team mates. Personally, I feel he is in the same boat as Lloris, waiting to see what happens during the rest of this season and then, depending on where Spurs are, the aftermath of the World Cup.
I hate to say it, but there is a high chance Spurs could lose both of these key players if there is no Champions League football on offer and the pair have decent World Cups. This could also further impact the team negatively. Christian Eriksen and Paulinho, to name two, have also been widely coveted in the past, particularly the former. If any of them see top class players leaving for pastures brighter, there is no reason why they would not join them. This is looking like one of the most important climaxes to a season for Spurs in my lifetime.
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