Opinion: Was Letting Jan Vertonghen Leave A Big Mistake?

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Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

For me, the defensive pairing of Belgium’s Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen was the best centre-back duo we have had at Spurs for many a year. 

Alderweireld signed in 2015 from Atletico Madrid, and up until this season has been a mainstay in the Spurs defence.

His Belgian counterpart, Jan Vertonghen, signed from Ajax back in 2012, and was a much loved member of the squad until he left on a free for a new challenge at Benfica last summer.

The pair have played together a total of 349 times for three different teams throughout their career, and are openly good friends off the pitch. Although both players are in their 30’s, they still arguably had plenty of minutes left in them for Spurs.

This season, we have seen Jose Mourinho chop and change between Alderweireld, Eric Dier, Davidson Sanchez, Japhet Tanganga and Joe Rodon throughout the Premier League campaign. 

It seemed as though he had found his preferred pairing at the beginning of the season, choosing Alderweireld and Dier for a good portion of the early campaign. However, the Special One never quite made his mind up.

A situation like this provides absolutely zero stability for a team, who are known for defensive mistakes. We have so far conceded 38 goals this campaign, keeping only ten clean sheets in the process. Last season we conceded a total of 47 goals.

If we look back to the 2018/2019 season, when Alderweireld and Vertonghen were often the go-to pairing, we conceded only 39 goals all season, also racking up 13 clean sheets. The season before that, we conceded just 36 goals, and racked up a massive 16 clean sheets; almost one every two games.

For me, there is a clear trend here. During the 2017/18 and 2018/19 seasons, we conceded fewer goals and kept more clean sheets. Is this merely a coincidence, or was it because we had a prominent defensive pairing in Alderweireld and Vertonghen that worked and played well together, and stabilised the rest of the team around them?

I’m under no illusions that Jan Vertonghen would be as capable a defender as he once was, but he certainly still had plenty to offer at the time we halted negotiations over a new contract.

With Sergio Reguilon coming into play at left-back, and either Serge Aurier or Matt Doherty at right-back, the pairing of the two Belgians would have been a significant upgrade to a Sanchez/Dier, and would be a significant experience upgrade when compared to Tanganga/Rodon.

Furthermore, there was plenty that could be learned by Joe Rodon and Japhet Tanganga under Vertonghen’s tuition. By letting him leave, for free no less, we have left ourselves in a difficult spot.

Vertonghen was also left-footed and a left-sided centre-back, something that is invaluable in the modern game and Spurs have found hard to replace.

Not only this, but he has since revealed that his concussion suffered on Champions League duty for Spurs hampered him for the following nine months. So perhaps he should have been given the chance to fully recover and prove himself again this season.

Dier doesn’t look good enough at centre-back, although there is no doubt he has improved. Sanchez makes far too many mistakes to balance out the moments of excellence he sometimes shows, and Alderweireld didn’t seem to be in favour under Mourinho.

Rodon and Tanganga are both too in-experienced to be relied on in crunch moments, which leaves us having no choice but to delve into the transfer market to try and lure in a quality centre back; a challenge made more difficult in the current pandemic-hit climate.

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