The setting: Swansea vs Tottenham Hotspur, FA Cup Quarter-Final at the Liberty Stadium, Saturday 17th March 2018, early kick-off.
Erik Lamela has just swept home a curling shot with his right foot to put Tottenham 2-0 up in injury time of the first half.
The potential for a banana-skin here is off whatever chart the experts use to measure banana-skins – Swansea are at home, fighting against relegation and have nothing to lose. A good cup run will do their confidence wonders.
Spurs look good value for their lead but 2-0 is always regarded as a dangerous score-line in any game and one that could result in extra-time and penalties even more-so.
Heung-Min Son has already had a goal disallowed by the VAR gods and Nordfelt looks set to carry on the tradition of Swansea goalkeepers having world-class games against Tottenham.
“Just keep it tight first five lads, don’t give them an easy route back into the game.” – A phrase that must have been spoken by management or players in the changing room in some form or another.
The second half kicks off. Within 30 seconds Sung-Yueng Ki has teed up Martin Olsson for a first-time volley that catches Michel Vorm off-guard and he parries it towards the corner of the six-yard box. Six-foot-two Chelsea-loanee Tammy Abraham stoops in to head it into a gaping net. Freeze frame. Record scratch. Fade to black.
This act could end one of two ways:
1) The ball trickles over the line and Swansea are gifted a lifeline with a whole half of football left. A weakened Spurs team are shaken in front of a baying away crowd and there’s no Harry Kane to salvage a result. They may hold out, or Swansea may throw everything at them and nick an equaliser. Either way, 45 minutes of some of the most agonising football this season takes place in front of our very eyes, on terrestrial TV, as the first game of the weekend.
2) Vorm is still on the ground when Abraham heads goalwards. He scrambles upwards, acquires just enough bend in his knees to spring off the ground, gets two hands behind the ball and pads it away from goal with enough precision to gather and prevent a corner. Lucas Moura assists Christian Eriksen for Spurs’ third and they ride into the semi-finals as 3-0 winners. Dreamland.
Naturally, days after the incident, we know what happened. Spurs have a semi-final tie at home (or technically away, who really even knows these days) against Manchester United. Two games, 180 minutes separates them from FA Cup glory and a first trophy in a decade. But how different it could all have been without Tottenham’s silent hero and flying Dutchman.
Let’s go back a few years. It’s 2014 and a 43-year-old Brad Friedel has been browsing the retirement home brochures. Heurelho Gomes has fumbled his way across the line to Watford and Tottenham need a new back-up to goalkeeping demi-god Hugo Lloris.
Benoit-Assou Ekotto has been outed as an anti-Semitic waste of a decent afro and Swansea’s Ben Davies is brought in as his replacement. To sweeten the deal, Gylffi Sigurdsson moved to Wales and Vorm comes to North London after three years in Wales.
He arrives on a high after keeping 10 clean sheets in 32 games for the Swans in 2014 and winning the League Cup a year before, but knew Lukas Fabianski was after his number-one spot and wanted fresh competition.
“Every club has two top goalkeepers in their squad,” the Dutch keeper told De Telegraaf upon joining Spurs. “It suits the club’s philosophy that there are two of us with Hugo and me, especially when we see that Tottenham is active in a lot of competitions.”
Active in a lot of competitions Spurs are. So surely an established, Premier League goalkeeper in his prime will get lots of chances to shine?
Well, not quite. There is no doubting that club captain Hugo Lloris is one of the top goalkeepers in the league. Whatever you think about his height or passing ability, the composure and confidence he gives his defenders by simply being bloody amazing week in, week out is shown by how much he receives the ball in games and also by how few he concedes across a season. No goalkeeper is perfect but in £12m French national team captain Lloris, Tottenham got a steal of a goalkeeper of which there aren’t many better in world football. He deserves to start every game.
However, this means Vorm’s position for the last four years has been Lloris’ stand-in for early cup rounds, or if the Frenchman picks up an injury. Not exactly the ‘active in a lot of competitions’ he expected.
Since 2014, Vorm’s total appearances (in all competitions) across each season have been: 14, 7, 11, and 10 (so far). His only appearance in the Champions League came this season, against a lowly Apoel Nicosia side once Spurs were already qualified.
Combined, these add up to 42 appearances in four years – one less than Lloris had last season alone – and his stock within the Dutch national team has fallen to the point where his last appearance was a last-minute sympathy substitution by Louis Van Gaal to ensure all 23 squad players appeared at the 2014 World Cup. A phrase began to spring up whenever Hugo got injured – “Vorm is temporary, Lloris is permanent.”
The life of a back-up goalkeeper can be bittersweet. A juicy paycheque in your bank-account every week for having some balls blasted at you in training and a comfy seat on the bench watching the best players in the world on the biggest stages.
But your dream – of playing between the sticks for the world’s biggest clubs – is realised only a handful of times a season against lower opposition and mistakes, of which there are a few due to lack of game-time, set your confidence back even further.
Vorm has spent the twilight years of his career warming Tottenham’s bench and playing, on average, once a month at best, without so much as a hint that he is unhappy. No ‘come and get me pleas’ have been issued, no contract stalling, no touting himself to other teams, just clear and simple professionalism in training, with youth players, in the changing room and when called on to play.
He has bailed us out of games with huge saves and often blurs the line of exactly which Tottenham goalkeeper is playing with how good he can be on occasion. There aren’t many teams with a back-up goalkeeper that could comfortably start for about 50% of sides in the league.
He has sat back and watched as Spurs signed what will effectively be his replacement in Paulo Gazzaniga this summer and the rumour vultures are circling with links of a move to Crystal Palace. It seems his time at Tottenham is coming to an end.
So, as he rarely gets his name in the headlines, on behalf of Spurs fans everywhere I would like to thank Michel Vorm for continuing Tottenham’s rich history of excellent goalkeepers, if not just for his displays than for being a thoroughly decent bloke, consummate professional and a credit to both the badge and Pochettino’s side. Dank je, Michel.
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