Tottenham Hotspur: Why Villas-Boas Cannot Afford to Shun Dawson Any Longer
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When you look back through the history of Tottenham Hotspur (or most clubs for that matter), you can find a correlation between periods of stability and the presence of certain figures within the squad, namely captains and leaders of a certain character and quality.
Such stability and success is not completely down to them, but they are undoubtedly pivotal in its creation.
Ron Burgess, captain of Arthur Rowe's "push and run" side of the 1950s, was a pivotal figure in driving Spurs to the second and then first Division titles in consecutive seasons.
Danny Blanchflower was the on-field personification of all that Bill Nicholson worked to instill in the club, and he was followed by Dave Mackay and Alan Mullery who grafted tirelessly to maintain these values.
There was Steve Perryman and Paul Miller, through to Gary Mabbutt and Sol Campbell and Steffen Freund, and up until this past summer, Ledley King.
All of these figures' places in the club's history and legacy are well known by Spurs supporters, but are listed here to demonstrate the type of player missing so desperately from Andre Villas-Boas's current side.
Though they have not been awful in their opening three Premier League games, Spurs have looked suspect to the slightest change of momentum against them, a fallibility that has been exacerbated by the absence of players who can resist this, those who deal in commitment and organization—essential qualities of leadership.
With Scott Parker injured, Michael Dawson is the last outfield player of any experience and stature left at the club who possesses the aforementioned qualities, making it all the more baffling as to why Villas-Boas has excluded him from the squad entirely.
Achieving stability, let alone success, will be difficult to achieve if he does not soon begin to appreciate the value of a player like Dawson.
Spurs' Defence Is Poorer in His Absence
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Michael Dawson may well be the most underrated English defender of the past decade, an oversight he may well have remedied by now but for a series of unfortunate injury blows in the past couple of seasons.
Back in 2010 Carlos Tevez described him as "the best English defender I have played against", an assessment not entirely surprising considering the Argentinian's similarly tireless work-rate.
Effort is a significant part of Dawson's game as a centre-back, not just in his actions but in how he organises and leads, areas that Spurs have been found to be lacking in for three of the four costly goals they have conceded so far this season.
Demba Ba's opener in Newcastle United's opening day 2-1 win was a finely taken goal, but one in which, in the moment itself, could have been avoided.
After Kyle Walker's failed clearance landed at the feet of Ba, William Gallas began running in to close him down only to stop, and then actually move his head out of the way as the Newcastle forward's shot looped into the top corner.
While Gallas was correct in not committing himself entirely for risk of making a foul or allowing himself to be skipped past easily, he still had a good half a yard in which he could have safely charged Ba down while narrowing the angle and either blocking the shot or forcing him into a different option.
Gallas was not alone in failing to respond to the threat posed by James Morrison and Robert Snodgrass in the moments prior to each's respective goal, but as the captain and senior figure in the defence, his total non-grasp of the situation was evident to see.
Dawson is not perfect, but his level of commitment is never in question the way it is with Gallas, a player who is several years past his best and cannot get by on talent alone like he once might have.
Dawson Is a Superior Captain and Leader to "Petulant Child" Gallas
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What is most alarming about Villas-Boas' selection of Gallas ahead of Dawson (or even Steven Caulker) is that the Portuguese can seemingly not see the Frenchman's obvious character flaws.
It is not even a case of dredging up his questionable past, you just have to look at his reaction to both those equalisers conceded against Norwich and West Brom to see this is not a man fit to lead (especially a fledgling team that is coming together under a new manager).
Gallas reacted to both goals like a petulant child, visibly expressing his annoyance and admonishing his team-mates.
This is not acceptable from a captain, and while he might have reason for it, he has to quash those feelings for the good of the team (considering his own culpability too, as described on the previous slide).
Dawson is the complete opposite in these scenarios, and can be seen to be encouraging his team-mates rather than berating them, a trait that extends to every situation in a game.
Adding to the confusion, Villas-Boas is aware of these qualities.
"Dawson is an excellent leader of this dressing room, an excellent player, an English international," the manager told his weekly press conference prior to the closing of the transfer window, when a move to Queens Park Rangers was being mooted for the defender.
If Villas-Boas continues to persevere with Gallas instead of Dawson, it will pose serious question marks about his judgement, and reiterate the thinking that he is a coach more suited to fantasy football and all its romantic intricacies than the reality of the game.
Dawson Is Now Capable of Replacing King
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Since joining Tottenham in January 2005, there is no doubt Dawson benefited hugely from playing alongside Ledley King.
After getting the nod ahead of Noureddine Naybet (another player who's tutelage helped both his and King's games), the duo combined to form a central defensive partnership that was at the heart of Spurs' side for most of their two fifth-place finishes in 2005/06 and 2006/07.
That Dawson himself was not yet the finished article was evident early on in the following campaign when, with King missing several games through injury, he struggled alongside the newly arrived (and extremely green) Younes Kaboul.
Despite his difficulties during a poor spell for the club that in part led to Martin Jol's sacking, it was clearly an important learning experience for Dawson, even as he subsequently found himself down the central defensive pecking order at times in the managerial reigns of Juande Ramos and Harry Redknapp.
When he was given a start from then on, increasingly the signs were there to see he was a defender who was not reliant on King being besides him to perform.
There are various individual examples (a 1-1 draw against Middlesbrough from April 2008 stands out to this writer), but the consistent results of Dawson's maturing were there to see in 2009/10, a season in which the defender was crucial in Spurs' fourth-place finish and was rewarded with the club's player of the year award for his efforts.
Dawson did partner King in some of the key games, but several more saw him paired alongside Sebastien Bassong, a younger player that the senior partner was well-equipped to both guide and flourish alongside.
Since then injuries have robbed Dawson of the opportunity to truly build on the work he did in that season, but just as significantly, he was overlooked when fit by Redknapp to disastrous effect.
That was most clear late last season when the manager chose Kaboul ahead of him for the north London derby, despite Dawson's good form since returning from injury.
With King's injuries (sadly) at least beginning to catch up with him and Kaboul himself not fully fit having just returned from a spell out, it was a ludicrous decision to take Dawson out, one Redknapp did not get the chance to remedy in Spurs' subsequent struggles after he suffered a season-ending injury against Stevenage.
Villas-Boas is now repeating his predecessor's mistakes, and as it has often been said, those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.