Will Toeing the Line Lead to Lewis Holtby's Tottenham Demise?

Allan JiangTransfers CorrespondentSeptember 30, 2013

MILAN, ITALY - MARCH 14:  Lewis Holtby of Tottenham Hotspur in action during the UEFA Europa League Round of 16 Second Leg match between FC Internazionale Milano and Tottenham Hotspur at San Siro Stadium on March 14, 2013 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Marco Luzzani/Getty Images)
Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

In an age where football prima donnas have become more prevalent, Tottenham Hotspur's humble midfielder Lewis Holtby waits patiently for another extended run in the first team. 

Holtby's happy-go-lucky attitude guarantees him being a great team player but is it to the detriment of his career? 

Holtby, a German international, is one of Europe's best young footballers being a former Fritz Walter Gold Medalist. 

When asked about a potential move away from White Hart Lane, instead of using it as an opportunity to mount a media campaign pressuring Andre Villas-Boas for more starts, Holtby toed the line. 

"I knew that Tottenham was going to be a big club in Europe and to be a part of that, it just makes your game better," Holtby said, via talkSPORT. "Everyone is needed at the club and everyone is ready to play in the big games."

Growing up in the Borussia Monchengladbach academy, his development stopped at 14 years of age when he found himself on the outside looking in. 

He didn't rebel against coach Roland Virkus, now Monchengladbach's youth director, but Holtby had a frank discussion with Virkus, who gave his blessings to the ambitious teenager's move to Alemannia Aachen.

Several years earlier, Aachen had picked up Jan Schlaudraff from Monchengladbach, who later became a Bayern Munich player, so Holtby became Aachen's second diamond in the rough. 

Despite the out with the old and in with the young mantra spreading across Germany, Holtby didn't get given a chance by then Aachen senior manager Guido Buchwald.

It toughened Holtby's resolve. 

Eight goals in a four-game spell for the Aachen U-19s prompted Jorg Schmadtke, the caretaker manager at the time after Buchwald's dismissal, to give Holtby his senior debut. 

Photo via picture alliance
Photo via picture alliance

It wasn't until Jurgen Seeberger, a novice managing his first noteworthy German team, that Holtby broke out playing primarily on the left.

In fact, he was nicknamed "Lucky Lewis" after his involvement in four goals against Nuremberg, which rivaled Kevin Schindler's four assists and one goal against Koblenz for pure dominance. 

Holtby scored eight goals and created nine during that campaign which was described by his dad as "one hell of a season", via Sam Wallace at The Independent

"Suddenly there were English and German teams looking at him," Holtby senior said. "Then along came Mr Magath."

Raphael Honigstein at The Guardian summed up Felix Magath in a 2012 column: "Bundesliga unites in its distaste for Felix Magath's acts of unkindness."

Now a Schalke player, Holtby was given a taste of this unkindness by being left on the bench three weeks running after a lackluster performance against Nuremberg, a team he once destroyed. 

Magath didn't trust Holtby and he was loaned out to Bochum where he became a handyman plugging holes in the frontline. 

He even played in the engine room alongside Christoph Dabrowski in a 4-4-1-1 during a 0-0 draw against Mainz.

The next season, Holtby's dwindling transfer stock didn't just recover but rocketed skywards on loan at Mainz where he, Andre Schurrle and Adam Szalai (the Bruchweg Boys) injected excitement into a team led by Thomas Tuchel.

Holtby thrived under Tuchel, a young, inexperienced, open-minded and cordial manager, who enabled the youngster freedom. 

Holtby was so impressive that he made his senior international debut for Germany, putting an end to speculation that he could represent England, the country of his Liverpudlian father. 

When Holtby returned to Schalke, that freedom was gone. 

BILBAO, SPAIN - APRIL 05: Javi Martinez of Athletic Bilbao is challenged by Lewis Holtby of FC Schalke 04 during the UEFA Europa League quarter-final second leg match between Athletic Bilbao and FC Schalke 04 at San Mames Stadium on April 5, 2012 in Bilba
Angel Martinez/Getty Images

Then Schalke manager Huub Stevens wanted a front four of Jefferson Farfan on the right, Raul as a deep-lying forward, the prodigious Julian Draxler on the left and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar as the No. 9. 

Holtby had two choices: put in a transfer request or turn himself into a defensive midfielder.

He chose the latter option, pairing up with Jermaine Jones to average a combined 13.1 possessions won back per league game. 

Holtby was great statistically but if you judged him subjectively, the main criticism was his positional indiscipline. 

"Lewis [Holtby] needs to be more present and to grow into the chief's role," Stevens said, via Clark Whitney at Goal.com

Unsurprisingly, Holtby moved back into the No. 10 role the following season and his vacancy in the pivot was filled by the tough tackling Roman Neustadter, signed on a free transfer from Monchengladbach.

Having signed a pre-contract with Tottenham Hotspur to arrive in the summer, Holtby was asked to move in the January transfer window after Sandro's season-ending injury. 

Holtby gave up UEFA Champions League football to spend the first few months of his Spurs career being subbed in and out of games. 

If you go through Holtby's answer when asked about his playing position, it's routinely changed to suit the situation his manager at the time has put him in.  

March 2013, from kicker via Richard Arrowsmith at The Mirror: "I believe the No. 6 is the position for my future."

Mousa Dembele, Paulinho, Sandro and Etienne Capoue (currently injured) have all but ruled out Holtby being a defensive midfielder. 

November 2011, via Ian Holyman at ESPN FC: "I think the description of being a No. 8 is the best."

Dembele, Paulinho and Sandro would be the ideal three midfielders should Villas-Boas revert to a 4-3-3.

September 2010, via Matt Fortune at The Daily Mail: "I would say I am a similar player to Joe Cole. I can play on wings, behind the striker."

Andros Townsend, Erik Lamela and Aaron Lennon are vying for the right attacking midfield position. 

Gylfi Sigurdsson is looking like the Swansea City Sigurdsson, so he's got the left flank locked up for now.

The No. 10 position is held by Christian Eriksen, who'll be given significant leeway to fail because he is the future of the club.

"I've played every position here, on the left wing, right wing, [No.] 10, 6, 8, nine-and-a-half, name every number," Holtby said in a Tottenham google+ hangout. "If he [Villas-Boas] needs somebody, I'll always be there."

Toeing the line won't lead to Holtby's downfall. 

He is quietly confident that he can rebound from adversity which has been the main theme of his career.

Holtby was outstanding against Dinamo Tbilisi, created a goal against Tromso and registered a hat trick of assists against Aston Villa.

His father, Chris, served in the British army so it seems quite apt that in Holtby's footballing career, he has assumed the role of a loyal foot solider.

SWANSEA, WALES - MARCH 30:  Lewis Holtby of Spurs wins the ball from Garry Monk, Ashley Williams and Dwight Tiendalli of Swansea during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Tottenham Hotspur at Liberty Stadium on March 30, 2013 in Sw
Christopher Lee/Getty Images


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