Tottenham Hotspur

World Cup Displays Prove Jan Vertonghen Worth Considering as Tottenham Left-Back

Jan Vertonghen celebrates scoring the only goal in Belgium's 1-0 Group H win over South Korea.
Jan Vertonghen celebrates scoring the only goal in Belgium's 1-0 Group H win over South Korea.Matthew Lewis/Getty Images
Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

After a tough second season with Tottenham Hotspur, Jan Vertonghen is enjoying representing Belgium at the World Cup.

Since giving away a penalty in his country's competition-opening 2-1 win over Algeria, Vertonghen's tournament has steadily picked up.

He scored the winner in Belgium's final Group H game against South Korea. Then in the last-16 win over the USA referenced in the tweets above, he was an assured and energetic presence at left-back throughout.

Argentina await for the defender and his team-mates now, with Lionel Messi and Co. likely to give the Belgian back line their toughest challenge yet.

Vertonghen talks with Andre Villas-Boas and Gareth Bale during Tottenham's 2-1 win over Liverpool in November 2012. A game during the Belgian's spell at left-back.
Vertonghen talks with Andre Villas-Boas and Gareth Bale during Tottenham's 2-1 win over Liverpool in November 2012. A game during the Belgian's spell at left-back.Tom Hevezi/Associated Press

Another positive performance from Vertonghen would perhaps raise an issue in his club career he has been somewhat keen to distance himself from: the possibility of him again playing at left-back.

"For the team, it is best that I play as a centre-back," he told the Daily Telegraph's Jonathan Liew in December 2012. His then-manager Andre Villas-Boas would predominantly use him there in the months that followed, his services no longer required covering the fit-again Benoit Assou-Ekotto at full-back.

Last season Vertonghen was again called upon out wide after new first-choice left-back Danny Rose was injured, and the right-footed Kyle Naughton again struggled covering there.

"We have had some injuries on the left of defence at Tottenham this season, and it has often been down to me to fill the gap," he told the Daily Mail's John Edwards.

"Tottenham pay my wages, so I have to accept it, but it doesn't suit me, and the club know how much I want to play centre-half."

Vertonghen made an uncharacteristic mistake that cost Spurs dearly away at Chelsea last season.
Vertonghen made an uncharacteristic mistake that cost Spurs dearly away at Chelsea last season.Clive Rose/Getty Images

Given his disillusionment with playing in the position, in hindsight it was maybe not surprising Vertonghen's latest stint deputising was below par. He appeared less eager to get forward, while defensively he was more easily beaten in one-on-one situations, sometimes looking unfocused.

Perhaps it was not just a left-back thing.

After initially performing well back in central defence following his return from a mid-winter injury layoff (notably against Hull City, Everton and Newcastle United). Vertonghen made a game-changing mistake in the loss to Chelsea back at full-back, before following it up with a nervy display back centrally alongside Younes Kaboul in the home loss to Benfica. He hobbled off a few weeks later in a similarly poor loss to Liverpool and found his character questioned by former Spurs players.

Despite his troubled 2013-14 campaign, if he wants it, Vertonghen is likely to be a player granted a fresh chance under new Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino.

The Argentinian will be aware of the 27-year-old's preference for central defence. But it will be interesting to see if, piqued by the Belgian's World Cup showings, deploying him at full-back has crossed Pochettino's mind,

Left-back is widely held by most supporters and observers as an area in need of addressing for Spurs. Danny Rose was an inconsistent presence there last season, though it was only his second full campaign playing the position. Zeki Fryers is an option, but his future might be in central defence.

If reportssuch as this from BBC Sportlinking Spurs with Swansea City's Ben Davies are true, Pochettino might have already decided his preferred choices for left-back.

The Vertonghen that has been on display in his last two appearances out in Brazil is one Pochettino will know he can call upon at full-back if needed, though.

Watching him get forward against South Korea and the USA, it was like watching the full-back who relished bursting into the opposition half early in his Spurs career. The goal against Korea and a number of penetrative runs against America brought to mind his attacking contributions in Spurs' 3-2 win away at Manchester United in September 2012.

Vertonghen beats the USA's Jermaine Jones to the ball from a pass that might have freed the midfielder in space otherwise.
Vertonghen beats the USA's Jermaine Jones to the ball from a pass that might have freed the midfielder in space otherwise.Michael Steele/Getty Images

When utilised like it was on Tuesday, his ability to time his runs into space, whether on the overlap or after an exchange of passes, is almost second-to-none.

Defensively, Vertonghen was just about impeccable in the last-16 win. He was alert and focused, consistently on hand to see the ball safely away and come inside to cover for his team-mates.

It was forgotten amid a spell his side were largely on the front-foot. But 75 minutes in, Vertonghen tracked Jermaine Jones centrally and beat him to a header from a potentially dangerous long ball forward from Michael Bradley.

As tallied by Squawka, it was one of 11 clearances from the defender who also made a further couple of timely interceptions. For a player who last season underwhelmed fronting up to attackers coming in off the flank, he has also performed decently there (save for the penalty he gave away against Algeria).

What Pochettino has in mind for Vertonghen is one of several questions that will not be answered until Tottenham's pre-season is well underway.

Mauricio Pochettino's plans for Vertonghen and the Tottenham defence will be fascinating to see after their issues last season.
Mauricio Pochettino's plans for Vertonghen and the Tottenham defence will be fascinating to see after their issues last season.Tony Marshall/Getty Images

Given the Belgian's proven strength as a centre-back, and his preference to play as one, it is likely the Spurs manager will seek to bring the best out of him there.

Should the north Londoners figure out a situation at left-back that does not require Vertonghen filling in there, all of this could well be moot. But having again underlined his aptitude for the position, he must accept he may one day be needed there again.

Albeit considering the patriotic concerns and World Cup ambitions that inspire it, if Vertonghen is happy to do a job there for his country, he should get over any protestations he has also playing left-back for his club.

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