Jan Vertonghen's Tottenham Hotspur future has been hard to get a handle on in recent months. Mixed messages in the media from himself and his representative have led to uncertainty over the defender's intentions.
The vaguest was an interview he gave in February, via Sky Sports. Tottenham failing to qualify for the Champions League was hinted at as being a cause for him considering his status at the north London club.
Then in May, prior to the appointment of Mauricio Pochettino, came what appeared to be clarification. "I've got a couple more years at Tottenham and I'm happy, and I want to stay there, so it doesn't matter who the manager will be," Vertonghen said, again via Sky Sports.
However, earlier this month, the Belgian's representative, Mustapha Nakhli, brought up the idea of a move away for his client when speaking to Het Nieuwsblad (via the London Evening Standard). "Several teams are interested in Jan," he claimed.
Which brings us to the present.
Saying something like, "It goes without saying that I would like to stay at Tottenham," certainly gives the impression Vertonghen has made up his mind. He also noted "I still had a four-year contract but I see that they have offered me a new five-year contract as a great sign of confidence."
The above Mirror story excluded some additional quotes the 27-year-old gave on Belgian radio, though. The following is via ESPN.co.uk:
There will always be rumours, but I'm going back to Tottenham. The interest of a great club like Barcelona is certainly flattering. That is confirmation that I am doing a good job.
They say that where's there's smoke there's fire, but there's certainly no fire at the moment.
Please excuse the quote-heavy trip down recent memory lane. But the Vertonghen party's varying statements are testament to the trouble in gauging the player's happiness at Spurs.
The Barcelona reference does not rule out the possibility of the Belgium international's head being turned (the La Liga outfit still need defensive reinforcements). However, the latest quotes—revealing a new contract offer—do suggest he will remain at White Hart Lane heading into the new season.
Such a confirmation would be a boost for Tottenham, but also for a player whose problems with injury and inconsistent form made his second season in England a less satisfactory experience than his well-regarded first (acknowledged by his selection in the PFA's Team of the Year).
Vertonghen's combined appearance tally of 33 in 2013-14 was less than the amount he started in the Premier League alone a year earlier.
The mid-season managerial change at Tottenham meant different ideas about his best role individually, and in relation to the make-up of the team's defence. Amid that upheaval he, just like his team-mates, had his share of poor moments and displays.
It is difficult to decipher exactly if questions about Vertonghen's future had any affect on his performances. It is more likely the previously mentioned circumstances were more influential.
Nonetheless, definitively embracing at least one further year with Spurs would help Vertonghen make the most of the fresh start provided by Pochettino's hiring.
Earlier in July, Sky Sports' Lyall Thomas reported Spurs would not sell Vertonghen as he "is believed to be a fundamental part of new head coach Mauricio Pochettino's plans for the forthcoming season."
That does not surprise.
Pochettino will likely have viewed match tape of Vertonghen's lesser moments last season.
The Belgian's occasional tendency to lose focus and a struggle with assertiveness will be among the areas the former defender will pinpoint as in need of improvement at the back (see also Younes Kaboul's organisational deficiency at set plays and Michael Dawson's susceptibility when turned high up the pitch, among others).
The more frequent examples of Vertonghen's strong timing in the tackle, combativeness and proficiency in possession will have stood out more.
A well-rounded centre-back made to excel in a fast-paced modern game. Fully focused and with a tad more toughness about him, Spurs would do well to find a defender better-suited to the Premier League.
With the signing of Ben Davies from Swansea City at left-back, adding to Zeki Fryers and Danny Rose, Vertonghen should be glad his services are likely only to be needed in one position too.
The Belgian's return for pre-season will begin to round out our understanding of what Pochettino has planned for his defence. Who he might prefer as a regular centre-back partnership, his first-choice full-backs and the midfield that will cover in front of them.
Fitness-permitting, Vertonghen's talent makes him a good bet to be at the forefront of these plans. For the first time in his Tottenham career, things may be settled just right for him to make the most of it.
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