Ranking Tottenham Hotspur's Last 15 Left-Backs

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistJuly 30, 2014

Ranking Tottenham Hotspur's Last 15 Left-Backs

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    Tottenham Hotspur have been one of the quieter Premier League teams in the transfer market this summer.

    One position deemed definitely and swiftly in need of strengthening was left-back. First on new boss Mauricio Pochettino's list of targets: Swansea City's Ben Davies.

    Welcome to #THFC @Ben_Davies33! #COYS pic.twitter.com/wFwOn4dej5

    — Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) July 23, 2014

    Signed up last week, the 21-year-old featured in the club's latter two North American tour fixtures—wins over Toronto and Chicago Fire. Largely untested down his flank defensively, Davies did have more opportunity to get forward, particularly against Toronto.

    Before Davies goes about staking his claim to be Tottenham's first-choice left-back, what of those who have gone before him in the position?

    Over the following pages we examine and rank Spurs' last 15 left-backs, including Davies' current competition, Danny Rose.

    The chief criteria for each player's placing is talent as a full-back and his success performing in the role for Spurs.

    Longevity and time spent playing in the position is also an influence. Pascal Chimbonda, who covered there occasionally, and Zeki Fryers, who got a handful of appearances last season, are not included. Despite it not being their best or preferred position, the amount of times Kyle Naughton and Jan Vertonghen played there does see them qualify.

    Taking his place at No. 15 is an Italian you would be forgiven for forgetting even played for Tottenham.

15. Paolo Tramezzani

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    Following Tottenham's narrow escape from relegation the previous season, Paolo Tramezzani was Christian Gross' sole signing in the summer of 1998.

    The Italian full-back would appear only seven times, with his last appearance coming in a 1-1 draw with Southampton on September 19.

    Gross had been sacked after Spurs lost twice in their first three games. Already struggling to settle in the Premier League, Tramezzani was now without the backing of the manager who bought him from Piacenza.

    Injury soon struck, and Gross' replacement George Graham proved to be not all that fussed about accommodating the 28-year-old in his plans.

    Tramezzani remained under contract at White Hart Lane until 2000 before transferring to Pistoiese.

14. Gilberto

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    Perhaps in a more stable time, Gilberto might have found some traction with Tottenham.

    A player with World Cup experience, the Brazilian joined in January 2008 following a good four-year spell with Hertha Berlin. Although he was part of Juande Ramos' attempts to stamp his imprint on Spurs, the ongoing change ironically did not help Gilberto's own attempts to find his way.

    Finally making his debut in March, the 31-year-old's performance against PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Cup was not good, to say the least. He gave away possession to Jefferson Farfan, who put the Dutch side 1-0 up heading into the return leg in Eindhoven.

    He had better outings, including a goal in a 4-0 win over London rivals West Ham United. Gilberto failed to convince he deserved to be Spurs' first-choice left-back moving forward, though.

    Harry Redknapp was not won over either upon his hiring later in 2008.

    Gilberto was taken off after just 45 minutes of a 2-2 draw with Spartak Moscow, with Redknapp telling BBC Sport, "Gilberto was quite happy to come off. There's not really a way back for him here."

    Gilberto would play one more time, as part of a makeshift defence fielded at home to Shakhtar Donetsk ahead of the following weekend's League Cup final. He joined Cruzeiro later in 2009.

13. Ben Thatcher

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    Although an 18-year professional, Ben Thatcher is mostly remembered for his horrific on-field assault of another former Spur, Pedro Mendes, when playing for Manchester City in 2006.

    It is a deserved but unfortunate legacy for a player whom more was hoped for earlier in his career.

    When Tottenham signed him in 2000, he was fresh from a reputation-enhancing spell at Wimbledon. He was a regular at left-back to begin 2000-01 but did not play again after November.

    George Graham—the manager who bought him—was sacked before the end of that season. Glenn Hoddle never rated the aggressive, eager but technically lacking Thatcher in the same way.

    Less suitable to Hoddle's more attack-minded system, from then on he was used only as and when needed, usually in the absence of others.

    "Glenn Hoddle made up his mind about who he rated and who he didn't and I was on the wrong list," Thatcher moaned to the Daily Mirror, via BBC Sport, upon his move to Leicester City in July 2003.

12. Kyle Naughton

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    There are others not included on this list who have covered at left-back for Tottenham from time to time. For a little while in Kyle Naughton's career, though, it looked like the only action the natural right-back would see would be on his lesser side.

    With Kyle Walker in command on the right, the majority of Naughton's 26 appearances in 2012-13 came at left-back. First, he covered for the injured Benoit Assou-Ekotto in order to allow Jan Vertonghen to play centre-back. Later in the campaign he got the nod over the Cameroonian on occasion.

    Against weaker opposition or at least those without a quality winger, Naughton fared OK. Almost completely right-footed, his natural full-back aptitude allowed him to defend against those who did not test him too much on the outside.

    Unfortunately, Spurs could not rely on other teams being kind enough to accommodate for Naughton's weakness.

    Theo Walcott enjoyed tormenting him in Arsenal's 5-2 win over Spurs in November 2012. Against Internazionale the following March, he was out of his depth in the intimidating environment of the San Siro as Spurs lost 4-1.

    Naughton was again used at left-back early on in 2013-14 after Danny Rose was injured. This time it was decided Spurs were better off going with Vertonghen, even if it meant losing him in central defence.

    Unsurprisingly, Naughton would fare much better deputising for Walker at right-back later in the season.

11-10. Erik Edman and Thimothee Atouba

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    It is hard to separate Thimothee Atouba and Erik Edman.

    Both spent one season with Tottenham, 2004-05. They enjoyed some fine highs (great long-distance goals against Newcastle United and Liverpool, respectively) but did not do well enough to move ahead of each other permanently.

    Edman was the more traditional left-back, unremarkable but mostly sound. Atouba's daring style made him a formidable presence when played at the position, but his habit of attempting to dribble out of dangerous positions led to many heart-in-mouth moments.

    A nasty head injury stunted Edman's progress at Spurs, but even by that point early in 2005 it was evident he was average at best. Atouba was more talented, but his erratic performances undermined him, and he was unfairly singled out by supporters at times.

    Both were gone by August 2005 as Martin Jol decided neither was right for his team.

9. Jan Vertonghen

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    Unless he is representing his country, playing at left-back appears to be a stultifying experience for Jan Vertonghen.

    That definitely appeared to be the case last season when he was called back there following Danny Rose's injury. Though not woeful by any means, Vertonghen was a reluctant performer, at least compared to the player who performed well there for Belgium in the 2014 World Cup.

    A year earlier he had inhabited the role with a touch more enthusiasm for Spurs, playing notably well in their 3-2 away win over Manchester United.

    His comfort and skill on the ball made him a good option there. But he was clearly happier playing centre-back, and Spurs too benefited from the balance he provided alongside Michael Dawson.

    Vertonghen is placed as high as he is on this list because his talent as a general defender is higher than those who have preceded him. But his best performances at Spurs have, and will, come from him being deployed centrally, not out to the flank.

8. Danny Rose

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    Danny Rose got his first taste of Premier League football as a left-back at the end of 2010-11 season. He impressed enough covering the absent Benoit Assou-Ekotto that a position swap was soon on the cards for the then-midfielder.

    Lacking the pace and creativity the team was used to in the wing positions from the likes of Gareth Bale, Niko Kranjcar and Aaron Lennon, Rose's speed was sufficient enough for full-back.

    He saw more game time there in 2011-12, but his minutes were limited with Assou-Ekotto still ahead of him. The following season he was loaned to Sunderland in search of first-team football and was one of the standout performers in their battle to avoid the drop.

    Back at Spurs last season, Andre Villas-Boas gave Rose the nod as his first-choice left-back when he loaned Assou-Ekotto to Queens Park Rangers. He started encouragingly before injury put him out until December.

    Upon his return to fitness, his performances were mixed.

    On Rose's day his energy was a useful tool at both ends of the pitch, servicing a tenacity that made him a full-back that teams struggled to deal with. Other times he was slow to return to his defensive position, with that laxness infecting his work there.

    With Ben Davies now at the club, Rose is facing a fight to prove he is good enough to be the main man for more than just one season.

7. Gareth Bale

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    This is perhaps a contentious placing on this list, given Gareth Bale's best Tottenham moments came further up the pitch. Then again, even if he did not play at left-back too often, his experiences in that position certainly influenced his exceptional progress.

    Known as a left-back upon his signing from Southampton in 2007, the blistering pace and eye for goal soon had Martin Jol utilising him in more forward areas too.

    Despite becoming known for an unwelcome 25-match losing streak (an unfortunate coincidence of his periods of fitness coinciding with two bad runs for Spurs), Bale was one of his team's better performers early in that 2007-08 campaign. He scored in a draw against Fulham, netted a terrific free kick versus Arsenal and also contributed to Spurs' run to the League Cup success with a goal in a 2-0 win over Middlesbrough.

    Injuries saw him out for extended periods, with others moving ahead of him in the pecking order. But then came a stroke of luck in early 2010.

    Benoit Assou-Ekotto was injured, and Bale came in at left-back. The Welshman was excellent, defending adequately and thrilling on his runs forward.

    Along with Roman Pavlyuchenko's resurgence, Bale's work there proved a timely midwinter boost to Tottenham's push for a Champions League place.

    By the end of the season Bale was playing in left-midfield, on his way to becoming one of football's biggest names and further away from his time at left-back.

6. Christian Ziege

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    On paper Christian Ziege was as good a player as Hoddle was likely to find to play left-back/wing-back. An experienced German international, he had built his reputation at Bayern Munich before spells at AC Milan, Middlesbrough and Liverpool followed.

    Ziege's first season with Tottenham in 2001-02 went well. He scored seven times in 33 appearances. His buccaneering style entertained the White Hart Lane faithful, even if he left a little to be desired defensively.

    Only 30, there was optimism Ziege could continue to be a big part of the team moving forward. But just like Spurs under Hoddle, the German began to flounder.

    He only featured twice after Christmas the following season. The campaign is only really remembered for his excellent free kick in a 1-1 draw with Arsenal. The whole of 2003 proved to be a bust.

    Ziege returned to fitness in the latter half of 2003-04. But by then Spurs were beginning to head in a more youthful direction, away from the experienced names that had made up the bulk of the first team.

    He was a classy performer for sure, but sadly, Spurs never saw as much of Ziege as they would have liked.

5. Clive Wilson

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    Now mostly associated with his spells at Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers, it should not be forgotten Clive Wilson also enjoyed a good stint with Tottenham.

    Signed by his former QPR boss Gerry Francis, Wilson was a solid, commendable worker and full-back whose experience was valuable during a period when Spurs' squad was plagued with injuries.

    In his mid-30s by then, Wilson was not immune to the knocks, niggles and worse that struck most of the squad down during his time with the team from 1995 and 1998. Still, he managed 82 appearances in that period.

    Bar Sol Campbell, he was arguably Spurs' most consistent defender, especially in 1995-96.

    It was a largely dour time for the north London club as they struggled to break beyond mid-table mediocrity. But that was better than some clubs in the Premier League had and have since endured.

    For helping to keep Spurs stable, Wilson's time at White Hart Lane definitely deserves to be remembered.

4. Justin Edinburgh

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    Justin Edinburgh spent just more than a decade with Tottenham. That longevity marks him out ahead of any other left-backs on this list.

    The defender joined from Southend United initially on loan in 1990. He was part of the Spurs squad that won the 1991 FA Cup and played in the team that won the 1999 League Cup (though he was sent off after an exchange with Leicester City's loathsome Robbie Savage).

    Edinburgh could play at right-back too, but his best work was on the left. He took time establishing himself as a top-flight performer but became a good all-round full-back.

    Spells of inconsistency were not too far away (then again, he was not alone in that at Spurs from that time). The left-back only played more than 30 games in two seasons, 1992-93 and 1994-95.

    Nonetheless, Edinburgh was there—committed to the cause and good enough to stick around in the First Division/Premier League longer than many a professional.

    Spurs have had better left-backs but not many better professionals.

3. Mauricio Taricco

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    Mauricio Taricco was versatile enough to play at both left and right-back.

    He competed with Justin Edinburgh, Ben Thatcher and Christian Ziege for the left spot at various points, and his understanding of the full-back position meant he could switch flanks if needed.

    Arguably Taricco's best work came on the left, though. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he made the most appearances in an individual season in the years he was first choice there—1999-00 and 2003-04.

    The Argentine was gritty and cultured in the way so many of his footballer compatriots are.

    He was good support for someone like David Ginola ahead of him; the Frenchman benefited from Taricco being on hand to cover any slip-ups.

    Taricco's lung-busting runs forward were a fine resource in their own right, giving Spurs a nice balance with Stephen Carr offering similar support and penetration on the right. He was quick on the overlap and in one-two scenarios but could instigate things of his own accord too, such as when he cut inside to score a screamer against Leeds United in 2003.

    He moved on when Erik Edman and Thimothee Atouba arrived in 2004, but Spurs might have been better-served keeping Taricco around.

2. Lee Young-Pyo

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    It was a case of diminishing returns for Lee Young-Pyo at Tottenham. He played fewer games in each successive season he spent in England than the year before.

    Though there was a slight decrease in the quality of his performances, the situation was exacerbated by injuries and the changing preferences of his managers Martin Jol and Juande Ramos.

    Lee earns such a high placing on this list for the fact his best season also came in Spurs' best of the Premier League era at that point.

    Bought from PSV Eindhoven at the beginning of 2005-06, Lee had established himself as a talented full-back in Holland and representing South Korea. At just £1.36 million he was a bargain.

    The back four he formed with with Ledley King, Michael Dawson and right-back Paul Stalteri was arguably the most balanced Spurs have had in the last decade.

    Lee made the occasional mistake but was largely as reliable a left-back as Spurs have had in recent times. Quick on his feet and in his mind, he read the game well and had the ability to make the most of his interpretations.

    Spurs finished fifth that season, narrowly missing out on a place in the Champions League.

    Jol decided he needed to increase the competition for places at left-back and signed Benoit Assou-Ekotto. Lee regained his place later in 2006-07 when the younger defender got injured, going on to again prove his worth to Spurs later that season.

1. Benoit Assou-Ekotto

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    Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s time at Tottenham took a couple of years to truly get going. 

    The summer 2006 signing from Lens was given his chance in the first team right from the off. The 22-year-old was not the finished article by any means, but his good tackling and strong support work going forward gave reason to be optimistic.

    With quite awful timing, knee problems sidelined Assou-Ekotto midway through his debut English campaign. He would not feature regularly again until the beginning of 2008-09.

    Over the following four seasons the Cameroon international would become one of Spurs' most consistent performers.

    Assou-Ekotto blossomed under Harry Redknapp’s management. As he regained his confidence following his long layoff, he all but cemented the left-back spot as his own.

    He developed a good understanding with Bale ahead of him in left wing, allowing the Welshman to attack that flank uninterrupted. When needed, Assou-Ekotto was there to provide an option, though he was a better passer than a crosser.

    Assou-Ekotto’s time as Spurs’ first-choice left-back came during the club’s most successful period of the Premier League era. Though not one of the team’s bigger-name players, he was an integral component as they regularly battled for a place in the Champions League.

    Redknapp’s departure was followed by another spell on the sidelines for the defender. When fit again, his form was not the same, and Villas-Boas had no qualms about letting him reunite with his former boss at QPR in 2013.

    Assou-Ekotto is still under contract in north London, but his days look to be numbered. As disappointing a conclusion to his Spurs career as it looks like being, for four seasons he more than earned the right to be regarded as the club’s best left-back in many a year.