Something broke in me Saturday afternoon. When Spurs lose – whether by one to Norwich or fifty to City – the same ritual invariably ensues: angrily turn off the television. Angrily throw the remote control into the couch. Angrily drink a beer. Wallow in misery for an hour or so. Shake it off. Cheer up. Resume life. Spurs can give us plenty to scream about, but the feeling tends to subside after a brief cooling off period.
But not this time.
It wasn’t the fact Sherwood played a fullback on the wing. It wasn’t the fact a scoreless draw at halftime was being heralded as progress. It wasn’t another preposterous (and bound to be overturned) red card ruining what was a competitive, if not boring, match. It wasn’t Kyle Walker’s ludicrous header. It wasn’t 4-0. It wasn’t Chelsea.
It wasn’t Mourinho’s to-be-expected press conference which invariably heaped more dirt on the corpse that is the 2013-14 season. And it certainly wasn’t the fact I’d just watched Woolwich advance to a cup semi against what can only be described as less-than-stellar competition (which – should they win, and God help us if they do – will only bring a deluge of “Since Tottenham Last Won A Trophy” images and memes we’ve spent the last several years throwing in their face).
It was Jan Vertonghen.
Plenty of ink has been spilled and Tweets fired off in response to the defender’s stated desire to pursue Champions League options should Spurs again fail to win the Arsene Wenger Fourth Place Memorial Cup. And while I’ve avoided Twitter and virtually every media outlet since the final whistle blew on Saturday, I can only assume an equal amount of fury has been directed towards the Belgian.
Vertonghen is maddeningly inconsistent and increasingly lacks the professionalism you’d want out of a player
All of which, in my opinion, is wholly deserved. For a player with his skills and technique, Vertonghen is maddeningly inconsistent and increasingly lacks the professionalism you’d want out of a player of his value and supposed stature.
Not everyone is Michael Dawson. Despite his varied and numerous flaws, our erstwhile captain happily bleeds for the shirt, loves playing for Spurs and the supporters, and would lie down in traffic if it meant keeping a clean sheet.
And in spite of the club’s willingness (eagerness?) to sell him down the Premier League food chain, Dawson stayed and famously fought for his place, playing a significant role in the club achieving a record points tally last season. But he’s increasingly the outlier in modern football. More often than not, footballers are in pursuit of the largest wage and biggest stage, ready to abandon their current club when such an opportunity percolates.
And while we all wish it weren’t the case, there’s truly nothing wrong with a player’s personal ambitions being set so high. Careers are brutally short and these massive paychecks dry up – if you’re lucky – by the time you’ve reached your mid- to late-30’s. Faced with these realities, it’s hard to blame any young man for trying to achieve as much as he can as quickly as possible.
But what isn’t unreasonable is to ask these mercenaries to exhibit a modicum of professionalism. To conduct themselves in the best interests of their club. To respect the shirt, the players who’ve worn it before and the ones who will in the future.
[authquote text="It’s one thing to make a physical mistake. It’s another to make mental mistakes rooted in laziness and selfishness"]
To earn their ridiculous wage by giving an honest effort each match, whether it’s at Old Trafford in the League, home to Portsmouth in a cup tie, or in the backwoods of Croatia for a cold December Europa League group stage match.
To salute the away support who’ve had to sit through yet another head-hanging drubbing by a club you’re supposed to be competing with at the top of the table, however unlikely that increasingly feels.
Without listing too many examples – and they are legion – Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski come to mind. I’m aware their situations were/are different than Vertonghen’s, mainly in that they were already making exciting runs in the Champions League.
But whether they were unhappy in Dortmund, were disappointed in their wages, or didn’t share the same ambitions as the club, it ultimately didn’t matter: their desire to seek a larger stage to showcase their talents won out and they were/are off to Munich. And yet despite all of this, both acted like professionals, kept their mouths shut and gave their all to the club despite having one foot out the door.
Which brings us back Jan Vertonghen.
It’s one thing to make a physical mistake; they’re a part of the game, especially when that game is played amongst the world’s best athletes at break-neck speeds. It’s another to make mental mistakes rooted in laziness and selfishness. And it is quite another to act as if your mistakes occur in a vacuum, exist outside of the realm of the team and have no impact on the outcome of matches.
It’s in this final category Vertonghen has chosen to wade into with no regard for his club or teammates. We’ve lamented mistakes made by the aforementioned Dawson all season, along with those by Danny Rose, Roberto Soldado, and likely every other member of the first team at one point or another.
But Vertonghen has made his fair share as well, playing his role in costing the club valuable points, none more glaring than Saturday. For someone with his reputation, you’d expect the brilliant performances to far outweigh the lacklustre ones but they simply don’t.
I’m not suggesting Vertonghen is crap, quite the contrary: he’s a great defender the club should build around. But I watch other matches. I see other defenders. Vertonghen doesn’t separate himself from the supposed next level of solid-if-unspectacular defenders a rung below him on a consistent enough basis like he did last year.
And to top that inconsistent body of work off with a heaping dose of arrogance and lack of self-awareness is enough for me to bid him a not-so-fond farewell if that’s what he wants come season’s end.
I’m not asking you to love the shirt, Jan. I’m demanding you fight for it.