There are some detractors of Ben Davies, but for Sean Mort he's the perfect understudy to Danny Rose and more importantly a perfect squad player for Tottenham
During the last few years not many players have inspired more debate than our second choice left back – Ben Davies. A player who always works diligently whenever called upon, who is never injured, who has never shown signs of any discontent, who was not signed for an outrageous fee and who is still just 25 years old, it would seem as though there could be little cause for complaint in our reserve left back.
Yet from certain quarters there are murmurs of discontent. He’s not good enough. He doesn’t get forward enough. He has a low ceiling. Tottenham are an improving club and a club (like many others) with big ambitions, so what exactly can we expect from our squad players? What’s the DNA of the perfect understudy?
Ideally you want someone who is equally as good as the first choice. But if you have an 8 out of 10 left back, it’s very difficult to sign another 8 out of 10 to sit on the bench at a club which doesn’t promise you any silverware. Spurs’ experience trying manage four strikers all with similar goalscoring ability (the Bent, Defoe, Keane, Berbatov days) was not a blueprint that is likely to be repeated.
You want someone who will fight for a place in the first team, but not be disruptive if they are continually overlooked. Someone that will cheer from the bench as the team scores even if it further undermines their chance of a first team start. Someone who will warm up diligently even if they know they know they’re not going to get on.
Skill, patience, diligence, ambition – it’s extremely difficult to find all these qualities in a footballer. The most talented understudies are those displaced from their position in the first team, but those are the ones who are most unsettled with their bum on a bench; and in Spurs’ current position -recruiting a player that will push Son, Eriksen or Vertongen to the bench will cost an unprecedented fee and are increasingly different to identify and recruit.
The key quality which has not been mentioned, and which is the most important in an understudy to a club like Spurs is versatility. A player who is a seven 7 out of 10 in one position is no use to Spurs. However, if that player can play at that level in two or even three positions they become invaluable.
Versatility means being able to manage a smaller squad. It means you don’t need a second striker because your winger can finish. It means you can bring on a midfielder if your centre back is injured with your defensive midfielder pushing back into defence. It means room on the bench for more attacking options, or youth players. It means the ability to change formation without changing personnel. For these reasons and more, versatility is one of the key principles of Pochettino’s philosophy, and the reason for so much calm inside the club at our recent barren transfer window.
Manchester City can have two great players for every position. They can sign second choice players for big money on huge wages with the promise of challenging for silverware every year. Spurs cannot. The DNA of the perfect understudy at Spurs is a player who is young, versatile and capable. I propose that Ben Davies represents the perfect understudy. He’s able to play at centre back or left back, puts in solid performances whenever called upon and is apparently very straightforward to manage.
The aforementioned murmerers no doubt want an improvement on Danny Rose. However, would Danny Rose be an effective understudy? Or is he likely to become unsettled? Train a little more gently. Put on a little bit of weight. Be less effective when finally called upon for cup games. Force Pochettino to pick an extra central defender on the bench. Eventually ask for a move and force to club to again go back to the transfer market for another left back.
The role of the understudy is often a thankless task. As a defender you can go months without playing. As an attacker you’re often asked to make an impact in the last 15 minutes of a game with players around you fully up to speed, judged alongside players who have had a run of games to find their form. It’s equally hard to recruit and manage your squad players, but I think it’s another area of Pochettino’s management that he’s got spot on.