Vertonghen and Tottenham looking to rediscover their best form
Big Champions League tie against Bayern set to focus the minds of Pochettino’s side
Jan Vertonghen and Hugo Lloris of Tottenham Hotspur celebrate the spirited Premier League victory with ten men over Southampton last weekend. Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images
When Jan Vertonghen casts his mind back to his first European campaign as a Tottenham player, he remembers the opposition was Lazio, Panathinaikos and Maribor in a Europa League group.
It was the 2012-13 season – his first after joining from Ajax – and it is fair to say that glamour Champions League ties against Bayern Munich, for which the club are now preparing at their new stadium, were little more than a pipe dream.
“We’ve come a long way, we shouldn’t forget that,” said Vertonghen. “That [remembering the opposition from 2012] is the perfect example. But we want more. We’re still very hungry. Hopefully we can do better than last season.”
Vertonghen was in the line-up when Spurs fell to Liverpool in the final in June, a result that frames the club’s Champions League campaign this time out, which began with a 2-2 draw at Olympiakos. Spurs want to prove the epic run to Madrid was not a flash in the pan.
Yet for Vertonghen, 32, there is a wider question. How much longer does he have at the club? Could this season – the last on his current contract – prove to be his swan song?
Vertonghen has endured an up and down time since the beginning of the season, with emphasis on the down. He was dropped for the opening three matches that led up to the closure of the European transfer window and Mauricio Pochettino has done nothing to hide his irritation at the players who he believed had their minds on other things during that period. Vertonghen is one of those who has been implicated.
Recalled to the team on September 1st at Arsenal, Vertonghen was partly at fault for both of the goals conceded in the 2-2 draw and it was a similar story in Athens against Olympiakos. The hope at the club is that after a difficult start to the season, the battling 2-1 home win over Southampton on Saturday can serve as a turning point, and Vertonghen certainly played his part in the rearguard action with 10 men.
“I didn’t play the first three games – that is a decision,” he said. “I want to play every game; in that way I was disappointed. That shows I am ambitious and I want to play every game. My performances this season? Probably a couple of good ones and a couple where I could have done better.”
The talks between Vertonghen and the club regarding a new contract are ongoing and the length of any deal is one of the sticking points. What Vertonghen wants to make plain is he feels he has more than one year left at the top level.
“My [longer-term] future has not been a distraction,” said Vertonghen. “I’m very aware of my age. I feel fairly young and it doesn’t distract me. I’m very ambitious and I feel I’ve got a couple of good years left in me. Am I in contract talks? I prefer not to go too deep into that but there’s always some movement everywhere. I had a great past at the club and I’m feeling great at the moment in every single way here.”
Vertonghen was asked whether the dressing room had been unsettled.
“I’m not going too much into that, either,” he replied. “The mood at this point is good and it was a good win for us on Saturday. We showed who we really are after the sending-off and their equaliser.”
Spurs announced last week that Moussa Sissoko, the 30-year-old midfielder, had signed a new four-year contract, which felt as though it might have implications for Vertonghen. Has the club’s policy towards 30-somethings shifted? Pointedly, Pochettino said it “was a deal between the club and the player” – implying he had nothing to do with it – and he took a similar position when asked if he was open to Vertonghen staying next season.
“I am open to everything,” Pochettino said. “But it’s like I said about Sissoko. That is a deal between the club and him [Vertonghen] and his agent.”
Pochettino complained Spurs always started seasons on the back foot because of difficult summers – he mentioned “poor circumstances” at one point – but Bayern, too, have had their problems, despite being top of the Bundesliga and having Robert Lewandowski in lethal form. The striker has 12 goals in nine games in all competitions.
“We haven’t dominated for 90 minutes all season,” said Niko Kovac, their manager. “So far it’s only been for 60 minutes. This is never going to work unless you play in lower quality games.”