A deal that seemed to take forever to process was finally confirmed on Thursday – Tottenham Hotspur signing Jan Vertonghen had completed his medical with the club. The transfer was confirmed on Sunday afternoon after weeks of negotiations between Spurs, Ajax and the Belgium international. Vertonghen had already appeased fans of the North London outfit by declaring his intention to only join Spurs, despite interest from AC Milan and rivals Arsenal.
The player himself had actually agreed to move to White Hart Lane weeks before the deal itself had been completed. However, contractual obligations with the Eredivisie side meant the eventual transfer was held up until the past weekend. Yet, the deal is finally secured and Spurs have, at last, completed the signing of a player they have been tracking since the beginning of 2012.
Vertonghen first signed for Ajax back in 2003 following spells with VK Tielrode and Germinal Beerschot, just 25 km from his hometown of Sint-Niklaas in Belgium. The Eredivisie champions clearly spotted something in the fresh-faced youngster that warranted a move to the Dutch capital. However, his first impression of the city would’ve left a lasting effect on the then 15-year-old after witnessing someone have his jacket stolen.
Three years after arriving at the Amsterdam Arena, Vertonghen finally made his debut for Ajax. Unfortunately, it ended in defeat and an early exit from the Champions League at the hands of Copenhagen. Yet, despite his impressive performances for a player his age, he struggled to break into the starting XI with Holland International Jonny Heitinga ahead of him in the pecking order.
His versatility was a benefit to the club at the time, but saw him at risk of becoming nothing more than a utility player. However, Frank de Boer’s return to the club in 2007 as youth-team coach saw Vertonghen improve considerably. The 42-year-old pushed the young defender both on the pitch and in training.
A year after his arrival, and upon Heitinga’s move to Atletico Madrid, Vertonghen was given the opportunity to make his mark in the starting XI, grasping the chance with both hands. He formed a first-choice defensive partnership with compatriot Thomas Vermaelen in the 2008/09 season.
The next summer, Vermaelen was sold to Arsenal, but under new coach Martin Jol, Vertonghen retained his place in the starting XI in the heart of the back-line alongside fellow Belgian Toby Alderweireld. He continued his rise to prominence once de Boer was announced as head coach in midway through the 2009/10 season following Jol’s resignation.
His early work under de Boer paid dividends and it wasn’t long before Vertonghen was captaining Ajax to the Eredivisie title following the departures of Luis Suarez and Maarten Stekelenburg. His displays had attracted interest from the likes of Manchester City and Barcelona, but the 25-year-old opted to move to Spurs due to the guarantee of first-team football.
How Can He Help Tottenham?
Despite being just 25-years-old, Vertonghen already has a wealth of experience, both at club and International level. Since his senior debut in 2006, the former Ajax captain has made 240 appearances for the Amsterdam giants, with a further 37 caps for Belgium. His pace, power and positional sense will greatly aid a Spurs side that are set to go through another transitional period.
Now, with Andre Villas-Boas in charge, he is the type of defender that will ensure the new head boss’ system works perfectly. Villas-Boas prefers to play with a high defensive back-line, with his back four expected to push on and support the midfield. With Kyle Walker, Younes Kaboul and Benoit Assou-Ekotto all boasting pace and a keen interest in breaking forward, Vertonghen will surely slot in alongside the trio to form a formidable defence.
Furthermore, the Portuguese tactician enjoys his defenders to play the ball out from defence rather than pump it up-field to a target man. The Belgian is equally exceptional with the ball at his feet as he is in the air. This will further aid Villas-Boas as he looks to make his mark with Spurs, much in the same way he did with Chelsea 12 months ago.
However, it is pivotal that a disciplined holding midfielder is fully utilised by the 34-year-old. As mentioned, the quartet will likely look to break forward at any given opportunity, Vertonghen and Kaboul included. His naivety, which has cost the Belgian in the past, could be exploited and needs to be harnessed properly in order for the team to benefit from it. Nevertheless, Vertonghen looks to be a shrewd piece of business by the North London outfit.
On top of that, Vertonghen is renowned as somewhat of a set-piece specialist. The Belgium international has netted 31 goals during his career, with eight coming in his last season with Ajax, the most by an Ajax defender since de Boer in the 1993/94 season. Despite possessing the likes of Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart, his free-kicks are likely to come in useful, with his efforts often drawing comparisons to Ajax and PSV Eindhoven defender Ronald Koeman.
During his time in the Ajax reserves, Vertonghen attained global attention completely by mistake. During the 2006 KNVB Cup, he meant to play the ball back to the goalkeeper after Cambuur Leeuwarden put the ball out of play to allow an Ajax player to receive treatment for an injury.
However, after launching the ball towards the Leeuwarden shot-stopper, his free-kick lofted up and into the top corner to put Ajax 3-0 up, leaving Vertonghen shocked by the effort. Yet, in a display of sportsmanship, the Amsterdam giants allowed Cambuur to go down the other end and allow them to score to make it 3-1.