For all the change of manager, change of players and change of tactical blueprint that hindered Tottenham Hotspur’s start to the season, it’s worth noting that arguably the biggest hindrance of all to their progress this term is only just about to be addressed.
As the club’s outstanding central defender and arguably their most consistent player last season, Younes Kaboul was always going to play an integral part in his side’s progress this season. As it stands, we’re about to enter the start of March and the Frenchman has played just the one game for Spurs all season.
As debilitating blows to a club’s season go, losing the pillar of your defence to a near-season curtailing knee injury is just about as bad as it gets and following the retirement of club legend Ledley King during the summer, Villas-Boas was dealt a bitter defensive blow as a he looked to get his project off the ground. Something worth noting if the Lilywhites do indeed secure a Champions League finish this term.
But with the one time-Portsmouth defender now back in training at Hotspur Way, the men from N17 are set to be handed a massive boost as the club enter the Premier League’s final straight. Although it’s within the timing of his comeback, that Kaboul perhaps offers his manager something of a mild dilemma.
Few in White Hart Lane would argue to the claim that Kaboul is perhaps their most effective defensive asset. Yet following over five months on the sidelines, the Younes Kaboul that breaks back into the side isn’t going to immediately be the same Younes Kaboul that first exited it.
For as highly regimented and optimised that the fitness regime the Spurs staff have laid down for Kaboul may be, no amount of training ground work can replicate 90 minutes of Premier League football and it’s been quite some time since he even kicked a ball in anger.
You have to go all the way back to the opening day 2-1 defeat to Newcastle United at St. James’ Park to track down the last time we saw Kaboul in a Spurs shirt before he succumbed to his knee injury.
Following a bout of suspected patella tendonitis that the Frenchman was rumoured to be enduring for quite some time last season, the decision was made to undergo surgery and as is so often the case with an injury of this magnitude, the timetable for return is often a tentative one.
With March already upon us, it was initially hoped that Kaboul might already have a run of games under his belt as Spurs headed into the North London derby. With the visit of Arsenal now only three days away, the 27-year-old’s comeback still hasn’t been forthcoming.
The issue for Villas-Boas must now be finding a match in which he feels he can safely throw Kaboul back into proceedings. Because at such a crucial time of the season with so much now at stake, there aren’t any home gimmes or early-round cup-ties in which to coax him back into the starting XI. After so long out of a match environment, Kaboul is understandably going to be harnessing a little ring-rust upon his return to the team and with Andre Villas-Boas’ side currently 11 games unbeaten in the Premier League, for as important as Kaboul may be, there’s no immediate rush to return him to the fold.
In Jan Vertonghen, Michael Dawson, Steven Caulker and William Gallas, Spurs are lucky enough to boast a quartet of central defenders with an array of differing strengths and although they’ve had their moments, all four have performed magnificently on the whole this season.
Now when both fit and match sharp, you’d expect Kaboul to almost certainly be a first-choice pick within this Spurs back-four but timing his comeback into a side that aren’t flawless defensively, but genuinely coping quite well, isn’t necessarily as cut and dried as simply thrusting him back in as soon as he’s available.
Having seen Ledley King effortlessly yo-yo in and out of Tottenham’s starting XI for what feels like a small lifetime, it’s easy to take Kaboul’s return – or any other stricken Spurs player for that matter – for granted.
Although when Harry Redknapp once used, in the nicest possible way, the term ‘freak’ to describe King’s performances upon returning to the side, he wasn’t joking. Few players can play to the sort of level King did after a spell out the team and after five months on the treatment table, it could be a long-way back performance wise for Kaboul.
Of course, Kaboul could return next month, be slotted straight into the team and play a stunning 90 minutes on his way to a Spurs victory. But with his current centre-halves performing well under rotation and the pressure building in their race for Champions League qualification, there’s absolutely no need for Villas-Boas to rush him back into the side.
Depending on when he does eventually return, while there are never any easy games in this league, the home fixture against Fulham on the March 17th could represent an ideal opportunity to ease him back into the fold. But with a tough away trip to Swansea in their next game preluding the season-defining run of games against Everton, Chelsea and Manchester City, throwing in a player who by that time may not have played a game in six months, would most certainly represent a risk.
For whatever the rest of this season may hold, the return of Younes Kaboul will be a massive boost to Tottenham Hotspur, but supporters might have to be a little patient before we see him in a Spurs shirt once more. Good things come to those who wait and the return of the imperious Frenchman is no different – whenever that may be.