William Gallas has been described as quite a lot of things during his career, but lucky is probably not one of them. The Frenchman has often cut something of a controversial figure both on and off the pitch during his career, but since his move to Tottenham Hotspur in 2010, he’s managed to maintain a relatively low profile while sustaining a solid level of performance.
But as worthy assets as his experience and years of wisdom may have been, the truth is that both Spurs and Andre Villas-Boas must begin looking in another direction. Gallas is in the starting XI through circumstance, not ability. And that is a circumstance that the Portuguese must strive to change imminently in the coming weeks.
As Andre Villas-Boas strives to carve this Tottenham squad into the shape of his own footballing philosophies, it was always felt that the side’s defensive shape was going to be the element most susceptible to a painful upheaval. The struggles that Villas-Boas encountered undertaking the same task at Chelsea last season were put up in lights for all to see. The thought of a similar event happening in N17 put certain fans into a very nervous disposition indeed.
One of the main issues that Villas-Boas encountered at Stamford Bridge was the adoption of a system that the existing players simply seemed unable to cater to. His defensive philosophy is very much of the new-school; defend from the front with the attackers pressing from the other end of the pitch and the defenders maintaining a high line, starting moves from the back. There wasn’t any guarantees the current staff at White Hart Lane would be able to cater to that either.
The retirement of club legend Ledley King may have ensured stability could finally be brought to the back line, but it still represented the loss of a player who on his day, remained one of the best defenders in the league. Michael Dawson remains a fan favourite, but it seems clear that Villas-Boas doesn’t believe his skillset is suited to playing the style he wishes to employ. This left AVB with a small pool of viable centre-halves to choose from and the trouble didn’t stop there either.
Younes Kaboul, a player seemingly well suited to play in the new set-up and absolute stalwart of last season, was cruelly ruled out for several months after a lingering knee issue required surgery. Throw in the dilemma of blooding Jan Vertonghen, a player making his debut season in English football, and it seems that William Gallas was always going to find himself playing first team football this season.
And that so far, has been more or less the case, as the Frenchman has started all three of Villas-Boas’ games so far. On paper, he seems to represent the perfect addition, despite his 35 years. A great reader of the game, Gallas has been there and done it, as his two Premier League winning medals with Chelsea testify. As a graduate of the Clairefontaine academy, there were never any doubts that his technical ability was up to the level that Spurs’ new system demands and his leadership skills and experience seemed perfect to blood in both Jan Vertonghen and to organize an evolving defense for the new campaign.
The realities however, haven’t been quite so cut and dried for both Gallas and Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs haven’t defended atrociously in any of their opening games, but the manner in which they caved to both West Bromwich Albion and especially Norwich at home in the dying moments will have been a real cause for concern for Villas-Boas.
The manager’s decision to take Defoe off in both fixtures certainly didn’t take any pressure off the side, but it was difficult to see where Gallas’ perceived leadership skills came into play. He is supposed to be the elder statesman, the man capable of organizing the defense when the backs are against the wall in moments such as the Norwich game. Although it’s hard to see where he took charge as Spurs wilted for the second home game in a row. Michael Dawson might not have the technical ability, although his values of courage, determination and leadership shouldn’t ever be undervalued. Would Spurs have capitulated in that manner had the England man been playing?
But for however tidy Gallas may be in possession and for however well he may read the game, it can’t disguise the fading of his real defensive powers. When Romelu Lukaku came on for Steve Clarke’s West Brom at White Hart Lane, Gallas seemed absolutely powerless to stop the big Belgian causing carnage. Although it wasn’t a carbon copy of the way Didier Drogba made a mockery of him in the FA Cup semifinal last season, it was a similar sort of problem and it seems that the Frenchman has a real issue with genuine power and pace. You can only on defensive intelligence so much in this league and although he’s no slouch, his pace has concerningly receded in recent years.
The problem is, you can understand why Villas-Boas has been using Gallas, but he must find a compromise. Although he must be given a chance, Villas-Boas isn’t naïve in his thinking that Dawson would struggle to adapt to this new system and it seems that the Portuguese simply doesn’t rate him high enough for a starting place in this side. And rightly or wrongly, if that’s the case, than he must be backed. But equally he cannot continue to persist with the 35-year-old Gallas either.
Villas-Boas must be bold and the perfect compromise exists in the form of Steven Caulker. He has all the tools to succeed as a top-class Premier League defender but more importantly, he’s the perfect match for this Spurs side. He has the technical ability and positional nous of William Gallas, but also the aerial ability and imposing physicality of Michael Dawson. Caulker isn’t some unknown prospect anymore -this is a man who played a season of Premier League football with Swansea last season. He’s ready to go now, not next month after a run out in the Europa League.
Jan Vertonghen doesn’t need Gallas there as a safety net. What he needs is a hard-working, reliable, top defender to play next to. It might not please everybody, but there is no reason why Caulker shouldn’t start for Spurs against Reading this Sunday. Because if Villas-Boas doesn’t trust Michael Dawson, then he must put his faith in Steven Caulker – as the longer he leaves it, the worse it’s going to get.
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