Should Tottenham Hotspur eventually go on to lift the Europa League trophy in Amsterdam this May, you can place your bets now as to who might take the honour of being the first to raise it with both hands.
Following the loss of both a club legend and inspirational captain in Ledley King during the summer, the school of thought was that the armband already had a natural successor in fan’s favourite Michael Dawson. And in due time following Andre Villas-Boas’ appointment, that was eventually the case.
Although while injury has so often been a lingering shadow over the former Nottingham Forest man’s career in North London, his modest total of 16 league starts has had little to do with time on the treatment table and a lot more to do with Villas-Boas’ personal preference. For the first half of Spurs’ campaign, their newly crowned skipper found himself relegated to the substitutes bench.
In recent weeks, the 29-year-old has of course made a stellar return to proceedings and won back the trust of his previously doubting manager. But even so, Dawson still remains part of a rotating set-up at centre back. With the return of arguably the club’s outstanding defender in Younes Kaboul on the horizon, there’s every chance that he might find himself once again fighting for a starting berth.
In spite of his obvious natural leadership qualities, every club has a chain of prospective command, but when you go down the line of those you’d expect to take the armband should Dawson not be playing, you find yourself with a slightly disconcerting lack of regular candidates.
When Dawson found himself on the bench earlier on in the season, Villas-Boas opted for the wealth of experience that was William Gallas, to take on leadership duties. Although at 35 and with his powers on the wane, the Frenchman hardly offers much in the way of security for the skipper’s role.
Likewise, as the veteran of many a Premier League campaign and as Spurs’ most experienced player, Brad Friedel was an obvious choice for the armband when Villas-Boas’ central defenders looked set to yo-yo in and out of the team. Yet since the emergence of Hugo Lloris, the American no longer offers a viable option as captain. In fact, had it not been for the injury picked up to Sandro that’s allowed Scott Parker in the team, you’d be hard pressed to pick one at all within this Tottenham side.
The role of the captain is notoriously overplayed within these shores and the definition of what we often perceive to be a good captain, has become caricature-like in its make-up. Contrary to popular belief, clubs don’t necessarily need a captain whose veins throb out the side of his head after berating his side in regular 30-second intervals. Following through on every tackle is no longer a requisite skill of the role in question.
Although what cannot be overstated is the effect a good captain can have within a side and although the armband is only a title, the quality of leadership most certainly isn’t. And past Michael Dawson – who’s rumoured to be in talks over a new deal at the club – that trait isn’t particularly in plentiful supply at White Hart Lane and at the end of the season, it could potentially get even sparser.
With Villas-Boas publicly stating his desire to trim his centre halves from five to four, the smart money must be on William Gallas – whose contract expires at the end of the season – departing the club. That’s one further leader that will most probably be on his way.
Furthermore, although Scott Parker has been racking up the appearances since his return from an Achilles problem, there is a feeling that the England man could well be on his way to pastures new this summer as Villas-Boas looks to raise both space and added funds for another midfield recruit. Should he depart the club, then Spurs could be left with a shortage of natural leaders.
Take away the ages of both Brad Friedel and William Gallas from this Spurs team, and the average age of the squad is around only 25-years-old. Within the likes of Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon and Clint Dempsey amongst others, the club boasts plenty of players with a good 180 plus Premier League games to their name, but experience doesn’t naturally transcend into leadership. And it’s here that Andre Villas-Boas may well be given some interesting food for thought come the summer transfer window.
Does this mean that the Portuguese should go out and buy an ageing midfield enforcer just because he’s at the wrong end of his 20’s and looks to be good leadership material? No, absolutely not and given the club’s policy of buying younger talent with a high potential sell-on fee, the odds are that chairman Daniel Levy wouldn’t sanction it, either.
But if/when the club decide to try and bolster their side during the summer, they could do a lot worse than bringing in a slightly more experienced campaigner in addition to the wealth of younger, gifted talent that they currently bestow. As well as adding another leader to the ranks, given the relative lack of sustained Champions League experience in the squad, some further experience in the competition wouldn’t hurt the team, either.
It’s difficult to quantify whether Tottenham are in dire need of an added shot of leadership come the end of the season and with team spirit seemingly looking extremely positive from the outside, it’s a delicate balancing act in looking to add another big personality.
But with the right addition, a spot of extra experience could be the perfect compliment to a squad that looked perfectly balanced to push on even further next season.