Tottenham Hotspur’s 2-1 FA Cup defeat to Leeds United may have been a disastrous afternoon for the club, but for former Elland Road prodigy Aaron Lennon, Sunday’s fixture marked something of a poignant moment.
Nearly eight years have now passed since a then 18-year-old Lennon swapped life in West Yorkshire for the nation’s capital. And where as he left as a raw, wiry and ultimately uncertain prospect, he returns, as Spurs’ assistant manager Steffen Freund recently described, as ‘one of the country’s best wingers.’
It’s quite a compliment for a player who’s tended to represent one of English football’s more enigmatic and inconsistent performers, since he first broke onto the scene the best part of a decade ago.
Indeed, while Lennon now constitutes something of an irreplaceable cog within Andre Villas-Boas’ starting XI, the success story that we now witness today could have been so much different had the Chapletown-born winger succumbed to rumoured home-sickness back in 2006, that widely saw him linked with a return up north.
Furthermore, had a certain Wayne Routledge – a man once deemed as arguably the better prospect – not broken his foot on the opening day of the 2005-06 season, who knows whether Lennon would have necessarily been given his chance to shine within Martin Jol’s side during his debut season?
If there was any lingering homesickness however, Lennon overcame it with aplomb and as debut seasons in a Spurs shirt go, there haven’t been too many more impressive than the one he brought to the fold in what seems like a lifetime ago. His raw ability and unworldly amounts of pace helped launch Tottenham to within a remarkable two points of Champions League qualification.
The success story didn’t stop there, either – Lennon was rewarded with a shock call up to the England squad for the 2006 World Cup at the end of the season, putting in a couple of starring cameos against both Trinidad and Tobago and Portugal in the process. While it was clear that Lennon’s game had plenty of room for improvement, the core attributes were there for him to really push on for both club and also country in the coming years.
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Yet it’s been within that transformation from fledging young talent to the player that we currently see nearing the finished article, that has so often polarized supporters as to quite how far his ability will be able to take him at the club.
While the contribution his pace and direct running has made for the team has never been in doubt, his ability to find that ever-sacred end-product within his game, has been a long, arduous and often frustrating journey. But although his Tottenham career hasn’t been without it’s inconsistencies, it’s worth noting that the Aaron Lennon that plays before us today, is still only 25-years of age.
It’s often been all too easy to take Lennon’s presence within this side for granted and should he play in Spurs’ next four fixtures, he’ll have racked up an incredible 300 appearances for the club. He’s not been without his injury issues during his time at White Hart Lane, but Lennon’s generally been an ever-present throughout the club’s continued surge to prominence within the Premier League.
During that time, he’s overcome injury, three managerial changes and his fair share of doubters without ever complaining or uttering a bad word to either the club, supporters or hierarchy. Bar his brief lash-out at the media following unfounded rumours he pulled out of the squad needlessly prior to their Champions League encounter with Real Madrid back in 2011, Lennon’s behavior at the club has been exemplary.
And it’s perhaps within that low media profile and reluctance to bathe in the limelight that Lennon has sometimes found himself taken for granted by sections of supporters.
His lack of goalscoring prowess certainly hasn’t helped, but whatever the season, whatever the circumstance, the diminutive winger continues to churn out dedicated performances year after year. The only difference now is that the inconsistencies that have been a perpetual thorn in his side are getting ironed out.
Speaking to the Tottenham Journal last week, former Spurs favourite Chris Waddle suggested that maybe it’s only now that Lennon is beginning to fulfill his heady potential.
“Aaron’s coming of a good age now,” said the ex-Marseille man.
“As you get older you get more experienced and more consistent, and I think that’s what happening.
“Some players peak at 18, 19 or 20 but others don’t find consistency until they’re 28, 29 or 30 and I still think there’s a lot more to come from him.”
Aaron Lennon can hardly be classified as a ‘late bloomer’ given his seven-years of Premier League service at White Hart Lane, but maybe we are just finally beginning to see the very best of him within a Spurs shirt. And if supporters really have just seen the tip of the iceberg from Lennon in recent years, the thought of him progressing even further under Andre Villas-Boas is a very tantalising prospect indeed.
Some things may never change and for all his superb work down the wing of late, we’re probably never going to see an outlandish change in his goal contribution or too many one-man-shows in the mould of Gareth Bale. But if he keeps up the development in the other aspects of his game, that simply doesn’t matter.
This season we’ve seen a smarter, wiser and perhaps for the first time, a more confident Aaron Lennon. Andre Villas-Boas seems to have cultivated a level of productivity and consistency previously unseen out of Tottenham’s number seven. It’s been a long time coming, but finally it seems, he’s beginning to come of age – long may it continue.