Standing up for Tottenham’s unsung hero

Aaron Lennon, Tottenham HotspurWhile it’s not something many at Tottenham Hotspur would be likely to admit, you can’t help but feel for one of their most consistent and loyal performers, there’s certainly a niggling tendency to take the mercurial Aaron Lennon for granted.

Yet as strange as it seems, there’s something of a backhanded compliment lurking in and abouts that sentiment, too. After seven years in North London, Lennon has racked up an incredible 284 appearances and counting in all competitions. There haven’t been many constants at White Hart Lane in recent times, but the presence of Aaron Lennon on the team sheet has been one of them.

But he’s managed to become part of the N17 furniture, without the box office attributes that many of his striking peers seem to bestow. Lennon doesn’t have the barnstorming ability to destroy sides on his own, in the mould of a Gareth Bale. He’s a tidy passer, but he doesn’t have the finishing ability in his locker that say, a Theo Walcott does. The ex-Leeds man can whip up a great delivery, too, but he lacks the specialist skills of someone like Ashley Young.

And yet, while Lennon feels as if he’s spent his whole career being lamented for things he can’t do quite so well, no one ever seems to focus on the skills in which he does bring to this Tottenham side. Unsurprisingly, as the England man now enjoys his eighth season in a Spurs shirt, he’s continued to lay claim to that right sided berth that’s been his own for so many years now. In fact whisper it quietly, Lennon’s also been one of Tottenham’s best players this term.

When Andre Villas-Boas first arrived at the club in the summer, the armchair tacticians amongst the White Hart Lane faithful were quick to weigh up the Portuguese’s tactical identity against the attributes of the current squad. And if you were Aaron Lennon, they didn’t necessarily make for fantastic reading.

Of course, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but while no one ever seriously entertained the notion of offloading Lennon, he didn’t seem to fit in with how we’ve seen Villas-Boas set up his sides, during his short managerial career. The winning blueprint at Porto saw the ex-Chelsea boss favour a 4-3-3 system, in which the much-vaulted right-sided outlet of Brazilian forward Hulk, offered a devastating attacking weapon.

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Now while supporters weren’t expecting a Hulk or even a similar player to enter the doors at White Hart Lane, Lennon didn’t stand out as the sort of cog that might fit the Villas-Boas ideals. Given Lennon’s unremarkable scoring record, where were the goals going to come from, in a position that suddenly demanded a higher goal-scoring tally? Did he have the tactical nous to adapt from a traditional, touchline hugging winger, to a smarter, more well rounded outlet?

The 22 appearances already racked up this season, give you an emphatic answer to many of the questions asked of Lennon before the season began. Bar the short lived Capital One Cup campaign, Lennon has been a peerless presence appearance wise within this Tottenham Hotspur team. Game after game, regardless of the side’s fluctuating performances, Lennon has continued to give an unwavering level of commitment in his own displays.

Although not only have we seen the traditional strengths of Lennon exhibited, but most poignantly, we’ve actually seen a player who looks to have worked hard to develop his game.

Offensively, we are seeing a slightly reformed Lennon when he’s running at defenders. It’s hardly reinventing the wheel, but instead of receiving the ball in front of the defenders as he was for much of the Redknapp era, Lennon is looking to receive the ball far higher up the pitch, in behind them, instead. It might seem like a relatively basic tactical tweak, but this isn’t something he’s ever really done in much of his seven years at Spurs.

His willingness to not only apply himself to the Villas-Boas methods, but also succeed in doing so, absolutely epitomize Lennon as a player. There are no tantrums, no revolts, no egotistical positional demands. His work ethic defensively this term has been as good as anything we’ve seen from him in a Spurs shirt. For all the critique that can often be fairly aimed at him in terms of drifting in and out of games, his ability to work for this team can never be called into question.

And it could well be this selflessness that has also harmed his prospects both domestically and internationally, as well as help them. Goal scoring remains a real sore point for Lennon and although he’s bagged himself two in the league already, he must strive to considerably better his all time record of five in one term.

If he can boost his contribution in front of goal, this really could be a defining season for Lennon in a Spurs shirt – and from the industry he’s already shown in striving to improve, there’s no reason he can’t go and achieve the benchmark of 10 goals he’s set himself this term. A big ask, but one he might just be capable of.

The nature of Aaron Lennon’s game and the manner in which his strengths lie, suggest that he’s never likely to garner the plaudits and the adulation of the Bale’s, Young’s or even Theo Walcott’s of this world. But that doesn’t make him any less important. And in terms of his value to this Tottenham Hotspur side, it’s one that we’re often far too guilty of underplaying.