Given the tumultuous nature of Tottenham Hotspur’s experiences in the last transfer window, you can’t blame supporters for feeling slightly anxious as we storm through into January. As the Andre Villas-Boas project begins to gather steam, the feeling at White Hart Lane is that the club must back the Portuguese to start crafting this squad into one of his own.
Fans are eager to see not just new faces appear at the club, but more importantly, faces that the manager craves, rather than the bank balance. But regardless of who chairman Daniel Levy may serve up next month, there should be one arrival that won’t cost a penny, yet whom still has the ability to help define Tottenham’s season.
Younes Kaboul has of course resembled something of a forgotten man this season. After providing the bedrock for Spurs’ fourth placed finish last term, Kaboul hasn’t been seen since the season’s opener against Newcastle, following knee surgery that’s left the Frenchman sidelined for nearly four months now.
And in those four months, while both manager and supporters alike will be more than content with their current fourth placed position in the league, the side have encountered some real defensive struggles in Kaboul’s absence.
Along with Norwich City, Spurs have shipped in 25 goals already this season and you have to sink down to 13h placed Fulham before you find a side with an inferior defensive record. Yesterday’s 1-0 victory over Michael Laudrup’s Swansea City side represented what was only their third clean sheet of the season.
Of course, injuries to Michael Dawson and Benoit Assou-Ekotto, the forced deployment of Jan Vertonghen at left-back, a loss of form to William Gallas as well as some suspect defensive substitutions courtesy of Villas-Boas, hasn’t particularly helped proceedings. But for all the trials and tribulations of Spurs’ back four, the fact is they’ve lost their outstanding centre-half in Kaboul. And no one should underestimate the effect that’s had upon Tottenham Hotspur’s season.
Given the men who Kaboul’s been up against for a starting berth at the heart of the White Hart Lane defense in recent times, it’s perhaps understandable that the ex-Auxerre man has never quite been perceived as an indispensable asset amongst supporters. Club legend Ledley King has always – and until the back end of last season, quite rightly – provided a roadblock into the first XI when fit and the lion-hearted Michael Dawson continues to retain a special place amongst the heart of the N17 support.
Furthermore, following the topsy-turvy nature of his first stint at the club in 2007, Kaboul’s had to work hard to ease the lingering reservations some at the club held upon the man capped five times at international level. Harry Redknapp once described the Frenchman as a ‘late developer’ and as accurate an observation as that may be, the images of a gallivanting Kaboul too often leaving his fellow defenders in the mire during his initial spell, didn’t dissipate overnight.
His talent on the ball and his potential to be a great defender were always there to see, but some were unsure as to wherever that potential might ever have been fulfilled. Could Kaboul shake the careless errors and reign in the recklessness of his attacking forays to become the quality defender so many had tipped him to be?
The answer has been emphatic. Since arriving back at Spurs in the January of 2010, Kaboul has silently gone about his business solidifying himself as one of the club’s outstanding defenders. In the last 18 months, the 26-year-old has slowly become the one constant in a back line full of variables.
As Ledley King continued to yo-yo in and out of the team and Michael Dawson’s injury woe took on a similar plotline, it’s been Kaboul who the club have turned to in order to plug the widening gaps in their ever-shifting back four. Yet the Frenchman’s offered so, so much more than just a stopgap or a temporary measure.
Last season saw Kaboul galvanize himself within the heart of Harry Redknapp’s defense, offering both outstanding performance and crucially, some desperately needed consistency over his 41 appearances in all competitions for the Lilywhites. Whether he’s played beside Ledley King, Michael Dawson or William Gallas, Kaboul has continued to grow in both ability and prominence in this Spurs side, displaying a somewhat underrated attribute of adaptability, no matter whom his ever-changing central defensive partner was.
Comfortable in possession and astute with the ball at his feet, Kaboul has matured in almost every way imaginable from the raw talent that first turned up on these shores five years ago. He’s complimented his sheer power and aerial ability with an ever-improving reading of the game. The Kaboul of today has kept the aggression and positivity of the Kaboul of 2007, but he’s such an infinitely superior defender. He’s learnt from those around him and at 26, he’s only going to get better.
But far from looking to the future, Tottenham need him now. While fingers will of course be pointed at Villas-Boas for the continued concession of late goals, the side have desperately missed the steel and decision making that figures like Scott Parker and Younes Kaboul have brought to the team.
Would Kaboul’s presence have prevented the sort of goals shipped in against Everton, Chelsea and Norwich? Who knows, but the big number four thrives on a defensive battle. He’s a born competitor, a fantastic athlete and arguably the club’s outstanding centre-half. Jan Vertonghen might have something to say about that, but what a partnership supporters have to look forward to.
The touted likes of Joao Moutinho, Willian and Christian Eriksen all have the ability to take Spurs onto the next level should they arrive next month. But it’s the return of Younes Kaboul that might prove to be just as important for the side. What a month fans have in store.