Slowly proving what Tottenham fans have already known
For Tottenham Hotspur supporters, there has always been something of a curious fascination behind the general prejudice that the vast majority of Premier League neutrals seem to bestow towards their very own Aaron Lennon.
Aged only 25, the Leeds-born winger has made over 220 top-flight appearances for his club under four different managers, clocked up 21 England caps and travelled to two World Cups in the process.
Throw in 45 showings in European competition – including a Champions League run in which Lennon proved his ability to cut it on the biggest stage of them all – and you get an idea as to the calibre of a player that has been a first team regular at White Hart Lane for near on eight years now.
And over the last two league games, although Spurs fans were hardly surprised what damage the absence of Lennon’s pedigree might do to this the team, his loss has been sorely felt by Andre Villas-Boas’ side. During the league losses against Liverpool and Fulham, as well as the majority of last week’s 4-1 mauling away to Inter Milan, the Lilywhites looked both off-colour and off-balance without their effervescent number seven in tow.
Because while the cynics might attribute the bulk of Tottenham’s recent hiccup to Gareth Bale’s inability to dig them out of another hole, the truth is that the men from N17 have been unable to produce any form of real attacking rhythm without the injured Lennon. And to a greater extent, their loss is only proving to the rest of English football what Spurs fans already knew about both his quality and his importance to this side.
Breaking down the wall of scepticism that the wider footballing public seems to possess in regards to Lennon’s ability has often seemed like a tough nut to crack over the years. In fact, now aged 25, you get the impression that some will simply never veer away from their perception of an inconsistent, one trick show-pony. Stereotypes die-hard and Aaron Lennon has found it difficult to shed his label as a limited footballer blessed with unique athletic talent, rather than a well-rounded Premier League component.
At times of course, the diminutive winger has often been his own worst enemy in regards to proving those doubters wrong.
Certainly, if Spurs fans are correct in their opinion that Lennon has a lot more to offer than what the boo-boys make out, then his critics aren’t wrong in parading his inconsistency as a major flaw in design. When the confidence has eeked out of his game and the willingness to take opponents on dwindles, he can sometimes look awfully exposed. As a player who has never possessed much of a craft in front of goal or a real match-winning edge, he does perhaps suffer more than most when the bread-and-butter elements of his game fade away.
But he looks no less exposed when his fortunes fade than most players within this league and while he’ll never rack up a goal count quite as high as say, Arsenal’s Theo Walcott, that doesn’t mean he’s any less important to his team than what the Gunners man is to his.
With four goals and six assists to his name in the Premier League this season, Lennon’s statistics don’t necessarily ooze an air of all-conquering importance. Although while not going quite as far as harnessing Villas-Boas’ claims that stats are ‘useless’, viewing the England-man’s contribution empirically hugely undermines Lennon’s value within this team.
You can’t quantify how much space he’s made as a result of his unrelenting runs down the right hand side and it’s within the frequency and efficiency of those runs that you also discover quite how underrated his positional sense and awareness of space is. He is the key that so often opens the doors for others within this Spurs team without even having the ball.
And when he does, the urban myth about a fabled non-existent end-product is slowly beginning to dissipate. The wayward crosses haven’t been culled just yet, but his delivery is a far more consistent beast than it previously has been.
And when it comes to keeping possession, an Andres Iniesta he may not be, but considering 85% of his 765 passes have safely landed at the desired recipient this season, you begin to understand why he’s proved such a valuable asset within this Villas-Boas incarnation of a Tottenham side.
Gareth Bale may ultimately be the talisman within this Tottenham team, but Aaron Lennon’s brief absence over the last two league games has given us a stark reminder that the Lilywhites’ hopes of success rest on a lot more than just the Welshman’s shoulders.
Should they wish to qualify for the Champions League and push on within their Europa League campaign, Villas-Boas is going to need the speed, determination and work-ethic that Lennon brings just as much as any howitzer that Bale might provide from now until the end of the season.
If Spurs are perceived to be toothless without Bale in their team, then they almost certainly look anaemic without Lennon in it. Should they look to get their colour back before more telling damage is done to their Premier League campaign, they’re going to need Lennon back as a matter of urgency.