Jonathan Woodgate has certainly endured a nightmare past 15 months while at Tottenham; he has battled numerous injuries and his career at one stage or another has looked to be all but over, but with the centre-half’s contract due to expire in the summer, is Woodgate deserving of a new deal?
The immediate type of contract that springs to mind with regards to Woodgate – a deal that would benefit both club and player – would be to offer him a pay-as-you-play deal. Normally these sorts of deals are reserved for the undoubtedly talented yet injury-prone sorts of players. Woodgate certainly fits into both of the above categories.
Manager Harry Redknapp said after Woodgate’s performance in the away leg of their Champions League clash against AC Milan that: “Hopefully he will get a deal. I want him to come back fit. He’s a great player. I’d love to see him get his career back on track because when I came here two years ago he was one of the first names on the sheet, a different class. He’s one of the best centre-halves around.” A fitting microcosm of Woodgate’s career to date thus far, he went onto pick up an abductor muscle strain during the AC Milan clash and has since subsequently been ruled out with injury once more.
I rarely ever agree with rent-a-quote Spurs manager Harry Redknapp, but it appears on the issue of Woodgate, we are of the same opinion. Woodgate is a fantastic defender. Classy on the ball, good in the air and with a great recovering tackle, he is without doubt one of the best English players of his generation. I’d even go as far as to estimate that John Terry would have garnered less than half his 65 England caps had Woodgate been less injury-prone. For those of you that are interested, Woodgate currently holds only 8 caps to his name.
The player will of course recognise that Spurs will be his last chance of really achieving anything of any note at the top level of the game. At 31 years of age, it’s saddening to witness such a potentially world-class player struggling with injury so much and so often. He will turn 32 during next season, and to be quite frank, he’d be mad to turn down any sort of deal that he may be offered by Spurs.
The sounds emanating from Spurs earlier in the season were that Woodgate may be forced into premature retirement due to a series of debilitating groin injuries and his appearance against AC Milan came after just 45 minutes in a behind-closed-doors friendly against QPR nearly a month earlier.
Redknapp had been forced into naming Woodgate on the bench despite his relative lack of match sharpness by, rather ironically it must be said, injuries to other defenders. He came off the bench in the second half after an injury sustained to Vedran Corluka after a shocking scything challenge by former Arsenal man Mathieu Flamini that left the Croat unable to walk.
Spurs are currently in possession of two of the finest centre-halves that the Premier League has ever produced in Ledley King and Jonathan Woodgate. That may sound like a complete over-estimation of their abilities to some, but to my mind, they’re both first-class and they dovetail well when played together. The cruel reality though, is that Spurs have had to progress recently without the duo, at a time when their quality could of great use.
Had King and Woodgate been fit for the entire campaign, Spurs could quite possibly be that little bit closer to challenging Man Utd for the title. Only the partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at Man Utd could be considered of greater quality in today’s top flight than the aforementioned Spurs duo.
The fact that Spurs have performed so ably without them is as much a testament to manager Harry Redknapp’s skills as it is to William Gallas and the most-improved defender in the entire league – Michael Dawson. The side have had to constantly chop and change at the back this season which makes their league campaign so far, so impressive.
Woodgate still has something to offer the club in my opinion. He needs a good pre-season and time to get back to full fitness. Of course, that is all Spurs have granted him so far and they’ve been unquestionably excellent to the player during his stay there, although the hastened nature of his appearance against AC Milan could have been done without.
Woodgate’s career represents a missed opportunity, a story of unfulfilled potential. He has quickly become the Premier League’s forgotten man, yet a pay-as-you-play deal does offer the first shoots of recovery for the former Leeds man. I’m not advocating that the club recklessly offer Woodgate a 2-3 year deal, they’d be barmy to given his past injury record, but they may come to regret letting him go in the summer if they fail to offer him anything at all.
Is he deserving of a new deal? It’s impossible to say given the last 15 months, however, if Spurs are to go on ability alone, then they’d be silly not to at least take a gamble on Woodgate‘s future potential. Say what you may about Redknapp, but the man does like a gamble and this one has the potential to really reward both club and player if it pays off.