Superb defender, model professional and all round good-guy; it’s fair to say that Michael Dawson is a pretty popular man around the concourses of White Hart Lane. So it would seem pretty absurd for anyone to float the notion that the 28-year-old is facing something of a make or break season in a Tottenham Hotspur shirt next season.
But after a season ravaged by injury, the emergence of Younes Kaboul and the imminent arrival of one Jan Vertonghen, Michael Dawson may well have something of a scrap on his hands for first team football. And unless he can keep himself fit for the course of the season, it could be a fight that bestows an unhappy ending for the man known as ‘Daws’.
It certainly doesn’t seem like seven years ago since a fresh-faced Michael Dawson was unveiled alongside Andy Reid, after their joint £8million move from Nottingham Forest. Indeed, the fact they were both Frank Arnesen signings is testament to length of time that’s since passed.
And how much has changed in that time. Where as Andy Reid’s Spurs career went downhill relatively fast, Dawson’s has gone from strength to strength. After making a handful of tepid appearances on the back end of the 04-05 season, Dawson made an instant impact in his first full term, playing an integral part of the Martin Jol side which narrowly missed out on Champions League football. He’s not looked back since.
A fierce competitor, Dawson’s strength and aerial ability are up their with the very best of them. After superbly marshaling Carlos Tevez around White Hart Lane during Spurs’ 3-0 win in 2010, the Argentine said:
“I know he doesn’t play for England, but he is the best English defender I have played against.
“We lost 3-0 and he didn’t let me into the game.”
And when he’s at his best, as he was against Tevez that day, he is a genuine asset to any Premier League team. How many times have we seen Dawson put his body on the line to make a crucial block or a superbly times tackle? As Ledley King’s fate has deteriorated over the years, it has been Michael Dawson who has emerged as the go-to guy, in a Spurs defence that has lacked real consistency over the past few years.
The argument is that Michael Dawson is twice the player he is normally when he plays alongside King. And whilst that statement holds a certain amount of gravitas, it serves to unfairly undermine the work of Dawson. Most defenders are going to look better playing beside a player as gifted as Ledley King. But King serves to cover the weaknesses of Dawson. He’s not winning any of his titanic aerial battles for him or timing all his tackles.
But this is where some of Dawson’s issues lie as a player. He’s not the most mobile of central defenders; it would be going too far to compare his turning circle to an oil tanker, but it’s not miles better. His lack of pace isn’t as much of a problem when the other half of his defensive partnership is blessed with speed. But it certainly doesn’t help his cause and when he gets his positioning wrong, he can often leave himself and the team in big trouble.
Although even more problematic, has been his injury woe in recent seasons. As already mentioned, Spurs’ back four has always been blighted by a lack of consistency. And although Michael Dawson doesn’t suffer from a chronic knee condition, he has developed a similar yo-yoing trend to King himself, in recent times.
Last season was an absolute nightmare for Dawson and concerningly, it wasn’t just one particular issue either. Both Achilles and ankle ligament injuries curtailed his campaign to a four league appearances, but that doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story. Dawson missed a big chunk of the 2010-11 term after damaging knee ligaments on International duty and another ankle issue during the 2008-09 term saw him make only 16 appearances in the league.
It’s easy to put a players injury record under the spotlight and we must bear in mind that Dawson has stayed fit for long periods in between spells. But injuries must take their toll. It’s hard to imagine that his mobility has been helped by a result.
With Younes Kaboul emerging as a real figure of solidity last season, the likely arrival of Jan Vertonghen will put Dawson under some real pressure. There is no reason why Dawson can’t stake his claim and become an ever-present fixture in the Spurs defence once more. But for that to happen he simply must stay fit. Because if Kaboul and Vertonghen form a formidable and consistent partnership, Dawson could find himself on the outside, looking in.
Michael Dawson is a superb defender but he could be facing one of the most important seasons of his career next season. Andre Villas Boas will have his own ideas on how to set out the back four and if he chooses to play a high line and invoke a pressing game as he did at Chelsea, then Dawson is going to have to be at his absolute best. And in order for him to do that, he has to break his injury jinx.
Tottenham can’t afford to have another part-time defender anymore, however good they are. The saying goes that nice guys finish last. Michael Dawson is a model pro and a real ambassador for the club. Let’s hope he finally get some luck.
Think Michael Dawson will be an ever present in the Spurs team next season? Or do you think injuries have taken their toll on the popular central defender? Tell me what you think on Twitter, follow @samuel_antrobus and tell me your views