It had already been a tough half a season for Gylfi Sigurdsson at Tottenham Hotspur back in January, but following the announcement of Lewis Hotlby’s arrival at the club towards the end of the transfer window, things were about to get a lot worse for the Icelandic international. Or at least that’s what many people thought would be the case, anyway.
Because a little under six weeks down the track and Sigurdsson’s value within Andre Villas-Boas’ side has never been higher. Following a superb cameo coming off the bench against West Ham United last month, the former-Swansea loanee has gone on to start in all of Tottenham’s last three games. And far from being run outs against more modest opposition, those last three starts have come in absolute blockbusters, too.
His reward for playing his part in the turnaround at Upton Park was a starting berth in the North London derby against Arsenal, in which another impressive showing paved the way for starts against both Internazionale and Liverpool. Indeed, far from wilting under the competition of another attacking midfield, the addition of Holtby seems to have galvanized Sigurdssson if anything.
But for well as he’s been playing in recent games, a certain amount of credit must be afforded to Villas-Boas for giving him the opportunity to do so. Because while the decision to start Sigurdsson against Arsenal may well have a fair one, it would have been just as easy to leave him on the bench in favour of another late cameo.
It’s certainly not been easy for Sigurdsson at times since his £8million summer move from Hoffenheim. After initially being asked to play a No10 like role in which he never particularly looked at ease with, the lock-ins of both Gareth Bale and Aaron Lennon out wide have ensured that a large proportion of his game time has been spent wandering around centrally. Needless to say, it’s produced some rather scattergun results.
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Yet as the evolution of Gareth Bale has taken shape throughout the season, as the Welshman’s began to wield a greater influence centrally, something of a vacancy has popped up on the left hand side in this Spurs team. And since Sigurdsson has been given the opportunity to occupy it, his performances have generally tended to look a lot brighter and more effective when cutting in from the flank.
Where as before he always felt a somewhat useful puzzle piece that simply didn’t fit, now he has a role that gives him real purpose within this team.
Showing glimpses of brilliance is of course all very well and for as impressive as he looked for 30 minutes against West Ham, the onus was always going to be on whether Sigurdsson could offer a similar impact from a starting position. With the recently acquired Holtby looking to bed in Villas-Boas’ side, it would have been extremely easy to ask Sigurdsson to repeat his efforts off the bench a few more times before earning a starting spot.
But Villas-Boas got it absolutely correct in swapping Holtby with Sigurdsson in the North London derby and while the German has still got a big career ahead of him in N17, he’s been absolutely vindicated in doing so, too.
Short of coming on, scoring a hat-trick and looking like the second-coming of Lionel Messi, there was little more that Sigurdsson – or too many other players in this Spurs side for that matter – could have done coming off the bench in comparison to what he did against West Ham.
Villas-Boas would have been more than justified to stick with Holtby, but in keeping Sigurdsson on the bench, it would have sent out an incredibly negative message to the former-Reading man. Namely that for however well you do coming on as a substitute, your best still isn’t going to be quite good enough.
AVB rewarded Sigurdsson for his performance and the impact that his backing and faith have had upon his showings has felt palpable. Against Arsenal he produced a wonderful assist for Bale before bagging himself a goal in the 3-0 Europa League win against Inter.
He probably should have notched another goal during Sunday’s disappointing 3-2 defeat against Liverpool, but he again looked inventive, busy and most important of all, purposeful. No longer does he look like a spare part floating around the pitch, sitting on the periphery of matches. Sigurdsson now looks like he belongs in the first team.
For quite how long for will depend as much on his own performances as it will upon how Lewis Holtby performs when he’s handed his own chance within this side. With their only looking like one berth free in the attacking trio that Villas-Boas plays behind the striker, it looks very much as if both Sigurdsson and Holtby will be in direct competition for a starting place in this team. And that’s before you throw Clint Dempsey’s name into a hat.
But competition for places is one of the foundations of a successful side and it’s something that’s perhaps been absent from this Tottenham side for far too long now. Sigurdsson has earned his place for a moment, but with the sort of talent that’s being made to sit on the bench, the performances he put in against Arsenal and Inter need to be replicated every week, not just once every few.
Should he do that then there isn’t any reason why Sigurdsson can’t continue to wield a real impact within this Spurs team during the season’s run-in. But for however long his run of starts lasts, he now finally looks to have carved his own niche within this side and for both player and club, that can only be a good thing.