If there was one player within this Tottenham Hotspur side that has perhaps personified the Lilywhites’ rollercoaster season so far, although he might seem the most apparent choice, Icelandic midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson might prove a somewhat fitting selection.
Indeed, the 23-year-old has – very much in sync with the greater feeling of the team he plays for – struck something of an enigmatic figure at White Hart Lane. Having arrived at the club last summer generally heralded as an attacking component that would fit seamlessly within Andre Villas-Boas’ new-look side, if Sigurdsson was a model puzzle piece, then it’s certainly been hard work making him fit properly.
Like the performances of Villas-Boas’ side for much of the season, we’ve often seen flashes of brilliance from the former-Hoffenheim man, but only when the often-overbearing mist of inconsistency has subsided.
When watching him scurry about the pitch for Spurs this season, it’s not felt particularly difficult to recognize his talent and potential, but figuring out quite how to maximize the most out of it has resembled a much harder task. Again, not exactly something that cannot be applied on a much larger plain in N17.
But as now enter the final straight of the Premier League campaign, far from finding himself on the periphery as he has done at several points this season for Spurs, Sigurdsson is now sitting at the heart of an increasing bitter battle for Champions League qualification. And although some at White Hart Lane remain slightly skeptical about his true worth to this Tottenham side, he looks set to play an important role in determining his team’s fate this season.
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Sunday’s ground out 2-2 draw with Everton saw Sigurdsson underline his recent rise to prominence within Villas-Boas’ side by scoring a crucial 87th minute equalizer in a game which saw the Icelandic international turn in another astute performance on the left-hand side.
Sigurdsson is now enjoying what’s comfortably his best spell of form at the club since his £8million summer move, having now started seven of the Lilywhites’ last eight games and scoring four goals in his last nine showings. Not a bad turnaround for a man whose placing at the club was deemed insecure enough to lure Reading in for a deadline day bid at the end of the January transfer window.
The key to his turnaround? Belief, perhaps more than anything else.
After a difficult start to his Tottenham career, in which a crushing sense of expectation paired with a seeming lack of time and patience to adapt to a new role within a new formation, saw Sigurdsson struggle to make an impact at his new club.
With Clint Dempsey managing to find his feet quicker at the club, the former-Reading man had to make do with bit-part cameos coming off the bench in an attempt to force his way back into proceedings; cameos of which came much harder to come by following Gareth Bale’s central deployment and the arrival of Lewis Holtby from Schalke.
Yet despite often struggling to find a solid role within this side, Sigurdsson has kept his head down, worked hard and continued to furrow away whenever he’s been given the chance.
But it was when he really seized his opportunity against West Ham United after coming off the bench to score in the 3-2 win, that he reached something of a crossroad in his Spurs career. There was little more that Sigurdsson could have done to earn to a start, but for as easy as it would have been for Villas-Boas to leave him on the bench against Arsenal, the Portuguese rewarded his effort with a start. A superb assist to Bale in the North London derby followed and since then, he hasn’t looked back.
Playing on the left hand side of whatever variation of a midfield three or four that Villas-Boas has asked of him, Sigurdsson has managed to finally carve a niche out for himself in this Tottenham side. It’s not perfect – Sigurdsson has recently admitted that playing out on the wing isn’t his ‘favourite’ position – but most importantly, it’s a role that he’s making the most out of. And should he move forward with his Spurs career, it’s this period now that could be the making of him.
While Spurs were left far too bereft of pace and penetration during the weekend, Sigurdsson once again demonstrated why his guile and industry has a place within Villas-Boas’ side. Technically astute and consistently inventive, what sets the 23-year-old apart from the seemingly infinite pallet of similarly neat and tidy players at the club, is his goal threat.
His current return of six goals is hardly setting the world on fire, but with a run of games has come a surge of confidence and Sigurdsson is beginning to show the vision and touch in front of goal that saw Tottenham fight it out with Liverpool to acquire his signature in the first place. Should he wish to eventually play more centrally within this Spurs side, he’ll have to start contributing more during matches and wield a far greater influence in building up play.
But as we enter the final straight of the season, Sigurdsson is finally looking like an effective part of the puzzle at Spurs, as opposed to a faltering and awkward component.
With Champions League qualification now hanging in the balance and a squad looking worryingly destabilized by injury, Tottenham need the likes of Sigurdsson to now step up and shoulder responsibility.
In terms of solidifying his Spurs future, the Icelandic international now has a guilt edged opportunity to finally convince the remaining doubters – as well as his manager – that he deserves a permanent place in this side. Where the club finish will go a long way to determining how well he will have taken that chance.