Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino is playing poker with Jan Vertonghen’s future.
With the European transfer deadline looming, the Belgium international has been left out of the club’s last three starting XI’s.
He was not even included in the squad for the opener against Aston Villa with reports claiming afterwards that Pochettino was unimpressed with his fitness levels.
Davinson Sanchez and Toby Alderweireld played instead in the 3-1 win and Vertonghen was again left out both the 2-2 draw with Manchester City and the 1-0 home defeat against Newcastle, with Pochettino again favouring the Belgian and the Colombia international.
Speaking ahead of the clash with Newcastle United on Sunday, Pochettino suggested that he would leave Vertonghen on the sidelines.
He said, per Football.London: “I am only going to decide to try and provide the best players that are in my head to play. If I don’t play for someone it is because I believe there is another in my opinion that is better. This is very clear.”
This is strange.
Vertonghen’s contract expires at the end of the season and there really isn’t any suggestion that he will leave this summer, particularly with the British transfer window closed.
But one feels that Pochettino is sending a message at a very risky time.
This could be the Argentine’s way of showing Vertonghen that he is not the intrinsic figure that perhaps he thought he was, that there are other options in the squad that are able to come in and play and do so efficiently.
Yet, last season, Vertonghen was Spurs’ best defender. He played 34 times in all competitions and played a key role in their run to the Champions League final. He was a bastion of consistency.
He is 32, of course, and is at an age where he is unlikely to be coveted by the likes of Manchester City or Real Madrid but he has the talent to play for them.
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Sending the message that Spurs don’t need him would perhaps work a little better if he didn’t have the standing that he does, or if his reputation did not precede him.
Think of the likes of Andros Townsend, Emmanuel Adebayor and Vincent Janssen, who were all seemingly binned off because Pochettino felt he could get better players in or because they had forgotten their professional obligations.
You can’t make the same argument for Vertonghen; in fact, one feels that this could blow up in Pochettino’s face.
If he continues to leave him out, to stick steadfastly with Alderweireld and Sanchez – both excellent defenders in their own right, it must be said – then Vertonghen could easily make eyes for the exit.
With his deal expiring next summer, he will be free to enter into discussions with foreign clubs in January.
If he doesn’t feel that Pochettino values him, one can be sure that he will look to find a manager who does.
This is high-stakes stuff from the Spurs boss; he had better hope he has the better hand than the Belgian.
As it stands, it doesn’t look that way.