Jan Vertonghen’s changing attitude at Tottenham 14

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Praising Mauricio Pochettino is becoming very trendy, but given how Tottenham are performing at the moment it’s not unreasonable.  The Argentine hasn’t quite imparted his tactical message on his new side, but quite obviously his arrival has coincided with the development of some much needed character within the squad.

Spurs are becoming pleasingly stubborn; physically they are increasingly impressive and their conditioning has been a real feature of the games over the Christmas and New Year period, but they also seem more mentally resilient.

That’s been very important.  This is a side who are very much a work-in-progress and who are yet to be consistently fluid.  When a team is in that kind of transitional stage, it’s crucial that they possess the emotional resilience to cope with the less-than-great moments that will inevitably occur during their learning curve.  Tottenham’s biggest quality at the moment is not their football, but their refusal to buckle in awkward situations.

That sounds like a very contrived positive, but it’s really not a coincidence that Pochettino’s players have made such a habit of winning games late and of taking points from losing positions. There’s been some luck along the way - the two red cards at Villa Park and The KC Stadium were very fortuitous - but it has still been impressive.

This is a club, remember, who are known for falling in on themselves and who regularly manage to trip over their own feet, so for that trend to shows signs of changing within six months is a real testament to Pochettino’s work and to the relationship that he and his coaching staff have fostered with the squad.

And that progress is apparent in nobody more than Jan Vertonghen.

Spectators always read too much into body language and it’s never really fair to second-guess a player’s state of mind on that alone, but Vertonghen made it very easy for people to criticise him last season.  Beyond just the moment in the Anfield tunnel, the Belgian frequently radiated indifference throughout the first half of 2014 and he seemed to have mentally checked-out from his Tottenham career.

Going into the Summer, his potential sale was actually welcome.  At the time, the disparity between his talent and his performances made his departure theoretically logical and many people, myself included, wanted to move away from a player who obviously wasn’t invested in the team’s future.

What a difference six months makes.

Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Nacer Chadli may be Mauricio Pochettino’s biggest successes from a pure performance standpoint, but Vertonghen’s emotional adjustment has been a very notable reclamation project.  That laissez faire indifference of January, February and March has been replaced with a tangible commitment to the cause and Vertonghen is not only exuding enthusiasm again, but he seems to be genuinely enjoying being part of this side.

The player himself deserves some acknowledgement for that, of course, but Pochettino has obviously created something which Vertonghen has bought into.  The stability of his partnership with Federico Fazio presumably helps and that growing familiarity is definitely partly responsibility for the improvement in his performances, but such an attitude change has to be attributed to whatever cultural changes have been made behind the scenes.

He’s becoming a real leader of this team and that’s a barometer of Pochettino’s influence.

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