Player to watch in 2014/15: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham) 1

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Before the turn of the year, Jan Vertonghen had started to make ominous noises about his future and had reverted into the type of ambiguous phraseology players tend to use when their heads have been turned.  The Belgian’s performances certainly seemed to suggest that his mind was elsewhere, with the second half of his season being characterised by listless defending and inexplicable errors.

By the time he feebly limped off at Anfield at the end of March, it appeared as if his days at White Hart Lane were coming to an end and, given the obvious deterioration in his attitude, a parting of ways looked like the best solution for both parties.

It wasn’t to be, though, and through a combination of a lack of serious interest, Mauricio Pochettino’s arrival, and Daniel Levy’s renowned stubborness, Vertonghen looks set to stay for another year at least.

Is that good news?  Maybe - but it really depends on what version of the centre-half turns up this season.  At his best and in 2012/13 form, he’s a very capable defender and an extremely complete all-round footballer.  He’s good in the air, he has relatively decent recovery pace, and - unusually for a defender of European origin - he’s actually very elegant when he carries the ball forward.

But at his worst he’s none of those things.  The Jan Vertonghen who played under Tim Sherwood was a shell of a player and a traitor to his own ability.

Some Spurs fans are more than happy to use Sherwood as an asterisk for everything that happened from January onwards, but even though that’s a tempting and comforting assessment, it’s also very reductive.  Sherwood had a lot of limitations and was a very dislikeable presence, but it still takes a real lack of professionalism to perform as Vertonghen did and last season was as much of a mark against his personality as it was Sherwood’s management style.

So that’s the main point of interest this season: how much character does this guy have?  If times get tough and the side slumps, is he going to surrender again or will he be the leader he - so far - only pretends to be?

He’s twenty-seven years-old, he’s now working for a talented and experienced young manager, and he’s playing in front of the best goalkeeper in the Premier League.  It’s time to lose the excuses and it’s also time for some fans to start holding him to a higher level of commitment.

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