When Michael Dawson only made the bench for the absolute hiding that was dished out to us at the Emirates two weeks ago, I was prepared to give Harry Redknapp the benefit of the doubt and assume it was only a fitness issue that was keeping our former captain out of the first eleven. When the same thing happened against Manchester United over the weekend, I was perplexed. For reasons I'll go into for a bit, I'm a big Dawson advocate and feel he's exactly the sort of leader we need before this extended blip in our season becomes a full-on wobble.
Though the serious injury he sustained in October might have a few people raising their eyebrows over his aptitude to slot easily back into the team, I think there's already been a few encouraging signs that he's getting back to his best. After the jump, some statistics and analysis to enable you to make your own minds up.
I'd like to start with a few general words on what makes Dawson such a key player for the team in an ideal situation when he's totally fit and ready to play. First of all, for me, Daws epitomizes everything that Spurs is about -- grit, determination and love for the club. It is these qualities that make him a born leader, and his ability to drive his squad on to glory has been proven time and time again -- helping Spurs nail down fourth in 2010, winning the Fans' Player of the Year at the same time, and putting in an incredible shift against AC Milan last year being the key highlights. In short, if there's anyone who can help to drive us through this rough patch just on the grounds of sheer force of character, it's Dawson. He leads by example and helps his squad to play up to occasions.
In addition to his personal qualities, it's easy to forget that Dawson is usually a rock at the heart of defence every time he plays for Spurs. The key thing that separates him from all of his current competitors for the CB position this year is his confidence. Younes Kaboul, despite being one of the side's breakout stars of the season, is still learning his trade; Ledley King, contrastingly, is beginning to look a little fragile and cautious as his crippling knee problem is seemingly starting to take it's toll on his long-term fitness. Dawson, by contrast, is never afraid to throw himself into tackles and get his hands dirty, even if he makes the occasional mistake from time to time along the way. In games where we're playing opponents who have not qualms about playing rough, this can make all the difference. He's also strong and decisive when it comes to getting rid of the ball when things get sticky, which again is a useful trait when we're playing cautious against a strong attacking team. Below, as a test case, is a chalkboard comparison of Sebastien Bassong's performance against Stoke last year to Dawson's from the one before.
As the above typifies, Dawson is the clearance king for Spurs. He wins the ball and then he gets rid in a confident and decisive manner. Now just imagine how that kind of player could have affected the games against Arsenal and Man Utd. recently. We wouldn't, in my opinion, have looked as likely to collapse and capitulate as we did in the face of the clinical force of both teams.
So I've made my case for why Dawson is the man at the heart of defense for me when he's fit and ready. Now, I know what you're thinking. Even if you are sold on Daw's qualities, you'd probably argue he's been out for too long this season and in his absence Ledley King and Younes Kaboul have formed an effective enough partnership not to be broken apart now in favour of bringing him back. Well, through the magic of stats, I hope now to disprove this point.
On only eight appearances this season, Dawson has proven once again that he's still the Clearance KingTM, managing 62 so far. He ain't just hoofing them though- Daws has completed 82 percent of his passes this season, more than the seemingly more precise Younes Kaboul. Now, let's try and contextualize these fact by looking at the matches in which he's shown his influence since returning from injury.
You thought Scott Parker was the keystone of Spurs' rearguard action against Liverpool at Anfield? Not so. Dawson made nine clearances to Ledley King's four and Parker's seven. He also made a crucial last man tackle which kept Spurs in the game. Against Wolves in the New Year he was even more impressive, making 13 clearances to Younes Kaboul's five and notching up another vital last man tackle. Finally, against Everton in January, he went into beast mode, getting 16 clearances to Kaboul's 14, blocking two shots and completing a brilliant 98 percent of his attempted passes.
The stats above were intended to give you a flavour of the evidence which I think has been slowly mounting to suggest that Dawson deserves a shot at regular first team play at back. As previously mentioned, Ledley King is starting to show signs of not being the player he has been this season. One might argue he's slowing, looking more and more cautious, and making the kind of errors that were once fairly rare considering his history of dependability. Kneejerk assertion though it may be, if the King isn't playing well, his squad won't play up to the occasion either. All the while, Dawson is sitting on the bench fit and ready to lead again. To paraphrase a horrendously overquoted line, he's no necessarily the captain we want, but he may be the captain we deserve this year.
Of course, there's a host of good reasons why we shouldn't play Daws again. His ‘hoof it out' style might well jar against the more fluid and precise counter-attacking style Spurs have started to show this season. He does switch off and make errors from time to time that can cost the team dearly- think Fulham in the FA Cup last season. He doesn't exude the aura of being world class and maybe some of his critics might argue we need a more convincing figure at the back going into our next Champion's League campaign -- this is probably the same thought process which lead Capello to shockingly overlook him in favour of the abjectly awful Matthew Upson at the 2010 World Cup. But I think the evidence is there to show at the very least, our cartilage possessing captain's chance to show what he can do has come again.