Tottenham Hotspur need to improve their defense. That's not narrative, that's fact. Spurs took the first step towards improvement by bringing in left back Ben Davies from Swansea City, but there is still more to be done, particularly in the heart of defense. New boss Mauricio Pochettino has four "proven" central defenders in his squad: Jan Vertonghen, Vlad Chiriches, Younes Kaboul, and Michael Dawson. He also has Zeki Fryers, who is apparently a central defender now and, in a pinch, Etienne Capoue. But he also has someone who might be eventually be better than them all in Milos Veljkovic.
Remember last summer when we ranked Tottenham Hotspur's youth prospects? Well, Nabil Bentaleb, who had a pretty good season and played in the World Cup for Algeria was sixth. Guess who was 4th. It was Veljkovic (here's Ed's write-up). Well, the soon-to-be 19 year-old Serbian has now made his first team debut, following two run-outs in midfield at the end of last season and could force his way into contention for more regular playing time under Pochettino.
For the purposes of our discussion, let's operate under a few basic assumptions. Let's assume, first, that Michael Dawson will leave before the end of the summer transfer period. Let's also assume that there will be another CB purchased to replace Dawson. Maybe that player is Ron Vlaar, as some sites (including ours) are suggesting. Regardless of who it is, assume that the new guy will be the 2nd/3rd CB. That makes our "depth chart": 1) Vertonghen, 2) New guy, 3) Chiriches, 4) Kaboul. Finally, let's assume that one of these players will be hurt at some point.
In the event of an injury, who does Pochettino turn to? Common sense would say Zeki Fryers. The former Manchester United defender has gone from pacey left back to pacey central defender. Unfortunately, he's not totally figured out the defending part of that job. He's looked good in spurts, but he might be Tottenham's Micah Richards. An insane athlete who's good on his day, but who suffers from more than occasional mental lapses. Not exactly the kind of player I'd want to depend on for an important match, but he's certainly a good option in cup games. MoPo could also go for Etienne Capoue. However, it seems that the Frenchman might actually get to play a lot in midfield this year and in any case he's not really that great of a central defender.
So, who should MoPo actually turn to as the next man up in his center back rotation? The obvious answer is Veljkovic. MoPo has never hesitated to bring in young players. He did so often at Southampton last year, giving consistent minutes to Sam Gallagher, Callum Chambers, James Ward-Prowse, and, of course, Luke Shaw. That would seem to indicate that chances are pretty good that Milos will get some opportunities under Pochettino, but I would argue that he deserves not just "opportunities", but a good long look.
Veljkovic is the perfect type of central defender for Pochettino's system. A player comfortable enough on the ball to play in midfield. Quick and agile enough to work in the high-line, but also a good enough defender to not get caught out of position frequently. His run-out against Toronto FC yesterday showed exactly what he was all about. He hardly put a foot wrong and his skill on the ball, coupled with Kaboul's pure physicality made for an excellent pairing.
If there's one concern about Veljkovic it's size. Wikipedia says he's 5'8", but most other places seem to list him at a shade over 6' (1.84m for our metric friends). That's not big, even by football standards, but that's the same size as Chiriches, so I'm not overly worried about it. As for strength, that's never really been an issue for Milos. In what little I've seen of him (between the Next-Gen in 2012-13, U21 last season, and his two Premier League Cameos) I've hardly ever seen him get shoved off the ball.
Tottenham fans all know that our academy has to produce some good players in order for Tottenham to be competitive. Tottenham can't compete with the massive fees and wages of the rest of the Sky Six, so they have to find other ways to get good players. That means players like Andros Townsend, Tom Carroll, Nabil Bentaleb, Harry Kane, Alex Pritchard, and Milos Veljkovic either need to become good enough to contribute to the first team or good enough that they can be sold for a decent chunk of money (like Jake Livermore and Steven Caulker). While the likes of Townsend, Kane, Carroll, and Bentaleb seem well on their way and could be in line for plenty of playing time this season, I firmly believe that Veljkovic could be the best of them and could be the youngster who breaks out for Tottenham this season. All he needs is a chance.