Younes Kaboul put in a defensive performance of epic proportions against Arsenal on Saturday. Tottenham Hotspur's captain was a monster at the back, throwing his body at every shot, pass, or dribble that came near. A heroic defensive display of that magnitude hasn't been had by anyone in a Spurs shirt since William Gallas led the rearguard in Spurs' 3-2 victory away to Manchester United.
Almost exactly two years ago to the day, the French center back captained the side to Spurs' first three points at Old Trafford since 1989. Like Kaboul, he did a tremendous job organizing the back four and throwing himself in front of everything Manchester United managed to create. Despite being pegged back in the Spurs half for most of the match, Gallas battled magnificently to protect the lead Spurs fought so hard to earn.
Only two games later he put in a performance as terrible as that one was good, gifting Chelsea four goals and throwing away a 2-1 lead. It was the beginning of the end of William Gallas, and though he put in some capable shifts over the rest of the year, he never remotely approached the heights he had that day against United. By the following season he'd be playing in Australia, his time as a top class professional at an end.
Unfortunately for Kaboul, his parallels with William Gallas don't stop with the good bits. Gallas and Kaboul both were once phenomenal center backs, until age and, in Kaboul's case, serious injury robbed them of their mobility. While they both retain the intelligence and defensive ability that made them great, with their physical gifts in decline they became a shadow of their former selves.
It's no secret that Mauricio Pochettino, like AVB, favors a high defensive line with a heavy pressing game high up the pitch. And it's in this setting that Kaboul has looked so poor, as Gallas did under AVB. Since returning from injury, Kaboul has struggled with his new-found lack of pace and an inability to compensate with better positioning. He regularly gets beat on the turn or misplays an offside trap trying to give himself a cushion so he doesn't get outpaced.
It's no coincidence then that he, like Gallas, excelled for Spurs in a very specific, yet limited, context. Both defenders stood out playing in a very low defensive block, spending most of the match packed inside Spurs' own box. With the play in front of him, Kaboul was more then capable of covering his man and protecting the box. The problem is, Spurs so very rarely play in such a manner.
This is not to take away from what was undeniably a tremendous performance at the weekend. But it does mean supporters should temper their expectations for Kaboul's future. There are only a handful of games a season where Spurs can expect to spend the match sitting deep and hitting teams on the break. In those games Kaboul will surely have a place to shine. But despite his potential for excellence in that role, he still hasn't shown he retains the physical tools necessary to function as the first choice center back in a high defensive line. More often than not, his well-known struggles will continue to plague the team when he's asked to play Pochettino's favored style of football.
There's still hope that he may yet come back to his imperious best, but Saturday's evidence hasn't proven anything. The jury's still out on Younes Kaboul.