It feels like ages ago now, but Jan Vertonghen faced some substantial (albeit stupid) criticism during the 2013/14 campaign.
Tim Sherwood took over in November of what would turn out to be a pretty bleak and discouraging season. It was only Vertonghen’s second year at Spurs, but some lazy pundits accused Jan of having bad body language.
Despite clearly being the most talented defender in the dressing room, Vertonghen was occasionally left on the bench in favor of the likes of Younes Kaboul and Vlad Chiriches. With Sherwood at the helm, there seemed to be little-to-no organization or coherent plan for the future. Who can blame him for frowning?
Vertonghen could’ve left. He was still young with tremendous potential, but the following pre-season he was one of many players who bought into what new boss Mauricio Pochettino was selling. Hugo Lloris did the same, and Spurs fans should be forever grateful that the two stayed around instead of leaving for greener pastures.
Throughout the Premier League era, Tottenham weren’t often known as a club with a strong defensive backbone that could truly be relied upon against the best. Sir Alex Ferguson’s “Lads, it’s Tottenham” refrain was still considered truth throughout England. Spurs were pushovers, especially at the back, and especially when it mattered most.
Jan Vertonghen was a huge part of changing that culture.
Things improved in 2014/15, but the real strides came the following season when Toby Alderweireld was brought to the club. Vertonghen and his old Ajax buddy formed a defensive partnership that was undoubtedly the best tandem of any Spurs team in recent memory. Pochettino’s side established itself as the best defense in the league, and, of course, almost went on to win the title that very season.
The trophy didn’t come then, and it would unfortunately never come in Vertonghen’s time at the club, but as we say goodbye to Jan we have to appreciate the fact that he was a consistency at the back at a time of transition and change. He was “Super Jan” when the club needed it most.
Vertonghen wasn’t blessed with spectacular pace, but he certainly wasn’t slow, and his reading of the game was second to none. Throughout his time with Tottenham, Jan was often there with a last-ditch tackle in the box right when things appeared to be at their most dire. He even took a few injuries sacrificing his body to make the defensive plays that needed to be made. That’s usually not glorious work.
Jan did the dirty work, but he also had a flair for the dramatic on the offensive end. When he scored, it was nearly always a special moment. That goal against Dortmund at Wembley will be remembered for quite a while, for both the satisfying volley, and the classic Super Jan celebration.
On the pitch, there’s no doubt about it: Jan Vertonghen was one of the best defenders that this great club has ever known.
Off the pitch, Vertonghen was even more unique.
It can feel especially tough these days to relate to footballers. They make incredible sums of money and change clubs so much that they sometimes seem like mercenaries, rather than players who are committed to a team’s sustained success. Jan Vertonghen never felt like that.
Vertonghen’s passion for Spurs and for the game came through in ways that were both touching and hilarious. Who can forget his face when Nacer Chadli scored the fifth goal in the New Years Day coming-out party against Chelsea in 2015?
You’ll also be hard pressed to find a Spurs teammate who would have something unironically negative to say about Vertonghen. Jan appeared to be friends with everybody, likely because he was happy to troll everybody. Whether it was Kyle Naughton, Moussa Sissoko, or Mousa Dembele, Verts was always dishing out the banter. Eric Dier described it as Jan “liking to make people feel uncomfortable.”
The farewells to Jan speak volumes about how he was regarded by his teammates. Harry Winks spoke about how Vertonghen took him under his wing when he was just a youngster trying to break into the senior squad. Dier and Dele Alli echoed that sentiment, and we can only imagine the sweet words Dembele would have for Jan if the Moose was still at Spurs.
Vertonghen and Dembele, who have known each other since they were little kids playing together in Belgium, were the quintessential pair of “BFFs” at Tottenham. For proof of this, all you need to do is look at Vertonghen’s Instagram. Go back a few years and there are more pictures of Dembele than there are of himself! There are Monopoly games, joint pictures with Ludacris…they’re basically a married couple.
Seriously though, their genuine love for each other is one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen in football.
Losing Vertonghen means losing a connection to the club’s past, because this beautiful Belgian spanned a couple eras.
He was there for Gareth Bale, Jermain Defoe and the ups and downs of Andre Villas-Boas. He was there for Dembele, Christian Eriksen and the glory-adjacent highs of Mauricio Pochettino. He was there for Son Heung-Min, Giovani Lo Celso and the build for the future under Jose Mourinho.
Jan was there for it all, and it’s going to be so weird that he won’t be there next season and onward.
Hopefully he can find the right opportunity for the last few years of his career, and hopefully he can soon return to the training ground to lob insults and jokes at all his old friends at Tottenham Hotspur.