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Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Talent Spotter: Jan Vertonghen - The Modern Centre-Back

By Declan Olley

Since 2004 there have been seven Ajax captains: Rafael Van der Vaart, Jaap Stam, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Thomas Vermaelen, Luis Suarez and Maarten Stekelenburg.

Not bad players I hear you say, but is the seventh captain worthy of sitting alongside those names?

The answer is a pretty simple yes.

Jan Vertonghen, the club’s current captain, is without doubt one of the most exciting centre-back’s in Europe.

He is the modern ball-playing central defender that so many elite clubs crave. Barcelona have one in Gerard Pique, AC Milan have one in Thiago Silva and Ajax, a club who have admittedly fallen away since the 1990’s, are extremely lucky to have one in Vertonghen.

The Belgian international is superb at bringing the ball out from the back, but is just as adept at taking the ball from an opponent. His timing of a tackle combined with his reading of the game have helped Ajax out on many occasions.

It is not though just at the back where the 24 year-old can make a difference. In the final third Vertonghen can score goals. He is dangerous at set-pieces with his aerial prowess, dangerous at free-kicks with his thunderous left-foot as well as being dangerous in and around the penalty box.

Could this guy really double up as a centre-forward? Judging by his two goals against Vitesse in 2008 you certainly wouldn’t put it past him (See video below for more details). But in all seriousness, Vertonghen can chip in with a few goals here and there.

When you talk about centre-backs though, it is their ability to defend which matters most. And a large part of that defending is psychological. Vertonghen is a player who unfortunately, at times can struggle with that side of the game.

The 6ft 3in defender can also be exposed to striker’s pace, but it is a rare occurrence due to his precise positional play. One area Vertonghen is not beaten often however is in the air. He is a strong header of the ball making him the ideal player for any Premier League backline.

And it will be Premier League clubs who will be making the enquiries in the upcoming January transfer window. In particular, Arsenal and Tottenham, who both have their defensive concerns.

The two North London sides have already contacted Ajax over the Belgian’s availability and are set to battle it out for the ex-Germinal Beerschot man.

It would certainly be a scary prospect to see him and Vermaelen team up once again at club level with Arsenal. But the same could also be said if he were to pair up with Ledley King (when fit) at White Hart Lane.

However, Ajax’s number four won’t be too happy to see the transfer window arrive. In September of this
year amid speculation that he was on the brink of joining Inter Milan, Vertonghen told Dutch news channel AT5: "I am totally sick of all of this s***. Every day I have 30, 35 questions about a possible transfer."

Come January 1st, Vertonghen better brace himself - those questions are coming back.

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