Jan Vertonghen: Liverpool's Deluxe Klavan
Despite football — like the vast majority of society — being in a COVID19 pause, the transfer rumour mill continues to grind.
Uncertainty regarding when football will return and what the post-coronavirus state of play will play hasn’t stopped players talking about what their futures might hold and fanning the flames of transfer speculation.
One such player is Tottenham Hotspurs’ Jan Vertonghen. Speaking to Belgian publication Play Sports, the defender admitted his future could lie away from north London.
“I want to sign with the right club. It could be Spurs, or another club. It must be a club with ambition. I want to play in Europe as the national team is important to me”, mused the former Ajax man.
With the backup centre-back and left-back roles supposedly areas that Liverpool will be looking to strengthen this summer — or whenever the transfer window opens — Vertonghen, soon be a free agent, could be an astute signing.
Fenway Sports Group, the Reds’ owners, have, more often than not, looked to implement a transfer strategy that prioritizes signing players 25 or under.
This means, in the event of the new player not having the desired effect at Anfield, the club is protected from a massive financial loss because the player’s age means they will retain more of their value than an older player when it comes time for them to move to pastures new.
But there have been exceptions to this approach, as the signings of James Milner and Kolo Toure — both on free transfers from Manchester City in the summers of 2013 and 2015 — prove.
FSG, it seems, is more than happy to pay higher wages to an older player who has arrived on a free, in lieu of having to pay a transfer fee.
Vertonghen, primarily a centre-half, has operated as a left-sided full-back and wing-back for both club and country and such an experienced versatile player could be a sturdy option for Jurgen Klopp to call upon.
Klopp was happy to pay German side Augsburg £4.5M for Ragnar Klavan in the summer of 2016, and — given the similarities, left-footed, comfortable on the ball and capable of covering two roles in a back four — it would come as no surprise if the 118 times capped Belgian was of interest to the Liverpool manager.
With Dejan Lovren coming close to leaving the European Champions next summer, it would be no surprise to see the Croat end his stint on Merseyside in the upcoming transfer window. Vertonghen — who only three years ago formed arguably the leagues best defensive pairing with his compatriot, Toby Alderweireld — would be an upgrade on Lovren and, crucially, isn’t as susceptible to injury-enforced absences as the current, error-prone Liverpool number 6.
Andrew Robertson has established himself as one of the world’s finest full-backs after his summer 2017 switch from Hull City to Anfield and the Scottish captain — a regular applier of assists, thanks to his marauding runs up the left flank — is a key cog in the Reds’ tactical machine.
But with no natural understudy or competition for a starting berth, the 26-year-old could be more susceptible to fatigue and injury.
While Vertonghen would not be able to replicate Robertson’s ability to bomb up and down the flank like a demented terrier chasing a tennis ball, he could offer a defensively solid option at left-back and the team could restructure itself to mitigate for the lack of width coming from their left flank.
Against Atletico Madrid in their ultimately ill-fated Champions League last 16-second leg at Anfield, the home team lined up with Georginio Wijnaldum and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain — ostensibly two central midfielders — playing extremely wide and close to the touchline.
Both of the Reds’ goals — from Wijnaldum and Roberto Firmino — came as a result of the central midfielders drifting wide and accurately crossing from the byline — Oxlade Chamberlain assisting Wijnaldum and the Dutchman laying on a goal for Firmino — and this could be a method Liverpool look to use again if they signed Vertonghen and used him as a full back.
While Spurs have struggled this season — under both Mauricio Pochettino and Jose Mourinho, with the latter making a habit of sucking the life out of a dressing room — Vertonghen, who has looked tired and leggy, has not hit the heights of previous campaigns.
But this does not mean that the Belgian would be a bad hypothetical signing for the would-be Premier League winners and a change of scenery could reinvigorate a player who only a few years ago was considered among the elite of world football in his position, while a peripheral squad role could help give his legs the rest they appear to need.
Vertonghen could be Liverpool’s deluxe Klavan.