Arsenal Must Hurry Up And Sign Belgian Defender Jan Vertonghen Before Tottenham
In 2000, Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira were strutting their stuff for the French team and Arsenal. They were both in the French squad that won the European Championships, beating Italy in the final in Rotterdam. At the same time, two young Belgians were learning the rudiments of the game around 60 miles away, in Antwerp. Their names were Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen.
As teenagers, Vermaelen and Vertonghen were both on the books of Belgian first division side Germinal Beerschot, now Beerschot AC. From there, they both moved to Ajax and both would eventually take over the captaincy of the Dutch club. Vermaelen is the elder of the two, by a couple of years, and in 2009 he moved to Arsenal. As their careers seem to be on parallel tracks, it would be no great surprise to see Vertonghen make a similar move to the Emirates stadium in the future.
But apart from having similar career paths, there’s another reason why Vertonghen is tailor made for Arsenal, and it’s historical. Petit arrived at Highbury in 1997 from Monaco to be re-united with his mentor Arsene Wenger. Until then, Petit has been playing – with limited success – as a left back or centre back. Wenger took one look and converted the 27-year old journeyman into one of the top defensive midfielders in the Premier League.
The Ajax captain is mature for his years, can hit an accurate long pass and reads the game well. Vertonghen is highly-rated and Johan Cruyff reportedly recommended him to Barcelona a year or so back.
Vertonghen is only 24 but he’s also spent most of his time at Ajax at left back or, more frequently, centre back. He’s played over 200 games in the Eredivisie, despite being on the sidelines through injury for a couple of long spells. Unlike the Frenchman, however, when he arrived in London, Vertonghen has already got a lot of experience playing in midfield, usually in front of the back four as defensive cover. That’s where he has gained many of his 30-odd caps for the Belgian national team.
So Wenger’s job, to an extent, has been done for him. If he snapped up Vertonghen now, and he could probably get him for €15 million, he would add strength and creativity to midfield and have free back-up for central defence and the left back position. The Ajax captain is mature for his years, can hit an accurate long pass and reads the game well. Vertonghen is highly-rated and Johan Cruyff reportedly recommended him to Barcelona a year or so back.
There is just one problem; the player himself says he is a central defender and not a midfielder. In order to turn Vertonghen into Petit 2.0, it would be necessary for Wenger to work his magic and convince the Belgian that midfield is his place – the player would have to build up his fitness levels but that shouldn’t be too big an ask with a lucrative contract waiting for him in London.
Great teams are often driven by two or three players from the same country; Petit, Vieira and Thierry Henry for Arsenal 2000, Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkard for AC Milan, so why not Vermaelen (when he comes back from injury), Vertonghen ... and Eden Hazard for Arsenal 2012.
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