Giorgio Chiellini’s words resonated as they articulated what so many, deep down, believe about Tottenham.
‘They always miss something at the end,’ said the Juventus defender, who was undeniably outstanding against them in midweek. ‘It’s the history of Tottenham.’
And rival fans of teams well below Tottenham or playing much worse football clutched at that straw. It offered some certainty in a changing world: that Spurs will always be, well, Spurs.
Jan Vertonghen believes Tottenham will bounce back from Champions League heartbreak
So Jan Vertonghen considers the charges carefully before delivering a quietly-spoken response. ‘No,’ he said simply. ‘We’ve got the right mentality and I know we have what it takes to get there.’ He pauses. ‘Hopefully we will get another chance to show that to the world.’
But it is Bournemouth on Sunday, not Juventus or Real Madrid: back to the banal reality of qualifying for that elite tournament. Then comes what now feels like an extraordinarily important FA Cup quarter-final at Swansea. Vertonghen knows the question that is coming. He has won two domestic cups and two Eredivisie titles with Ajax. Now the trick is to replicate that after six years of slowly building to this level at Tottenham.
Giorgio Chiellini claimed Spurs ‘will always be miss something’ after Wednesday’s comeback
Vertonghen bit back at the claims claiming Spurs are good enough to start winning trophies
‘Whenever I won my first trophy, it was just: ‘We want more.’ It took me six years, maybe five years, to get my first trophy with Ajax, but it feels like you have to win a trophy to win more and then they follow. It’s just the belief you can win it. So, hopefully we can win the FA Cup this year and the rest will follow. We’ve got two things to focus on — the top four and the FA Cup — they’re the two main goals this season.’
It feels like this team seem to hang in the balance. Are they the Arsenal team of nine years ago, when Cesc Fabregas, Robin van Persie, Samir Nasri, Bacary Sagna and Thomas Vermaelen, all of whom seemed to be part of a new wave who would eventually restore Arsenal’s trophy-winning ways? All had to leave to win subsequent trophies, Van Persie the last out the door in 2012 as, one by one, they had all been picked off.
The Spurs defender believes his team-mates will fulfil their aspirations at the club
- Premier League
- Premier League
- League One
- League Two
- Scottish Premiership
- Scottish Div 1
- Scottish Div 2
- Scottish Div 3
- Ligue 1
- Serie A
- La Liga
And Vertonghen is not young. The conversation moves to the fact that, at 30, he is into the second half of his football life. ‘Don’t be afraid to say that,’ he smiled. ‘I’ve accepted it.’ His contract is up next year but he does not seem to want to go anywhere else. ‘I hope everyone feels that the way I feel it,’ he said. ‘This team can reach a lot and it’s always nicer to have achieved this with a group of players who have been together for a lot of time and came through the ranks or have lived in London for a long time.
‘To do that with this group of colleagues and friends, that’s a better feeling than just going somewhere and winning a trophy. It will give us a lot if we win something with this group. I can’t speak for others but I believe that they believe we will get that here — that trophy — and they will stay here.’
There is even a warning for those who might be considering leaving. ‘It would be so much better if we achieved this with this group of players. It would be a shame if someone leaves, who has been part of this for so long, and then we will start winning!’
Vertonghen has set his sights on the Premier League top four and FA Cup glory
Tottenham’s Champions League campaign does not fit neat analysis. On one hand they are out at the last 16, a familiar feeling in north London; on the other they have beaten and outplayed last year’s winners; and outplayed last year’s finalists for 168 minutes out of the 180. Trouble was, Juventus needed only 12 minutes to win the tie.
‘You can learn from it,’ said Vertonghen. ‘We will always have our own identity and the way we play. We could have played five or six at the back but that is not how we are. The way we want to play is that we want to show what we are here for and we believe it is the right way. To attack and to dominate the game. We should have killed the game.’
Perhaps Chiellini and Co would consider that naïve? ‘Maybe but they haven’t won a Champions League in a while, either. Barcelona did it and so many others did in the way that we want to play.
‘You can speak about it in both ways. They have won so many Scudettos and have been in the Champions League. They are obviously a great team but not the style that we want to play. And I believe that our style fits us better.’
The 30-year-old admitted Spurs should have killed Juventus off, but they will learn from it
The glue in the team bonding appears to be Mauricio Pochettino. ‘He’s part of the project,’ said Vertonghen. ‘He might have started it.’
So many players talk effusively about him — notably Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane — that it is impossible to dismiss the leadership he gives this group of players and their gratitude for the improvement he seems to bring.
Not just Pochettino, but his assistants Jesus Perez, Miki D’Agostino and Toni Jimenez. Vertonghen says he is in the ‘best physical condition I have been in’ and then attributes the improvement to the coaches.
Something is changing at Spurs. It is mid-March and no one is obsessing over whether they will finish above Arsenal. Vertonghen laughs. ‘We have shown we are in that top four and teams, they know now when they come to Wembley, they will really be in a game. It is a great sign.’
Vertonghen became the latest Spurs player to heap praise on Mauricio Pochettino