Two and a bit years since Juande Ramos within the space of a few months bought two wildly different right backs for a combined £17.5 million, the more dynamic of the pair, Alan Hutton, might finally be getting the chance to add yet another extra dimension to a Spurs team who despite having improved so much under Redknapp, with Vedran Corluka preferred in the position, now need only minor and crucial tweaking to become a great team.
On 1st September 2008, Spurs signed Vedran Corluka on the last day of the transfer window for £8.5m, not long after January 2008, when they had previously signed Hutton from Rangers for a ridiculous sounding £9 million pounds.
The exorbitant move came during English football’s brief infatuation with football in Scotland, in the season Rangers got the Uefa Cup final and around the time when the national team were beating France home and away and nearly qualifying for the 2008 European Championships.
Hutton was meant to be a right-sided version of Gareth Bale, with the ability to storm forward with genuine pace and forcefulness, like he showed in winning the penalty against Wolves earlier this season. He was also, unlike Bale, viewed as a solid defender, who had the height and savvy even to play confidently at centre back if needed, which few attacking full backs can do.
It never quite happened though and what had seemed a perfect attacking mixture, with Hutton and Lennon on the right hand side, nether materialised. Within 9 months Spurs had signed Corluka for similar money and the Croatian right back’s consistency and defensive solidity made him the attractive choice for managers under pressure to get results with a team who were not living up to expectations.
Hutton’s game was always built on confidence and having that license to attack; unfortunately luxury players who need a run of games in the team to start contributing, rarely get a chance unless they do something exceptional, as shown by Adel Taarabt being given just 9 league games in three and a half years before being offloaded to QPR, where he is flourishing in the Championship.
Corluka’s more defensive game was more useful for a mid-table team who were often wasteful in front of goal and needed as much solidity at the back as possible to get results. Too often Spurs teams would dominate a match, only to concede some stupid goal (or often two stupid goals) at the other end.
Another critical factor was the development of Aaron Lennon’s game. When he first came into the team he was very much the wild card; the youngster with amazing pace who could be given the ball and if it came off it was brilliant and if it didn’t then it was still worth a try anyway. Lennon at 18 years old may have been good enough for a World Cup squad, but he was not a shadow on the player he is now, despite the disappointing performances and loss of confidence over in South Africa.
The Aaron Lennon of 2006 didn’t track back as effectively, not that there isn’t room for improvement. He now takes more care of the ball and his decision making is far improved; deciding when to pass back, when to cross and of course when to bring out the dribbling ability that made his name and got him into the mind of Sven Goran Eriksson when he was choosing that squad.
Lennon’s dribbling ability made Corluka’s place in the team viable. Lennon, unlike Bentley or others who a better crossers than dribblers, didn’t need an overlapping full back to get the better of his man; Corluka was of more use in a deeper position, as the outball if Aaron started to find himself heading up a blind alley. The two of them just worked as a partnership in a way that Lennon and Hutton didn’t, because too often Hutton would make the run similar to the one Lennon was making and simply wouldn’t be needed.
With the signing of Van Der Vaart however the tactics need to be thought over again and the balance of the time evened out. We all know the little Dutch midfielder plays like the classic number 10, in the free role in which he can roam and prowl about in midfield. It is the best way to get the performances out of him and of course Harry Redknapp is a master at getting the best performances out of players. However, even Redknapp has admitted to the problems that such a player can cause to the balance of the team, at times almost seeming like he feels he needs to explain to the media why he has this season begun reverting to that ever so European and trendy 4-5-1 formation.
Having been a stalwart of 4-4-2 and a typical English manager, Redknapp’s big decision will come when Jermain Defoe returns from the ankle injury picked up in the match against Switzerland. Is Defoe or Crouch or even Pavlyuchenko on their own upfront, going to be enough to continue getting the goals and wins needed to repeat last seasons top 4 finish, even with such a creative midfield? Spurs continue to be one of those teams who create and waste a huge amount of chances; something we again share this season with bitter neighbours Arsenal aswell as teams like Everton, who noticeably have a midfield like ours, which is quite a bit stronger than it’s strike force.
I personally feel that 4-4-2 is a system which will need to be employed at Spurs for at least part of the season, if we are going to make the most of a pretty good start to the Premier League season; and the only way to play a 4-4-2 involving Van Der Vaart, is to have Hutton playing instead of Corluka on the right. It’s taken long enough to turn Modric into a player with the defensive strength needed to replace Palacios and take up one of those central midfield births, but there is no way that you could do the same with Van Der Vaart, who has to be allowed to break into the box instead of solely playing the playmaker role that Modric does.
During the World Cup, Dutch coach Van Maarwijk often left Van Der Vaart out in favour of Kuyt and Elia, because he needed that width and players who would consistently stick to wing they were playing on and he knew Van Der Vaart couldn‘t do it.
Last month, poor displays from Lennon brought about a change in Redknapp’s thinking; he decided to drop Lennon and Corluka and to play Bale, Huddlestone, Modric and Van Der Vaart as the four across the midfield, with Hutton playing full back. The system is essentially a mirror image of the formation England employed in qualification for the 2010 World Cup. Bale on one side is like Lennon or Walcott for England, sticking to their wing and keeping the pitch wide.
Huddlestone and Modric sit in the middle and Van Der Vaart is like Gerrard, coming in from the wing and largely being given the free role infield, while Ashley Cole has room to get forward down the outside and is crucial for keeping the pitch wide and keeping a threat down both wings. Hutton does for Tottenham, with his ability to get forward and keep the pitch wide, the same job that Cole performs for England and the same job which Corluka simply doesn’t have the legs, the speed or the mindset to do.
With regular time on the pitch which he hasn’t had for nearly three years now, Hutton is already improving and showing the type of form which regular Spurs watchers have never seen from him at White Hart Lane. He has the opportunity and the ability to turn his career around in much the same way Bale was able to do last season. You could almost say he‘s a poor man‘s Gareth Bale, but then again not many poor men can decide to sign a right back for £9 million.
At his best Hutton will always be able to offer more to the team as a full back than Corluka at his best and whether Redknapp stumbled upon his new solution (as some may argue he did with Bale and Pavlyuchenko last season) or whether it occurred to him as yet another stroke of managerial genius, the fact is that this current Spurs team is the strongest and most creative that we’ve seen since Keith Burkinshaw’s team and possibly since the great Bill Nicholson’s golden era.