A lot of fine things originated in Belgium. Chocolate, waffles, beer and "fries". If you haven't had a taste of the life in Belgium or found yourself stumbling around intoxicated on their culture, then I strongly recommend you do. Recently, Belgium have also gifted us a flurry of incredibly talented footballers. They remind me of on an old talented Croatian side from a few years back, emerging on to the scene, synonymous to how Belgium have emerged. For a national side that can so often slip under the footballing radar they have at their disposal the likes of Simon Mignolet, Dedryck Boyata, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen, Jan Vertonghen, Marouane Fellaini, Mousa Dembele, Eden Hazard, along with three forwards (the latter 2 of which look very promising) in Kevin Mirallas, Christian Benteke and Romelu Lukaku.
We're lucky enough to grace ourselves with two of those fine Belgian's in the shape of Jan Vertonghen and Mousa Dembele. Two players in two positions that we were desperate to fill. Desperate to repair that spine that was so ruptured with player departures and injuries prior to September the 1st. It's more than warranted to say that both have lived up to (and exceeded in my opinion) the fairly humble expectation that was initially placed on their shoulders. They've become a monumental importance to any chance we may have of finishing in the top 4 or winning a piece of silverware that we - and our dear old close neighbours - have struggled to win frequently over the last twenty years. Lifting that 4th place trophy didn't prove too satisfying come the end of May.
After Modric chose to venture into pastures new, Dembele came in with hopes of slotting straight into the Croats big boots. In all honesty, he's done more than that. He hasn't been a like-for-like replacement by any stretch of the word - but he's brought a new dimension to the Centre Midfield role. In the past, we'd had holding players that were never the complete 'package' so-to-speak. We've had an array of midfielders that compromised one or two attributes for 'excelling' - to a humble extent - in others. We'd have Palacios who could tackle and not pass, Huddlestone who can pass but struggles in the tackle, Jenas.. erm, Tainio who again operated as more as utility man. This naming a minority, of course. I love Sandro, he adds balance and solidarity to the side; the only real thing lacking in his midfield armoury is the ability to drive forward effectively, beat a player and finish off with a nice pass. This here is where Dembele compliments him perfectly.
The Belgian is a different type of midfielder to Modric. He's similar to Sandro in that both are good at keeping the ball and dispossessing opponents. Although, Dembele brings more drive to the side. His strength on the ball has seen him (up to 1st December 2012) dispossessed just once every 125 minutes. He has the ability and prowess to glide past players then the composure to, more often than not, play a clever ball to a more advanced player. He's one to start off moves, his turn of pace and ability to break quickly in the centre of the pitch is something we've lacked for a few years. It's almost like having the influence of Micheal Carrick again. Someone that possesses a wealth of attributes in a key area of the field. Our win percentage when Dembele has started in the Premier League is around 78%, it's just a blessing that he's walked in and not needed time to settle. Without him, Spurs have lost 4 and won just 1 premier league game in which he hasn't started.
Mousa himself declares he's not another Luka Modric. He's not. Although he'll probably end up finishing the season with similar numbers in the goals and assists category to the Croatian. I do feel there are similarities between the two though. Both bring composure and a sense of calmness when on the ball. Of late, Dembele has been replaced by Parker towards the end of the game and we suddenly look a lot more nervy. Typically, this was the case against Everton, Swansea and -more recently - Reading, in which the away side had a number of good late chances to equalise after the Belgian had been taken off. I've loved seeing Scotty back, but I won't hide the fact that I'd have rather seen our Brazilian Sandro make the seemingly endless walk to the dugout. I do think this feat is something that often goes unnoticed. A player that is able to put the rest of the side at ease are far more prone to getting the job done and remaining focused than to panic every time the opposition enter our final third. Modric offered a similar attribute. With minutes to see out a game you could trust him to keep hold of the ball for as long as he felt necessary.
We still lack that creative spark in the centre, for now. Hopefully Holtby can prove the influential number 10 needed in Rafa's old role to make the forward tick. The 4-2-3-1 when attacking and 4-4-1-1 when defending is a system that has grown into Spurs. A system that compliments so many players and the only way forward I can see for next season. For now, we've stuck with 4-4-2, offering both Ade and Defoe playing time. I was initially a fan of seeing two forwards. Adebayor's insistence on coming deep turned the 4-4-2 on paper into a 4-2-3-1 anyway. Although, it's effectiveness has been alarmingly lacking of late. Sigurdsson seems more settled in that number 10 role behind Defoe and deserves his chance to start more often as the games come thick and fast.
A midfield trio of Dembele and Sandro with Holtby in front could prove to have the balance we've craved. I trust AVB will make them all tick. We've began the rebuilding of a new Tottenham spine. The midfield of it is looking incredible brittle with the creativity required in the final third arriving from overseas in July. The importance of Dembele this year has been second to none, if Holtby can come in and have a similar impact then we could, could, maybe, possibly, have something to be optimistic about.
Ben - Follow me on Twitter here