Why Spurs have allowed Aaron Lennon to leave for Everton
13:29 03 February 2015
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Tottenham correspondent Ben Pearce reflects on Aaron Lennon’s time at Spurs after his loan exit to Everton.
Given that he cost just £1million when he arrived from Leeds almost 10 years ago, in June 2005, Tottenham have certainly got their money’s worth from Aaron Lennon.
The 27-year-old has made 365 appearances for Spurs and has been involved in all of their major successes in that time.
Lennon played throughout the 2008 League Cup final victory over Chelsea at Wembley, was named the supporters’ player of the season in 2008/09 and was heavily involved in the 2009/10 and 2011/12 Premier League campaigns, when Harry Redknapp led the Lilywhites to two top-four finishes.
When Tottenham enjoyed that one, wonderful season in the Champions League, Lennon played in 10 of the 12 European matches, memorably racing away to set up Peter Crouch’s 80th-minute goal in the 1-0 triumph over AC Milan at the San Siro.
In 2011/12, the diminutive winger was part of a frightening front four alongside Gareth Bale, Rafael van der Vaart and Emmanuel Adebayor, which threatened down the flanks and through the middle in joyful displays of attacking abandon as Tottenham just missed out on a third-place finish.
But that is history. Indeed as of yesterday, when the longest-serving player departed to Everton on loan and Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s contract was terminated, every member of the 18-man squad that faced AC Milan in Italy has left.
Lennon may yet return in the summer, but it is clear that Mauricio Pochettino does not have a role for him. Even when outcasts such as Adebayor, Younes Kaboul and Etienne Capoue were brought back into the frame during a hectic spell during January, he was lucky if he got a place on the bench.
His last appearance came against Besiktas on December 11, 14 games ago. The message is clear and Lennon has headed off to Merseyside – grudgingly, if his miserable-looking photos with his new shirt are anything to go by.
It looks like this is the end for a player who has played 58 European games for Spurs – second in the club’s all-time list behind Steve Perryman (64). Lennon is also second in Tottenham’s rankings for Premier League assists, having set up 45 goals in the top flight. Only Darren Anderton (67) has more.
But here is the problem. Lennon’s tally of 30 goals and 45 league assists sounds impressive enough, but that is over nine and a half seasons.
Ultimately, an attacking player is judged on his figures – goals and assists – and the former England international never really offered enough of either. Compare them to the contributions made by Nacer Chadli and Christian Eriksen this season and it is understandable why Pochettino is moving on.
Granted, Lennon’s rivals for the right midfield berth – Erik Lamela and Andros Townsend – need to improve their numbers in the final third as well, but both are young and have plenty of time to grow and develop under their new head coach.
Lennon has had enough time to reach a new level, but has never quite got there. He has seen off rivals in the past – notably the £15m man David Bentley – but how long could Tottenham keep waiting, when there is eager new blood in the ranks? England manager Roy Hodgson clearly has more faith in Townsend as well.
Few are better at beating the full-back one on one, or timing a run to get in behind and race onto a through ball. But, having got into the box at the by-line, the result would be an aimless chip into the middle – easy fodder for Premier League centre-backs – or a low ball driven into the nearest man. There is every chance that Lennon holds the record for the most corners won in the Premier League era.
There have been a number of false dawns, when it seemed that he was adding a consistent end product.
In March 2009, in a rare interview, Lennon said: “This is the best run of form I’m been in since I came here, definitely, in terms of my all-round performances.”
In January 2013 Lennon had racked up five assists and three goals in the first half of the season, and Scott Parker said: “Is this the best he’s ever played? Yes, I think that’s fair. Over the last four or five weeks he’s been unplayable really.
“I think Gareth [Bale] is a fantastic player and sometimes he gets all the headlines, but Azza has been key to that as well.”
A few weeks later Spurs drew 1-1 with Manchester United at White Hart Lane and Steffen Freund reflected: “We created 10 chances against United and he [Lennon] was involved in seven. That means that we have one of the best wingers in England.”
Last season, when Tim Sherwood was in charge, he stated that Lennon deserved more credit: “Until you’re in the job as a manager, you don’t appreciate Aaron Lennon,” he said.
“What he does out of possession probably makes him the best defensive player we have got on the pitch. He is so diligent. We have seen in transition how he gets you on the edge of your seat. Aaron knows full well he wants to have more end product – maybe a different area of the field might benefit him.
“But I’m certain that when you need to rely on someone, he’s on your teamsheet. He gives 100 per cent in every game and leaves nothing on the pitch. For a small lad, his high-intensity runs, he gets back in, his desire – when you’re asking him to do all that, to then start saying ‘we want 20 goals or 15 assists’, it’s a bit much.
“There is a balance, but when you’re looking for reliability he’s on your teamsheet.”
It is a good assessment, and may well be how Lennon is remembered. No-one could question his work-rate, and that was crucial in a 4-4-2 formation. But now, in a 4-2-3-1 system, things are rather different.
The full-backs provide the width and the ‘wide men’ are expected to come inside, get involved around the box and weigh in with goals and assists, as Chadli and Eriksen have done on the left-hand side this season.
Lennon initially looked like he might be able to adapt, playing well on the left in the pre-season tour of America and linking up well with the likes of Roberto Soldado and Lamela in central positions. He scored a fine individual goal against Chicago Fire.
However, when the competitive action got under way and the opposition got harder, Lennon faded and struggled to get into the games.
There was a brief resurgence – one last hint at another revival – at the end of November and start of December, as Lennon started consecutive league games against Everton and Chelsea.
Indeed he performed very well in the 2-1 victory over the Toffees, playing his part in a notably-improved pressing game. However, he was substituted around the hour-mark in both games, and the trip to Stamford Bridge on December 3 – when he was beaten by Eden Hazard for the opening goal – proved to be his last start for the club before yesterday’s departure.
With better, more natural options on the left side, and Lamela and Townsend competing for the spot on the right, there was no room for him – so little room, in fact, that Spurs have not signed a replacement.
Ultimately, Lennon was indeed safe and reliable, and that has been enough for most of a decade, with a host of different managers. But it is not enough now under Pochettino. The new boss is looking for more, and that is not a bad thing.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs