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By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Wednesday, February 6, 2013
Gylfi Sigurdsson got a consoling pat on the back from Steffen Freund as he returned to the bench in the 39th minute at The Hawthorns on Sunday.
Tottenham’s lack of strikers had been exposed as Jermain Defoe limped off, forcing Andre Villas-Boas to move Clint Dempsey up front and survey his substitutes.
Lewis Holtby and Sigurdsson were the obvious candidates to support the American and they sprinted up and down the touch-line together before the manager, predictably, called for Holtby.
Sigurdsson sat back down to ponder the fact that, although Spurs were now missing their first-choice front two in Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor, there was still no room for him on the field.
That echoed the events at Norwich four days previously, when Villas-Boas had thrown Holtby into the fray just two days after his arrival at the club, bringing the 22-year-old on in place of Dempsey in a bid to change the game, and leaving Sigurdsson on the side-lines.
The Iceland international eventually replaced Aaron Lennon in the 87th minute at Carrow Road before replacing the England winger in the 86th minute at West Brom.
Given Sigurdsson’s current status at Tottenham, it is understandable why Reading felt they might succeed with a club record £10million bid on deadline day.
However, Villas-Boas was keen to stress that he still has high hopes for the £8m summer signing.
“He’s a player that we rate very highly,” said Spurs’ head coach. “We brought him here after his amazing contribution for Swansea last year and he’s a player that we have high expectations for.
“Probably this season is not going to the level that he wants at the moment, but obviously the step is much more difficult than it was at Swansea. He’s a player that we believe a lot in, and in his future here. We couldn’t allow him to leave.”
Those will be encouraging words for Sigurdsson but the fact remains that, while the No10 role was a problem position for Spurs earlier in the season, Villas-Boas is now spoilt for choice.
Defending Spurs’ shortage of strikers, the head coach said: “We’ve gone to 4-4-2 but we always have one striker coming shorter than the other, which I think is normal in most of the teams, and I think Lewis and Clint and Sigurdsson can continue to do that.
“You saw Bale the other day playing through the middle when we changed him with Clint, and he did well.”
The Welshman has certainly been thriving in a central position in the last two games, and it is clear that Holtby’s arrival – and his immediate impact - has pushed Sigurdsson further down the pecking order.
That put Villas-Boas in an awkward position at his press conference last Friday as he was asked to reflect on Holtby’s impressive impact at Norwich and then, moments later, to comment on the effect that it will have on Sigurdsson’s status at the club.
“You cannot turn this conversation into something blaming Sigurdsson because that is not what we are talking about,” he said. “The player [Sigurdsson] wants to break into the team and we believe in his talent.
“If he manages to compete against these other guys – against Bale and Lennon, at the level they are at this season – then it would be fantastic.
“It is difficult, but part of every player’s life is to compete to get into the team. We felt that we had a good deal with Lewis and we brought him in because it gives us extra options. We trust Gylfi and the fact is we have denied a record-breaking offer for him.”
The difficulty for Villas-Boas is that, by his own admission, Sigurdsson’s struggle to replicate his fabulous form for Swansea is related to his lack of first-team opportunities.
“Sigurdsson hasn’t found that ability from last year, which I think is intimately related to his confidence and to the part that he’s playing - or that he hasn’t been playing - for the team at the moment,” said the Portuguese. “But if he gets that finishing touch, he’s one more player that can add in terms of extra goal-scoring ability.
“You saw him when he came on against Norwich. He hit the bar against Everton and he had a couple of chances against Chelsea. Normally, at Swansea, those are the sort of chances that he scores.”
That only underlines the misfortunate of Sigurdsson’s situation. Denied by the woodwork at Goodison Park, he has also seen fine efforts saved by Stoke’s Asmir Begovic and also by Norwich’s Mark Bunn last week – both of which would have been late winners, which would have hugely aided his cause.
Sigurdsson’s supporters are keen to underline that fact and emphasise his youth at the age of 23.
However, it is unlikely that even his biggest sympathisers would have introduced him instead of Holtby at The Hawthorns – indeed a large number of fans were querying why the German had not been given a starting berth in the Midlands.
There is also evidence that the Tottenham players already trust Holtby more than Sigurdsson.
In the final minutes at West Brom, Bale advanced through the middle and saw Sigurdsson in acres of space on the right flank – but the Welshman elected to thread the eye of the needle and play Holtby through instead, with a pass that was intercepted.
Moments later the very same scenario appeared. Bale could not ignore Sigurdsson for a second time and played the ball wide to the Icelander, who drove his cross straight into his marker Liam Ridgwell, leaving Bale attempting to hide his frustration.
There was no lack of effort from the former Swansea man, and to his credit he was hunting for action and seeking involvement until the final whistle.
However, there is precious little confidence, which is likely to leave him on the side-lines – and that will only exacerbate his difficulty in finding his feet at Tottenham. It is a vicious circle and the competition is fierce.
“Players are happy when they play more but, without disrespecting Reading, I think the ambitions for Tottenham are higher,” said Villas-Boas.
“I think the player [Sigurdsson] appreciates that he has to overcome this tough environment – the competition that he faces to be in the team - and I think that’s what makes a player evolve in any circumstance.”
Villas-Boas may well have plenty of faith in Sigurdsson, and he will be hoping that the level of the adversity in the Spurs squad will help the summer signing to become a better player in the long run.
However, actions speak louder than words and it remains to be seen whether the head coach will give his player the opportunities to “evolve” in the final third of this season when his rivals are so much sharper and the stakes are so high.
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