Cashing in on Caulker makes little sense for Spurs
Gareth Bale. Gareth. Bale. Bored of those two words yet? It's all anybody seems to be talking about. Bale, Bale, Bale. In greater demand than a spot in the shade in this great British summer, pondered more than a pregnant lady popping out a prince, the future of Gareth Bale is currently English football's hot topic of discussion.
Open a newspaper, Gareth Bale. Turn on the TV, Gareth Bale. In fact, if recent events are anything to go by the all-consuming media whirlwind surrounding football's Welsh wizard 2.0 even seems to have engulfed his current club.
That's because, while a high-stakes game of poker takes place between Daniel Levy and Real Madrid, Tottenham appear to have taken their eye off the ball in another area - letting centre back Steven Caulker sneak out via the back door to join Cardiff City in a deal they may live to regret.
A year ago, Caulker seemed to represent the future for Spurs, and he was rewarded for an excellent season on loan at Swansea City with a new four-year contract. Andre Villas Boas, for one, seemed unequivocal in his faith in the youngster, who scored on his international debut for England in Sweden last October.
"We certainly believe a lot in the player. That's why we decided to extend his career and that's why he played at Old Trafford and against Lazio," said Villas Boas last October. "I think he is showing exactly the competence and the talent that he has and he will triumph in the future."
So what changed the Portuguese coach's mind? The short answer for those of us who don't have AVB on speed-dial is: 'who the flip knows?'
Since Villas Boas made those comments, all signs have pointed to Caulker not only 'showing his competence' but improving rapidly. And while the £8million Cardiff have spent is hardly chump change, it looks a fine piece of business for the Premier League newcomers.
Using a combination of the naked eye and the power of Stats Zone, it's not hard to see that Caulker is gradually emerging as one of England's brighter defensive talents.
Caulker first caught my eye playing for England at UEFA's Under-19 European Championships in 2010. After impressing on loan at Yeovil Town and Bristol City, the Feltham-born youngster really rose to prominence on loan at his new club's rivals Swansea City, where he began to add greater composure on the ball and tactical awareness to match the physical attributes, thanks to the guidance of Brendan Rodgers.
Injury problems kept him out of the team early on in Swansea's maiden Premier League campaign but in notable wins against Arsenal and Manchester City he displayed his potential with prominent, efficient performances.
Caulker is not an all-action, hustle and bustle type of player. In the tackle, quality not quantity applies. He doesn't fly into challenges but rather times them, making relatively few tackles per game for a centre back but winning a good percentage of them.
As might be expected for a player who began his career in midfield his passing is consistent and reliable. His passing accuracy was the third best of any Spurs player last season, markedly better than two of Spurs' remaining centre backs, Jan Vertonghen and Michael Dawson, not to mention the likes of Daniel Agger (which may explain Liverpool's reported interest).
Caulker makes a low number of tackles (surprisingly, fewer than Aaron Lennon in 2012/13), but times them intelligently. He attempts a high number of clearances (more than any other Spurs player, putting him in the Premier League's top ten for average number of clearances per game) and an average but increasing number of interceptions, as his understanding of the game grows.
He also offers a goal threat from set pieces, having more than double the number of shots per game than Michael Dawson over the course of the season (although still fewer than Jan Vertonghen). What's not to like?!
Looking at his long-term development with Cardiff and England perhaps one weakness in Caulker's armoury is his apparently unscholarly approach to honing his craft.
Unlike the AC Milan greats Gennaro Ivan Gattuso and Filippo Inzaghi, who obsessed about football and would pore over every aspect of it in their free time, Caulker admits he is no bookish student of the game and pays little attention to it off the field.
"I don't watch that much football and sometimes when I come against players, I won't know that much about them," Caulker said in an interview with London's Evening Standard last year. "If you sit there thinking about coming up against Robin van Persie on a Saturday, you'd be quaking in your boots."
This seems at odds with the painstakingly meticulous approach Villas Boas favours when preparing his players - an ideological disparity which may even have contributed to Caulker's eventual sale.
Nevertheless, at 21 there's still huge scope for progression, and with Vertonghen currently injured and Younes Kaboul not yet fully fit after sitting out all of last season, Spurs are left with just one recognised centre back in Michael Dawson. This is a deal that, at face value, just doesn't make sense from a Tottenham perspective.
Cardiff kept 18 clean sheets last season, more than any other side in the Championship. Steven Caulker's signing is a smart attempt from Malky Mackay to help apply that miserly approach to a higher division.
So. Anyway. Have you heard about Gareth Bale?