Relax, Spurs fans: Vincent Janssen has already got this far being a slow starter
Last season it took Vincent Janssen eight games to score his first Eredivisie goal for AZ Alkmaar, having joined from second division side Almere. In fact, up to Holland’s winter break he’d only managed six in 20 domestic and Europa League matches.
But then it all clicked. After some winter rest, Janssen hit the ground running with six goals in his first three games back – including a particularly satisfying hat-trick against Feyenoord, the club that had discarded him aged 18. By the season’s end he’d thumped 21 of his 27 league goals after Christmas, becoming the youngest player since Ronaldo in 1994/95 to hit 25 goals and coming out with his country’s Young Talent of the Year gong.
Suffice to say, Janssen has always been a delayed bloomer – that was his first top-flight season, and only his third overall of a rapidly developing professional career.
Come in, No.2
It's tough to bring a No.1 player when you have another No.1. Always, it's very difficult
Still, Tottenham happily coughed up £17 million for him to push Harry Kane as Spurs’ main striker, a process which was prematurely accelerated when the England striker succumbed to a six-week lay-off only five games into the campaign.
Mauricio Pochettino – though aware of Janssen’s job ahead, still aged only 22 – was bullish about the Netherlands international who’d impressed him so much in a friendly against the Republic of Ireland.
“It's not a risk,” the Argentine said in late September, after the news of Kane’s injury. “He's a good profile for us. Look at the example of Manchester City: their main striker is Aguero. The second, is Iheanacho. Bony went one year and a half ago, and they paid £35-40 million for him.
“I don't know – it's tough to bring a No.1 player when you have another No.1. Always, it's very difficult."
There’s not much doubt that Janssen has justified his manager’s concerns, though. He has yet to score in open play for his new club yet – all three of his Spurs goals have come from the penalty spot, the latest in Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Leicester – and Pochettino has twice preferred Son Heung-min as the central striker up front.
But that can’t always work for Tottenham, as demonstrated in their frustrating goalless draw at Bournemouth last weekend when the Cherries allowed little space behind their defence that Son could exploit.
In theory, Janssen works for Spurs. His attributes aren’t too dissimilar to Kane’s, and he should thrive from the service of his new team’s energetic touchline dwellers. Having been schooled in a fine Feyenoord academy too, it seems unlikely that in the long run he’ll be found wanting technically.
Expecting Janssen to fit straight in would have been churlish
There is, though, clearly some bedding in to be done. Pochettino would have preferred to do it slower but didn’t have a choice, and Janssen is learning the hard way of just how intense his new surroundings are.
Expecting him to fit straight in, though, would have been churlish: playing in Pochettino’s quicksilver squadron for starters requires ample brain training. Plus, it shouldn’t really need to be said that the Eredivisie – though a fine school for technical tuning – isn’t the all-action spectacle served up in England. A 21-year-old Luis Suarez, after joining Liverpool from Ajax in January 2011, scored in only four of his first 13 Premier League appearances; Afonso Alves struck only 10 in his 42 Middlesbrough outings; Memphis Depay's stock has plummeted since joining from PSV; Jozy Altidore and Mateja Kezman flopped badly.
There have been success stories from Holland, of course: Suarez, Wilfried Bony, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Robin van Persie all became excellent Premier League performers. But the one thing they all needed was time.
Janssen won and converted the penalty Tottenham scored against Leicester on Saturday, but the game was a good indicator of why Spurs need to work harder with him than they do with Kane. The Dutchman managed two open-play efforts on goal, his team-mates didn’t really provide him with quality service and the lack of space Leicester allowed meant the 22-year-old’s scope to provide for runners beyond him was limited.
Both Son and Alli failed to complete a single pass to Janssen, who played well but was once again isolated. He's good, needs support. pic.twitter.com/DjnAQPBfBl
— James Maw (@JamesMawFFT) October 29, 2016
For the first time this season, Leicester – after humbling and heavy defeats to Hull, Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea – were organised on the road and frustrated Spurs with a deep defence that mainly forced efforts on goal from outside the box. The Foxes scored with their only effort on target, while Tottenham were twice denied by the woodwork and again paid for their bluntness up front.
Son in particular was denied the chance to stretch his legs and test Danny Simpson, which didn’t help Janssen – his South Korean team-mate didn’t manage to find him with a pass all afternoon. Simply, it didn’t suit Spurs’ No.9.
It's a virtue
There should be no cause for panic with Janssen, though: clearly he is a talented player who is already leading the line for his country, and simply trying to adapt to difficult new surroundings.
“I can speak from experience: when you come from a different country it’s not easy,” team-mate Eric Dier, who spent his formative years in Portugal, said recently. “People at home may not understand, but he’s [Janssen] come from a different country, a different culture.
“He moved here by himself. He’s got to get used to a whole new way of training, playing, a whole new way of life. These things take time. It’s only natural he will keep on improving.”
Time. Take it from someone who knows. Janssen may soon get some breathing room, though, with Kane soon to return from his ankle injury – perhaps in time for next weekend’s north London derby against Arsenal.
But Roberto Soldado he is not, who admitted to The Guardian earlier this year that his head, “for whatever reason, wasn’t right” during that ill-fated two-year stint at White Hart Lane. “Perhaps my transfer fee was too big, [or] maybe the expectations I put on myself put me over the edge in a sense,” said the Spaniard, now at Villarreal. “I found I was getting easy chances and I’d miss them; the tiniest things would go against me.”
Confidence, then, was clearly an issue for Soldado – but that's simply not the case with Janssen. Having taken control from 12 yards in Spurs' previous game against Liverpool, the Dutchman was again in no two minds who'd be taking the spot-kick against Leicester.
It would be very easy to forget that the striker is 22 years old, and in just his fourth season of football. Perspective – and patience – is required.