Vincent Janssen has bounced back from failure before – but Spurs don't know how to use him best yet
The first suggestion that Vincent Janssen was going to struggle in English football came during Tottenham's first home game of the season. Leading the line after a vibrant debut the week before, he started against Crystal Palace and was largely effective.
Janssen may have been short on finesse, but he was largely as packaged: eager and physical, with a handy habit of bringing other players into the game. But late in the second half, an ugly asterisk: after racing through on goal, he screwed the best chance of the game horribly wide and all of his positive momentum spilled out of the hole in the corner of White Hart Lane.
Take it easy
Janssen is trying far too hard: shots have spewed wide off his shins and, as his first touch has grown more unreliable, he's looked like a man drowning
In the months since, it's been much the same. Nobody has tried harder than Janssen, but his search for a first goal from open play continues. His periodic contributions, mainly from the substitutes' bench, have yielded the occasional neat flick and sometimes even a telling pass; nevertheless, the more furious his pursuit of that elusive goal has become, the less capable of actually scoring he has looked.
Janssen is trying far too hard: shots have spewed wide off his shins and, as his first touch has grown more unreliable, he's looked like a man drowning.
Yes, he's suffering. But while that's inarguably true and while he is perilously short on self-belief, it would be reductive to package his difficulties as purely emotional.
Janssen isn't the first new signing to endure a difficult first season and certainly not the only Eredivisie alumnus to flounder in England, but beware the clichés which this type of situation attracts. Those platitudes may have some merit – and the simple passing of time can remedy poor form – but they don't collectively explain why the striker has laboured under Premier League lights.
Can’t match Kane
He's not someon who seems capable of creating goals out of nothing – Janssen is the exclamation point on a sentence rather than the actual prose
The defensive standards in the Netherlands are different, but Janssen's goalscoring record and the highlights from his time at AZ show him to be a forward of good habits and a player of no little penalty-box technique.
In all likelihood, one of the traits that attracted Tottenham to him in the first place was the breadth of his scoring range. The volume of goals (32 from 27 league starts) was eye-catching, but it was the variation of finishing which made Janssen notable; he scored with his left foot, his right, was good in the air and clever on the floor.
If there was a common theme, though, it was his reliance on opportunism: a lot of his goals were smartly taken and impressive, but the majority seemed to be the product of either defensive mistakes or well-constructed moves. He's not someone, for instance, who seems capable of creating goals out of nothing – Janssen is the exclamation point on a sentence rather than the actual prose.
There's nothing wrong with that, other than it being a relatively old-fashioned trait. The most pertinent comparison to make would naturally involve Harry Kane; the difference between the two is quite substantial. Kane has similarly predatory instincts inside the box, but is a more rounded forward. He's comfortable playing 30 yards from goal and often in the wide channels, and doesn't necessarily need to be presented with high-percentage opportunities to score.
In fact, some of his most famous Spurs goals have been from improbable situations: the goal from an angle in the last north London derby at White Hart Lane, his double in the New Year's Day win over Chelsea in 2015, his bending finish against Stoke in April 2016. The greater percentage of his return may come from closer range, but he is not solely reliant on those kind of chances.
In 2015/16, he averaged 4.96 shots per 90 minutes for AZ; in the present day, that has shrunk to an anaemic 2.85
For the moment, Janssen is – and that acts as a multiplier on his difficulties. More troubling – and, again, unlike Kane – he doesn't enjoy natural chemistry with the surrounding players. That's excusable, of course, but the consequence is still an absence of the anticipation that was so crucial to his Eredivisie form; he always seems a yard out of place when a cross arrows the six-yard-box, or a step too slow when a pass is knifed through a defensive line.
In 2015/16, he averaged 4.96 shots per 90 minutes for AZ; in the present day, that has shrunk to an anaemic 2.85. That statistic may be partly influence by his sporadic involvement, but it's also indicative of both his reticence in front of goal and his failure to arrive in shooting positions.
While it would be disingenuous to pretend that Janssen hasn't spurned opportunities to score, the greater concern is over how few chances he has actually had. He must take the bulk of the responsibility for that: as the pressure to score has intensified, he's dropped noticeably deeper – away from the box and away from responsibility. It's the striker's equivalent of a goalkeeper not coming for crosses, or a winger passing inside instead of attacking a full-back: it's how a player hides on a football pitch.
As a person, he's often been described as hard-working and diligent, and as a model professional with a voracious appetite for study
The good news is that it's not actually a significant problem. With Kane now fit, available and in good form, Janssen's lack of contribution is a minor issue. Nevertheless, it's an ailment that requires a remedy – not least because he remains a capable goalscorer and, ultimately, a player whom Spurs recruited at great expense.
This is perhaps where patience is necessary. Supporters may not enjoy being told to defer their judgement, but in this case it's right for them to do so; Janssen not only needs to cure his confidence problem, he must also essentially re-learn parts of his position. Encouragingly, that's something he's more than capable of doing. As a person, he's often been described as hard-working and diligent, and as a model professional with a voracious appetite for study.
Quoted by FFT contributor Priya Ramesh in July 2016, Gaston Taument, Janssen’s former youth coach at Feyenoord, recalled that: "Vincent has always lived exemplarily for the sport. There has not been a day that he has not trained optimally. That shows his character: he is a fighter, a hardy spirit."
Been here before
There's also something to be said for a player who, after leaving De Kuip, recovered admirably from that relative failure. It speaks to Janssen's character that he wasn't broken by the disappointment and that within three years he had risen to become the Eredivisie top scorer and a full Netherlands international (having thumped a hat-trick past Feyenoord last season for good measure). That takes resilience and a positive attitude in the face of adversity; he'll need both again if he’s to reverse the current negative trend.
The old cliché about goalscoring dictates that the time to worry is when the chances dry up. In this case that's not necessarily true, though: if Janssen's ability to literally put the ball in the net hadn't survived the journey from Holland, then Daniel Levy and Mauricio Pochettino would be staring down the barrel of an expensive mistake.
That point hasn't yet been reached. This is a ‘break down and rebuild’ scenario: Janssen has excellent goalscoring instincts, but Tottenham just don't quite know how to access them yet.