There have been many stories accompanying the recent rise of Tottenham Hotspur. Many players have made names for themselves, and the manager has enhanced his reputation to the extent that when the manager of the English national team steps down, he is the name on everyone’s lips to take over. Name your price Harry, name your conditions. To borrow a metaphor from another sport, the ball is very much in his court.
Players like Luka Modric and Gareth Bale are linked with mega-money moves to the planet’s biggest clubs, Scott Parker has been plucked from a relegated team to finally fulfil his promise and make himself one of the first names on Tottenham’s and England’s team sheets.
There have been important wins over bitter North-London foes Arsenal, who find themselves 10 points behind Spurs in the table and will endure another season without silverware. There has been Champions League football at White Hart Lane, and incredible away fixtures in that competition. Not many people go to Milan and come back having delivered a spanking.
Lots of stories, lots of big names and big results, plenty of turnarounds from when Redknapp took over and Spurs lay at the bottom of the league table – but one of the most complete turnarounds is in the fortunes of one of Redknapp’s favoured lieutenants, Younes Kaboul.
Kaboul has enjoyed two spells at Tottenham. Well, perhaps only enjoyed the second… He was brought in by Martin Jol but fell out of favour, and was never trusted by Juande Ramos (A plus point perhaps…?). When he left for Portsmouth, managed at the time by a certain Harry Redknapp, there were not that many tears shed. He was more of a cult hero than a stalwart – and central defenders only really become cult-like figures if they’re a bit bonkers. Younes Kaboul’s game was characterised by power, aggression, hard tackling, and lots and lots of blunders. It’s all very well romping up the pitch to score a few glory-hunting goals, but not if you get caught out more often than not. Unpredictable central defenders might be lots of fun, but that generally don’t help get your team to the higher league places.
However, since his return form Pompey Kaboul has been nothing short of a revelation. He seems to have kept all of the good parts of his game but cut out the problematic lapses in concentration. Kaboul rarely gives the ball away – a passing accuracy rate of 84% is comparable to his peers, and he’s only been dispossessed 5 times in 21 appearances.
The table below compares defensive statistics for some of the Premier League’s top central defenders, with data displayed for clearances, tackles, ground duels and aerial duels. A full key to categories is written below the table.
Firstly, a disclaimer: No player for Manchester United has been included. The reason for this is that they have suffered injuries to first choice central defenders Vidic and Ferdinand, and players such as Chris Smalling and Phil Jones are played at full-back or even central midfield just as often as centre back – and therefore those players don’t have enough minutes on pitch at centre back to make statistics a fair comparison.
This first table compares the aerial prowess of Kaboul with John Terry of Chelsea, Fabricio Coloccini of Newcastle, Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and Laurent Koscielny of Arsenal. The most remarkable thing here is the sheer number of headers Kaboul is going for. He has made more successful headed clearances than any of the other players have even attempted. He wins 75% of headers that he contests with opponents, a figure only bettered in this table by John Terry. Yet again though, the sheer number of aerial battles won by Kaboul means that he can be considered by a large margin to be the best in the air. Kaboul successfully contends more than twice the number of headers that John Terry does.
The second table deals with clearances in a more general sense (aerial and ground clearances) and also tackles and ground duels. What becomes obvious here (apart from the fact that Coloccini is not doing very well out of these comparisons) is that Vincent Kompany is the only player here who can even register a claim to challenge Kaboul. Kompany has a better tackling success percentage and indeed has won more tackles than Kaboul. Indeed, even Coloccini measures up well against Kaboul on that front – he’s won more tackles, but on the flip-side of that, he’s got more failed tackles too.
Kaboul makes up for any numerical deficit in the next round of figures. Ground duels are described as any 50-50 challenge where two players go in for a ball and one comes out with it – be that by out-muscling, out manoeuvring, or outpacing that opponent. Kaboul is again the clear winner amongst those players represented here. Only Laurent Koscielny comes close to matching Kaboul’s stats here, and he’s already been outclassed in other categories.
So, Younes Kaboul – more clearances than Kompany, a better tackler than Terry, and better in the air than a peregrine falcon. Admittedly. Statistics for falcons aren’t currently available, but all other figures are taken from Opta stats on the English Premier League Index Stats Centre.