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  • By Alessandro Schiavone

Tottenham legend Vertonghen still has it as his inspired display helps Anderlecht trash Ajax

By Alessandro Schiavone from Lotto Park (Brussels)

Anderlecht 3-0 Ajax

Anderlecht versus Ajax was potentially Jan Vertonghen’s last summer friendly of his professional club career ahead of his retirement after EURO 2024. And what an occasion it turned out to be as these two giants and record champions of their respective countries played out a sparkling encounter yesterday afternoon.

After an underwhelming first 45 minutes, Ajax improved but the hosts put their chances away and hence ran out 3-0 victors against the four-time Champions League winners. On a personal level coming up against the team that made him the player he is, motivation was always going to come in sizeable amount for 36-year-old Vertonghen. And the former Tottenham Hotspur stalwart, who wore the club’s shirt 315 times while scoring 14 goals in his eight campaigns in North London, bossed the Belgians’ three-man defence alongside youngsters Zeno Debast and Moussa N’Diaye. Just like he did in his younger days when his partnership with Younès Kaboul and Toby Aldereweireld gave Spurs supporters every reason to go into games upbeat from a defensive viewpoint during Tottenham's greatest era in modern times. Composed on the ball and with an unfading positional sense and knack for neutralising attacks and shots, Vertonghen was an imperious presence against his former club and gets Capital Football’s top marks for what was an irreproachable display that resulted in a clean sheet for Les Mauves ahead of their Pro League curtain-raiser against Union Saint Gilloise on Friday.

When Ajax upped the tempo and started to throw the kitchen’s sink at Anderlecht after the restart, Super Jan kept his side in it. Whenever he had a few puzzles to solve he came up trumps, blocking fellow ex-Spurs player Bergwijn’s goal bound effort from the edge of the penalty area before going on to produce a superb sliding intervention from the 13 years younger Kudus at the far-post. The veteran also made the most of his composure on the ball and leadership to impressively wriggle free of both the Ghanaian Chelsea target and Brobbey when pressed up high in a danger zone before calmly playing out.  

There’s a reason why he is Belgium’s all-time record appearance holder after all. And despite his passport showing 36, he’s still worth his weight in gold, especially in a younger, inexperienced squad like Brian Riemer's troop. There are things you can learn and others you can’t unlearn and for which there simply aren’t any manuals.

When all is said and done, Tottenham's decline coincided with his departure in 2020. And it's fair to claim that despite the clock ticking faster and faster on his career, Vertonghen is still showing everybody the way with his art of defending.

Incredibly, the last trophy he lifted was the Dutch Eredivisie with yesterday's opponents in 2012. Having agonizingly lost the last six finals he played in, including the Champions League final in 2019, there will always be a sense of regret that with the career he's had and the stellar Belgium and Tottenham sides he featured in, he could and should have won more silverware. But it's not too late to update his trophy cabinet, with the Belgian Pro League title and the Euros next summer now firmly in his sights to end on a high.


Report: Former Premier League target Kasper Dolberg’s lovely dinked effort, an own-goal by defender Olivier Aertssen and a diagonal finish by Benito Raman sealed the deal for Anderlecht in this Gala match between the two Benelux giants. After a first half to forget, Ajax went on to dominate proceedings with Bergwijn carrying his team but failed to convert a number of opportunities into goals as Max Dupe and his best friends, the crossbar and the post, having stood in between.


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