The midfielder has been the beating heart of Spurs’ new era under Nuno
In the afterglow of Tottenham’s rise to the プレミアリーグ サミット, a modest procession took place following the final whistle. There was the remorseful applause of Harry Kane, turning to all four corners of the stadium, making amends for a summer sewn by his discontent. Son Heung-min returned from the tunnel and took pictures with a clamour of supporters who’d stayed behind, desperate to share in the South Korean’s magnetic smile. There were choruses for the recently departed Danny Rose and Moussa Sissoko, the heroes of old making their bittersweet goodbyes. And in the centre-circle, away from all the fanfare, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg solemnly raised two battle-hardened fists to the sky.
There is something wonderfully, almost threateningly, old-school about Hojbjerg. The sort of cold glint in his eye that suggests he’d be just as comfortable in a bare-knuckle brawl as he is commanding Tottenham’s midfield. The bared teeth as he flies into full-blooded tackles, like a doberman that’s slipped its muzzle and turned stark raving mad at the sight of enemy flesh. しかしその後, Hojbjerg is also far more than an enforcer. Against Watford, he didn’t just win every tackle and recover possession, he also took more touches and completed more passes than any other player on the pitch. That has always been fundamental to his role, but the first stages of this new season have also subtly demanded far more.
In the absence of a creative force like Tanguy Ndombele, and with Oliver Skipp proving a sturdy if uninspiring pivot, Hojbjerg has stepped into the void as Spurs’ conductor. A more advanced box-to-box role might not be his forte, his play grounded in purpose rather than panache, but he has approached the task with typical determination, glueing together Tottenham’s attack and defence in dogged harmony.
It is a makeshift solution and a luxury enabled by Hojbjerg’s understated brilliance, taking on more responsibility out of necessity, all without sacrificing his influence in defence. There were a few quiet criticisms of his final ball against Watford, but those completely ignore how much ground he already covers and the several instances when he expertly cut open the space behind Watford’s full-backs. It might not be the goals and glamour of Kane and Son, but make no mistake, Hojbjerg is the vital organ of Nuno’s team, the beating heart that keeps the blood circulating. Remove him from its centre, and the whole system will start to clot. If that seems hard to believe, then consider why the 26-year-old was the only Tottenham player to complete every single Premier League game last season – not to mention every minute of Denmark’s Euro 2020 運動, あまりにも.
もちろん, for all Hojbjerg does, that blessing cannot disguise Tottenham’s need for new creative impetus. Even with Dele Alli as part of the midfield triangle, there is an occasional imbalance to Spurs’ midfield, a sense of artistry lost to caution and they initially struggled to break down a resilient Watford defence who were wary of being counter-attacked. 最終的には, it was only Son’s divine streak of intervention that could break the deadlock, that teasing free-kick that evaded everyone in the box and squirmed in at the far post.
It might have been enough on this occasion, but throughout the season, there’ll need to be more than just moments of magic. Nuno has instilled a clear sense of discipline and an unpretentious system that’s thriving thus far, but that creative weapon remains the missing piece of his arsenal. Whether it comes in the form of a fresh face before the end of the transfer window or Ndombele’s return from the fringes remains a question that could wield huge influence over Spurs’ season.
しかしその後, with that now being Spurs’ greatest concern, it is a testament in itself to their remarkable turnaround. After their chaotic managerial pursuit and Kane’s failed decamping, Tottenham are top of the table and yet to even concede a goal this season. It is a credit to the wonder of Son and a squad who’ve shown fight and spirit after the wear and tear of last season and the uncertainty of the summer. Underpinning it all has been Hojbjerg, the quiet hero whose importance should never go unnoticed.