Ben Davies has just entered the most significant spell of his Tottenham career. As the club wait on Danny Rose’s knee injury scan results, Davies is the natural and only replacement. Bought back in the summer of 2014 as competition for Danny Rose, the Neath-born left back has fallen far behind his positional rival. Now that void is temporarily open, Davies must seize his opportunity.
Last year, both Davies and Trippier alike attained ample minutes as Tottenham went with a traditional back-four. Kyle Walker and Danny Rose both ventured into the opposition’s final third, but their priorities were always defence. When Tottenham were playing two or three games in a week, Davies would regularly get 90 minutes in the Premier League and was able to demonstrate his defensive proficiency. In fact, he started 22 games last year and was positively secure.
That’s why it’s so hard to comprehend his situation currently. After an incredibly successful Euros in the heart of a Wales defence which nullified all of Belgium’s attacking options, Davies should be gleaming with self-assurance. Unfortunately for the player, he has played a part in all that has been alarming for Spurs this season. Those negatives are now so infrequent that to be a constant in each must evoke a degree of doubt in the player’s mind. From the glory of reaching a semi-final in a major competition with Wales, Davies has played 90 minutes in defeats to Monaco, Bayer Leverkusen and Liverpool. His correlation with cup exits is unfortunate. Tottenham’s side against Liverpool was one with little experience to win at Anfield and in brutal honesty, the Champions League squad was one unfit to reach the latter stages. As a result, Davies looks a player short of confidence. A seemingly quiet player on the pitch, he is often caught on camera shaking his head and looking lost. His first goal for the club against Aston Villa in the FA Cup was one fitting for the match; muted and low-key, but that was telling of his current state of mind. His body language is weak.
His confidence can’t be helped by the unconcealed views held by the Tottenham fans. While they have always seem to appreciate that he is able cover at left back, he remains just that. Quite rightly, the general consensus is that with him in the side, a back-three is implausible since Davies is not the type of full back explore attacking options. Now that Tottenham pride themselves on intense, elaborate and pacey attacking play, Davies’ style carries with it the misfortune of inducing frustration amongst the fans. As Tottenham scraped past Middlesbrough, the loudest jeer of the day came as Davies, under no press, opted to pass it back to Lloris rather than to continue the barrage of attack Tottenham were beginning to threaten. Later in the game, Kyle Walker did the same with no such outcome.
Truthfully, there is a principal reason behind all of Davies’ problems at Spurs. Even with vast improvement both defensively and in the attacking third, he will always be burdened by Tottenham’s most improved player in the past 2 years, Danny Rose. Since Davies’ arrival at the club, Rose progressed into an England regular, the best left back in the Premier League and turned Roberto Carlos’ head; a true teacher of the position. Not only has Rose gone onto become one of Europe’s finest full-backs, but he is also becoming a cult hero at Tottenham. His level of improvement, relationship with Pochettino, no-nonsense approach and full-blooded personality have moulded him into the type of player whose name kids get on the back of their shirt. And that’s not just because it would be cheap. There is a feeling, perhaps naïvely, that Danny Rose is the type of player to remain loyal to the club that made him into the player he is today. He’s an essential part of the ‘spirit’ so focal to Pochettino’s current success with the club. All of that detriments Ben Davies. He’s the impromptu stopgap, the unwanted substitute and the unnecessary extra. In those words, it’s viciously harsh, but that’s what Rose’s development is doing to him.
That’s why Davies is reaching his most significant time period at Tottenham. For now, the most he can do is to focus on playing well at left-back for the rest of Rose’s absence, obtain the trust of Spurs fans and play it safe. Once the season is over, there have been suggestions that Tottenham delve into the market for another central defender as Kevin Wimmer’s lifespan decreases with each passing game. That said, their central defensive qualms can be resolved from within. If there are legs in Tottenham playing a back 3 in the coming seasons, there is a possibility for Davies to explore further avenues. Used as a left centre back for Wales, Davies is well qualified for that role. If his Tottenham career is to reach any level of significance, both Davies and Pochettino must agree his future at left-back is improbable.
It’s a sincerely difficult position for a footballer to be in. Aged just 23, Davies has come to the first real stumbling block in his career. He could move to another club, but that would be a move that I feel Tottenham would regret. He could carry on as a regular substitute but never truly recognise his own potential or he can make the full time move to a left sided centre back. I suspect the latter is already in progress but Pochettino has never been one to rashly throw players into position without thorough trust. Wales know they have a robust option in Davies, but if Tottenham want to hang on to him, they must too.