x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Woodgate may still have what it takes to leave Spurs kicking

Woodgate should be providing the cornerstone of the defence for England and a club competing in the Champions League, but he had to be content at unfashionable Stoke.

Jonathan Woodgate was stellar in the defence to block the efforts of Fernando Torres and Chelsea. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images
Jonathan Woodgate was stellar in the defence to block the efforts of Fernando Torres and Chelsea. Clive Brunskill / Getty Images

Amid the simulation, haranguing of the referee and attempts to get fellow professionals sent off – and all that was just in the Newcastle United-Arsenal match – one aspect of the first weekend of the flawed, thrilling and addictive Premier League which did manage to warm the heart, was the return of Jonathan Woodgate.

Resurrecting his injury-ravaged career at Stoke City, the England international defender completed his first 90 minutes of Premier League football on Sunday since Tottenham Hotspur defeated Wigan Athletic 9-1 in November 2009.

Woodgate produced the kind of assured and intelligent exhibition in the art of defending against Chelsea, which showed why Newcastle, Real Madrid, Middlesbrough and Spurs paid a combined £37.4 million (Dh221.8m) to secure his considerable talents.

Tony Pulis, the Stoke manager, is realistic enough to know his club would not have been even in the race to sign Woodgate, 31, in the prime of his career had he been at the peak of his powers.

Woodgate should be providing the cornerstone of the defence for England and a club competing in the Champions League, but he had to be content with a pay-as-you-play deal at unfashionable Stoke when he signed on a free transfer, after spending all but four games of the last two seasons on the sidelines.

Harry Redknapp, the Spurs manager, apparently said the decision not to offer Woodgate a contract extension this summer in the summer was one of the hardest of his career, but with one brittle England defender in Ledley King in his squad, and with the purse strings tightened in the absence of Champions League money, you could hardly blame him.

Yet should Woodgate produce a series of commanding displays similar to Sunday's one, Redknapp could be kicking himself.

Stoke have a reputation for rough house tactics, but the classy Woodgate will add an element of elegance to their play. He is the perfect foil for fellow English defender, Ryan Shawcross, and Pulis clearly holds Woodgate in the highest esteem as he shunted Robert Huth to right back, breaking up his formidable partnership with Shawcross to accomodate Woodgate.

On Sunday's evidence, it appears a shrewd move.

kaffleck@thenational.ae


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