By Chris Myson
After all the euphoria of Tottenham's famous victory over Manchester United at the weekend, it was the likes of Gareth Bale, Mousa Dembele and Jan Vertonghen who enjoyed the post-match plaudits.
Andre Villas-Boas could make some changes to his starting line-up for the Europa League trip to face Panathinaikos on Thursday, but one player expected to keep his place in the side is defender Steven Caulker, who himself put in a telling display at as Spurs made history at Old Trafford.
The centre-back’s reputation within English football is blossoming and despite being just 20 years of age, it appears Spurs have a centre-back who is already well capable of performing at the highest level.
Despite his youth, Caulker has already chalked up some considerable experience, with over 100 league appearances to his name.
A product of Spurs’ academy, he had a successful loan spell at Yeovil Town in League One as a 17-year-old and continued his education in a strong stint with Bristol City in the Championship the following year.
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Brendan Rodgers, now Liverpool boss and the man who signed him on loan for the Swans, sung his praises consistently last year, rating his contributions as highly as those produced by headline-grabbers Joe Allen and Scott Sinclair, who have also moved on from life at the Liberty Stadium.
“He had a fantastic season for me,” said Rodgers. "He has made a massive jump in his career through playing Premier League games at Swansea.
“For me, he is a young player he is 20 years of age, who the more he can play the better he will become, and I am sure he will become a great asset for Tottenham.”
The praise has not stopped there. During that dramatic 3-2 victory over United at Old Trafford, Caulker partnered William Gallas in the heart of Spurs’ defence.
The experienced Frenchman, who has played at the highest level for Arsenal and Chelsea, spoke out strongly after the match, tipping the young stopper to "make it to the very top of the game in this country" and saying he was surprised by how quickly Caulker was developing.
Villas-Boas received stick from some quarters for trying to move on Michael Dawson, a club stalwart and experienced Premier League defender, from Tottenham in the summer.
But part of the Portuguese’s willingness to do that must have been the presence of Caulker, who is arguably far better suited to his tactical system and has done nothing in his performances so far to suggest his manager made a mistake in trying to move Dawson on.
A tough physical presence at well over six foot, Caulker is also mobile, comfortable on the ground and strong with the ball at his feet – there are no obvious weaknesses to his game. Most notable is his composure and natural ability to perform all the key defensive attributes.
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Already, Caulker is knocking on the door of the England squad too. He represented Team GB at the Olympics and has featured for the Three Lions at Under-19 and Under-21 level. The Spurs man was called up to the squad for the recent friendly against Italy and a full debut does not seem far away.
With John Terry having now retired from international football and Rio Ferdinand no longer in favour, the once nailed down centre-back positions in the England set-up are very much up for grabs.
Caulker is certainly a viable squad option already and it is hard to see him not spearheading the next generation of young defenders as they push to fill the void left by Terry et al at the next few major tournaments.
Tougher times are still to come for Caulker. Though he has been impressive, the defender still has to be tested over a more sustained period with a big club. He will still have high-profile dips in form to contend with and have spells where Tottenham’s results are not going particularly well. These occasions will test his character.
But all the signs are that Spurs’ defensive future is looking very safe with Caulker emerging, Vertonghen impressing, Younes Kaboul still to come back and a world-class goalkeeper in Hugo Lloris now on the books.
Caulker’s education will continue in Greece on Thursday night, but however he performs in the Europa League clash, it is clear he has a big part to play in the future of his club at White Hart Lane and that of his country too.