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African All Stars

Imperfect Aurier the victim of Tottenham's inability to replace Trippier

7:34 AM EDT 10/26/19
Serge Aurier Tottenham Hotspur 2019-20
The Ivory Coast international has endured a mixed time in North London, but for all his flaws he is a lot better than his recent performances suggest

Beyond a lingering suspicion over Erling Braut Haland, there remains little evidence of advancement in biologically engineering the perfect footballer.

Even Lionel Messi, in the minds of many the greatest footballer ever to have played the game, has a vertical limitation. Genetics bequeath imperfections, as does basic humanity, and imperfections can be immensely intriguing: we may never know how much better (or worse) the little Argentine maestro might have been if he was a foot taller.

That does not, however, impede our enjoyment of him, or of most players. The 'flaws' are crags in the rock-face of their greatness to which we can latch on.

Why, then, does it appear that perfection is expected of Serge Aurier?

Why are the undeniable failings of the Tottenham Hotspur man considered terminal?

It would be difficult to argue that the Ivory Coast international’s time in England has been anything other than very mixed. His two-year stay at Spurs has brought eye-catching displays and slapstick in almost equal proportions, and the club's lack of other options at right-back this season has only served to further magnify those peaks and troughs.

For a microcosm of his career in North London, it is not necessary to look too far. The month of September served up the good, the bad, and the blackly comedic.

For the first game of the month against archrivals Arsenal, he was left on the bench, and watched on as centre-back Davinson Sanchez predictably had a rotten afternoon of it moonlighting as a full-back. Tottenham would relinquish a two-goal lead in the game, and end up hanging on by the skin of their teeth under a ton of Gunner pressure inside the Emirates Stadium.

The next league game against Crystal Palace, Aurier was recalled to the side from the start, and delivered an impactful performance: his signature deliveries were a consistent menace (one whipped one forced Patrick van Aanholt to turn past his own goalkeeper, another lofted to the back stick was converted on the volley by Son Heung-Min), his willingness to get forward provided a constant outlet, and Spurs looked, for that afternoon, like a blast from a recent, irresistible past.

They blew the Eagles away 4-0, a result made all the more remarkable by the fact the visitors on the day are notoriously parsimonious at the back: so far this season, only five Premier League sides have conceded fewer than Roy Hodgson’s side.

That performance was then followed by a solid outing against Leicester City, which ended in a 2-1 defeat. The former Paris Saint-German full-back even thought he had scored, and he might have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for the meddling Video Assistant Referee, which spotted an offside.

If Mauricio Pochettino thought that, on the basis of two strong performances, Aurier was now ready to assume the role of starting right-back on a permanent basis, he was in for quite the rude jolt back to reality.

A week later, the 26-year-old received two bookings in four minutes, leaving Tottenham a man light for an hour against Southampton.

Three days after that, he started in the infamous 7-2 Champions League defeat by Bayern Munich, and perhaps the nicest thing that could be said about his outing on the night is that he at least stayed on for the full 90, and was able to observe Serge Gnabry streaking through to score four times at disconcertingly close quarters.

In a nutshell, that five-game spell tells the story of Aurier at Tottenham: capable of being unplayable, in both the positive and negative connotations of the word, given to taking two steps forward and three back, undeniably talented but never able to build up real momentum without his own eccentricities rise to the fore.

However, why did anyone expect any different?

For one thing, Aurier has always been this way; the quality of his deliveries and his sheer physicality aside, his concentration on the football pitch has been apt to waver, and he can struggle positionally. That, for the most part, explains why he never permanently nailed down the right-back spot in Paris, and why even at his best, there always seems to be an error around the corner.

However, isn’t that why he was signed as a back-up to the now-departed Kieran Trippier?

That role, for which his temperament is better suited, allows him to feature sporadically, and minimizes the length of unbroken time during which his attention span is taxed.

In losing the erstwhile first-choice to Atletico Madrid and failing to replace him, Tottenham have dropped Aurier in at the deep end, into a situation for which he is fundamentally unfit, and now expect him to carry the team’s wide attacking threat week-on-week with no drop-off.

That’s a brief not even Tripper could fulfil: there was extremely vocal criticism of his defensive work during his stay at the club, especially toward the end of his time in North London.

Aurier simply does not do consistency. That may be the chief flaw in his make-up, the fly in the ointment that means he is not quite elite, even though he has some of the tools to be, and can be irrepressible at his very best.

However, there is no reason he should be made a scapegoat; no reason he cannot be enjoyed and appreciated for what he is, warts and all.