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Football's Forgotten Men

Vincent Janssen: From breaking Ronaldo records to flopping at Spurs... and now winning titles in Mexico

13:00 GMT+4 12/02/2022
Vincent Janssen Tottenham 2019
The Netherlands international took the Eredivisie by storm in 2015-16 with AZ but scored just two Premier League goals for Spurs

Glancing through the squad lists for the Club World Cup, any follower of English football may do a double take when coming to the roster of CONCACAF champions and North American representatives Monterrey.

There, nestled among the ranks of Mexicans and South Americans, is a lone Dutchman – Vincent Janssen, formerly of Tottenham Hotspur.

Janssen was a second-half substitute during Monterrey's 1-0 Club World Cup quarter-final defeat at the hands of African champions Al-Ahly, unable to sniff out a goal in his 33-minute appearance to save the Liga MX side's short campaign.

In his nearly three years since leaving Tottenham, Janssen has failed to find the consistent scoring touch in Mexico.

While he has not struggled to the same extent he did in the Premier League, 13 goals in 64 matches is hardly the return Monterrey fans would have hoped for from a player once considered one of Europe's top young forwards.

Andre-Pierre Gignac Mark II he most certainly is not.

It's a shame because it all started so promisingly for Janssen in Netherlands.

After being released by Feyenoord as a teenager, he bounced back in the Eerste Divisie – the Dutch second division – at Almere City, his goals earning a transfer to AZ Alkmaar where, in 2015-16, he exploded into the wider football consciousness.

After failing to net in his first eight AZ matches, Janssen caught fire, bagging 20 goals in the second half of the Eredivisie season – the first player to do so for 52 years – to finish as top scorer with 27 strikes from 34 matches.

As the youngest player to score more than 25 league goals across a single campaign since Ronaldo, in 1994-95 for PSV, it was no surprise that he landed the Johan Cruyff Award for Young Talent of the Year, following in the footsteps of Wesley Sneijder and Christian Eriksen, to name but three former winners.

Spurs, looking to sign quality competition for Harry Kane, came calling in the summer of 2016 and eventually agreed to pay £17m ($23m) for Janssen's services, making him the biggest sale in AZ history.

Not everyone was enthused by the transfer, though.

Danny Blind had no doubts over Janssen's potential. After all, it was the former Netherlands boss who had handed the striker his international debut.

Blind had also been at the helm when Janssen scored in his first game on English soil, a 2-1 international friendly victory at Wembley in March 2016.

However, the Ajax legend told reporters that "it would be better for him to first go to a Dutch top club and, after two or three years, join a foreign team."

In hindsight, he was probably right.

Janssen played more than might have been expected in 2016-17, as an ankle injury for Kane turned him into the first-choice striker, at least initially.

As a 22-year-old with minimal elite top-flight experience, expected to carry the goal threat of a side which had pushed surprise champions Leicester all the way the previous campaign, he perhaps unsurprisingly struggled under the pressure.

He scored only twice in 27 Premier League games – a penalty against Leicester in October, and the fourth in a thrashing of Bournemouth in April, by which time Kane was back fit.

Janssen's minutes for Spurs dwindled thereafter.

He played just 40 minutes of football for the club across his second and third seasons as a registered player at Tottenham, although he did spend most of 2017-18 on loan at Fenerbahce, where he struggled with injuries and scored just five times in 18 games.

At the start of 2018-19, Janssen was not even given a squad number by manager Mauricio Pochettino.

By the time he was back in the senior squad, for a Premier League meeting with Manchester City in April 2019 – 20 months after he had last been picked by Pochettino – most Spurs fans had forgotten he was still their player.

Somehow, Daniel Levy twisted Monterrey's arm enough to get £6m ($8m) for a man most euphemistically described as a fringe player, but he has enjoyed some success in North America.

He scored in the penalty shoot-out as Monterrey won the 2019 Apertura final, to claim his first league trophy.

The Mexican side then triumphed in the 2021 CONCACAF Champions League to earn themselves a place at this year's Club World Cup.

However, Janssen's most notable contribution came in the last-16 second-leg win over Atletico Pantoja of the Dominican Republic.

Having already put his side 5-1 up on aggregate, Janssen contrived to miss an open goal from two yards out, directing a low cross wide off his heel.

For Spurs fans, it was the Janssen they knew all too well.

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