JAN VERTONGHEN admits he feels very aware of his age — and Spurs players tend to be more conscious of their birth certificates than most.
Age is not just a number at Tottenham, where chairman Daniel Levy hasn’t tended to dish out lengthy deals to those in the second half of their careers.
4 Spurs star Jan Vertonghen (second left) says Poch and Levy must trust their aging starsCredit: AFP or licensors
And that was one of the issues leading to such an unsettled summer at White Hart Lane, with even Mauricio Pochettino admitting to “different agendas” in the dressing room.
But as Bayern Munich rock up for a Champions League clash tonight, the question is whether Spurs can ever hope to rule Europe if they don’t value their more experienced players.
Vertonghen is 32 and in the final year of his contract. Likewise, Toby Alderweireld, who is 30. And Danny Rose has two years to run at 29.
Christian Eriksen, 27, has turned down a long-term deal at Spurs in the vain hope of something more attractive elsewhere.
Lose those four long-servers and Spurs would be seriously lacking in top-level experience.
And you do not tend to win the Champions League without battle-hardened pros — the average age of winning teams being just shy of 28.
Ears did prick up around the dressing-room when Moussa Sissoko, aged 30, signed a new three-year deal with an option for a fourth.
Perhaps Levy, always so aware of re-sale value when negotiating contracts, is ready to satisfy some of the demands of his senior players.
4 Poch's Spurs face Bayern Munich at home on Tuesday nightCredit: Reuters
Asked whether doubts over his contract have proved a distraction, Vertonghen replied: “Not a distraction. I’m very aware of my age. But I feel fairly young.
“I want to play as many games as I can at the highest possible level. I feel like I still have a couple of good years left in me.
“That’s definitely how I’m feeling now. I hope I can help the team for as long as I can.”
And on whether talks were ongoing, the Belgian added: “I prefer not to go too deep into that. But there is always some movement everywhere.”
Sitting alongside Pochettino at the eve-of-match press conference, Vertonghen was quizzed about being axed by his boss for the first three games of this season.
He said: “I want to play every game. I was disappointed. But that shows I’m still ambitious. I’m going to play as many games as I can this season. That depends on my performances.”
Pochettino insisted he wants Vertonghen to stay beyond this season.
But the manager was once more at pains to point out that he has little to do with contract negotiations.
4 Philippe Coutinho and his Bayern team-mates in trainingCredit: Getty Images – Getty
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Asked whether he hoped Vertonghen would stay, he said: “I am open to everything. But that is like I said before about Moussa Sissoko. That is a deal between the club and him and his agent.
“We’ll see what happens because always there are two different parties in all the deals.
“Jan is in the sixth season with me and he was always an important part of my project and my decisions in football. That feeling is not going to change.”
Vertonghen, in his eighth year at Spurs, denied the squad has gone stale with Pochettino in his sixth campaign and a relative lack of transfer activity over the past few seasons.
He said: “We’ve improved every year. Last year we went to the Champions League final.
“Some new players came in and that keeps it fresh, I don’t share that feeling (of staleness) at all.
“I see a lot of joy in the dressing room and when we go out on the pitch for every single training session. Everyone enjoys playing here.”
The big centre-back claimed Saturday’s 2-1 win over Southampton, when Spurs played an hour with ten men after Serge Aurier’s red card, was proof they still possess unity and team spirit.
Vertonghen added: “The mood at this point is good. To go down to ten and go 1-1, we showed who we really are. We fought. We stuck together.
“We were buzzing at half-time and after the game. We wanted to show who we are. That we can fight.
“And we did. We can dominate games but we can fight as well. That was a good feeling to see that.”
Now the Belgian centre-back gets to face Bayern’s prolific hitman Robert Lewandowski tonight — the perfect challenge for a man wishing to underline his value to the Spurs hierarchy.
Vertonghen is relishing the challenge of facing the German giants now Spurs have pushed themselves towards the European elite by reaching last season’s final and opening their new world-class stadium.
4 Dele Alli in action at the Spurs training groundCredit: Getty Images – Getty