Toby on Japhet: "Confident, strong, quick, all positive"
Mon 13 January 2020, 13:15|Tottenham Hotspur
Now 30 and one of most experienced defenders around, with over 400 career appearances (185 for Spurs) and approaching 100 caps for Belgium (98), Toby knew exactly what Academy graduate Japhet, 20, was going through as he prepared to face Liverpool’s fearsome front three of Firmino, Mane and Salah.
Toby quickly turned back the clock to the summer of 2008 and his debut for Ajax – up against two modern-day greats, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano, then partnered up front for Inter, in the Amsterdam Tournament.
Adriano scored as Inter took the honours 1-0 that day. Toby, then 19, went on to make his competitive debut for Ajax in both the Eredivisie and UEFA Cup in eight appearances that season, 2008/09, becoming a regular feature for the Dutch giants in 2009/10 before his move to Atletico Madrid in 2013.
“My debut was against Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Adriano, so that was quite a start,” he reflected. “I know how it is to play a difficult game and you have to get through those early actions, that’s very important. If you get that, you know you are in the game and you know ‘I’m strong enough’ and Japhet did wonderfully. I’m so happy for him.”
Japhet did just that. Making his second start after his debut in the Carabao Cup against Colchester in September, the Hackney-born defender made a goal-saving clearance off the line to deny Firmino in the second minute. Liverpool had the better of the first half and Firmino broke through for what turned out to be the winner on 37 minutes.
We forced our way back into the game in the second half and had Liverpool on the back foot but couldn’t capitalise on chances created as it stayed 1-0 to the leaders and champions-elect – Liverpool now 16 points clear.
Toby added: “It was never going to be an easy game, but everyone helps, and Japhet helped us as well. It was very positive that we had a week to train, to get to know his job, how he needed to play, and he did brilliantly.
“He’s confident, strong, quick, all positive. He talks to me, I talk to him, I’ve got a good connection with him. Even if it was one game, I could feel that.
“The manager did unbelievable work to prepare him for this task, everyone helped him, and he delivered. He has that confidence because he’s trained with us for a long time now. He can be very happy with his debut.”
'A turning point'
Meanwhile, Toby, captain for the first time in his four-and-a-half years at the Club, believes the performance against Liverpool should be seen as a turning point.
“It’s been a tough spell, but this is one of the first weeks we’ve been able to train a lot,” he added. “Normally we have a midweek game.
“You see straight away defensively we knew what we were doing, it was a good line, very positive, everyone is disappointed - you can’t be happy with a defeat - but we have to see this performance as a turning point.
“I’m 30, so I know, sometimes in a season you have turning points and we have to catch this feeling, the heart and mentality we showed today, knowing that we deserved more.”