Tottenham secured a place in the last eight of the Champions League this week with a fine defensive display at White Hart Lane against AC Milan, regardless of the fact that manager Harry Redknapp has not had England International centre half duo Ledley King or Jonathan Woodgate available for selection for most of the season.

Much of Tottenham’s success must be credited to Michael Dawson, as the stand-in skipper has commanded his men by leading by example and along with William Gallas organised the team’s defensive shape, leading to shutting Milan out in both legs.

Michael Dawson has come a long way in his time at Spurs, and has grown as a player under the tutelage and guidance of Harry Redknapp and the Tottenham coaching staff. When he first signed for Spurs in a £4m deal from Nottingham Forest back in January 2005, the defender certainly had all the raw physical attributes to become a top defender but lacked concentration and discipline, and was prone to errors. However as his exposure in big fixtures at home and abroad increases, the 27-year-old has matured and he has added a mental toughness to his 6ft 3in frame. Dawson has taken the Tottenham captaincy in his stride and is an inspiration to others around him in the effort and commitment he shows on the field.

Firstly, Dawson is very good in the air and has the beating of most attackers aerially, but when he first signed for the London club his positioning and marking abilities at times let him down. However with a lot of hard work on the training pitch, learning from mistakes and an enhanced reading of the game, Dawson has stamped these issues out of his game and is more dependable when marking at set pieces. His concentration has also improved and this showed on Wednesday night as the tall defender was on top of his game to the very last minute, even with his side with their backs to the wall and suffering a few nerves.

Both absentees King and Woodgate are excellent readers of the game and are assured on the ball, Dawson has again had to work on this. Dawson is not the quickest player on the park by any stretch of the imagination and has countered this by being a more astute interpreter of the game and enhancing the communication with his centre half partner and full backs. His ability on the ball has improved and with this an increase in confidence has seen Dawson able and comfortable in bringing the ball out of defence and picking a pass.

His main strengths are his tackling and blocking of shots and passes, and these abilities come down to a sheer will to win and dedication to the cause, attributes any good captain should possess. Harry Redknapp will know he can count on his skipper to put his body on the line week in, week out, and that if there is a last ditch challenge to be made it will inevitably be Dawson who is ready to make it.

With Dawson’s improved performances and the fact that he kept a big name striker like Zlatan Ibrahimovic quiet for 180 minutes, he now must be in real consideration to add to his three existing England caps in the upcoming international against rivals Wales in Cardiff. If Spurs are to progress further in Europe and break back into the top four, the impressive Dawson will have a large part to play, with King and Woodgate more than likely sidelined and lacking fitness for the forseeable future.

Published – http://www.sportingo.com/football/a19228_tottenhan-stalwart-shines-absence-king-woodgate

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