Napoli have all but signed Vlad Chiriches, a center back for Tottenham Hotspur who's on the outs after a shaky season under a new manager. He's got loads of physical talent, but hasn't always put it together in the most ... constructive of ways.
That leaves him a bit of a mystery, an enigma if you will, and we wanted to unravel that mystery a bit. So we reached out to Dustin Menno, who runs the show at our SB Nation sister blog Cartilage Free Captain, where he does an excellent job covering Tottenham, a team that tends to frustrate its fans just as much as Napoli does. Dustin was kind enough to answer our questions, so without further ado, here's what he had to say.
The Siren's Song: Let’s just get this out of the way first: Is Vlad Chiriches actually any good?
Cartilage Free Captain: At what? Eating hot dogs? Yes, we’d assume he’s very good at that.
Vlad is what my colleague Michael Caley would call "cromulent." He’s not awful, he’s just, well, not good. Which is a bit like saying that Mario Balotelli wasn’t any good at Liverpool. I mean, he wasn’t, but not necessarily because he’s a completely awful footballer. He’s fine. Put him in the right system and he could be a decent addition. He just wasn’t at Tottenham.
TSS: Chiriches has definitely had his struggles at Tottenham. What’s he had the biggest trouble with? Could some of his problems be minimized or covered up by moving to Serie A?
CFC: To put it bluntly, Vlad just didn’t work in Tottenham’s defensive system. Starting with Andre Villas-Boas -- and to a lesser degree with Mauricio Pochettino -- Spurs began playing in a high defensive line that tried to vigorously press, and having a defender who has the positional awareness of a hyperactive hummingbird doesn’t really help you in that regard. In that high line, Vlad proved to be a liability because he would be wont to stray out of position to try and join the attack or harry a midfielder, which would leave huge gaps in the back line that could be easily exploited.
His decision making was also laughable at times. He quickly got a reputation as a walking derp machine, and though he had moments where he showed clear class, you always, always wondered when that other shoe would drop and he’d scissor-kick someone in the box.
This feels like an oft-used canard when talking about Serie A in relation to the EPL, but it seems as though the generally slower pace in Italy could fit Vlad quite well. Premier League defenders are often left hanging out to dry because everything happens so bloody fast. With a little more time to make decisions, Vlad could thrive at a place like Napoli. He was a solid defender at Steaua Bucaresti, and he’s still the captain of the Romanian national team. He’s not crap. I think it was probably more just a bad fit.
TSS: What are Chirches’ strengths as a defender? Is there anything he does exceptionally well?
CFC: Vlad is an offensively minded center back, which means basically that he’s a poor man’s David Luiz, but turned up to 11. Vlad loves to play the ball out of danger and is known for occasionally making bats**t crazy but strangely glorious runs into the attacking third. And in the right system, that can be an asset. He’s quick on his feet and is really a quite accomplished distributor of the ball from the back. His speed means that he’s also capable of getting back to make some really solid last minute tackles and interceptions.
This past season, Vlad’s strengths were utilized more effectively when Pochettino used him as an emergency right back after Kyle Walker went down injured. Vlad actually had a couple of really solid outings when he was encouraged to get wide and try and get past people. He also had Erik Lamela on the right side of midfield to help cover for him defensively if he decided to go a-rangin’.
He’s also completely insane. Which is kind of fun if you like that sort of thing. Or you’re a masochist.
TSS: What about who he is off the pitch? Chiriches seems like he might be a bit of a goof.
CFC: So Vlad Chiriches showed up at London Heathrow the day of his signing wearing torn jeans and a t-shirt reading "WHAT THE HELL." He was caught on video in 2014 falling-over drunk while vacationing in Bucharest. He’s the kind of player, we hypothesize, that would excel in a hot dog eating contest, or that you’d want to bring to a dinner party not because he’ll be polite and funny and helpful, but because he might jump on the table with a tureen on his head. He’s a real character all right, and that’s part of the reason why we at Cartilage Free Captain love him so much. And we do! We love him to death. We just don’t want him anywhere near the pitch.
TSS: What’s your favorite memory of him as a Tottenham player?
CFC: My favorite Vlad moment came last season in a Europa League match against Besiktas, and it’s encapsulated for eternity in a continually-looping .gif.
Yep, that’s Chiriches botching a defensive clearance, letting a defender past him, and handling the ball in the box in the 89th minute ALL IN THE SAME PLAY. It’s Peak Vlad™. Mauricio Pochettino said this about the incident: 'He made one mistake after another mistake, but we need to accept it because this is football.’
But this is a bit unfair on Vlad, because he was also capable of doing stuff like this:
... and sometimes this (this was clean):
And even occasionally this.
It’s for this reason why I think in the right system he could be a good signing. Is that at Napoli? Well, let’s hope so. Thanks for the money, though.
Thanks again to Dustin, who you can follow on Twitter, and to Cartilage Free Captain on a whole. If you want to know more about Tottenham Hotspur, they're the folks to check out.