Thierry Henry came to the Montreal Impact in the middle of a much-needed rebuild. The franchise expected it to come through Henry's Arsenal connections – but his signature signings have been a pair of Tottenham Hotspur players, as Justin Sousa explains.
Victor Wanyama was one of those two signings. The defensive midfielder arrived in England's Premier League back in 2013 with a move to Southampton from Scotland's Celtic. He joined Tottenham three years later, following Mauricio Pochettino, but injuries meant Wanyama missed almost 60 games for the club, practically destroying a burgeoning career. The 28-year-old soon fell out of favor with new coach José Mourinho, and the writing was on the wall.
Henry's other signing from the white half of North London was Gillingham-born defender, Luis Binks. He had been in Tottenham's academy since 2007 and began training with the first-team this past December. Some criticized the move, deeming it as premature on behalf of Binks, but the teenager’s desire for first-team football trumped his sentimental ties to the club.
And Binks' performances thus far have vindicated his decision to cross the Atlantic. In the injury-induced absence of Rudy Camacho, he's locked down a starting role for the Impact. With Spurs' under-18 side, Binks operated as the left centre-back within a back four. He plays in the same position for Montreal now but in a back three, alongside Rod Fanni and Joel Waterman.
He is a distinguishable presence in Montreal's line-up, demanding the ball when he finds himself in space. With 70 and 64 touches in his first two MLS games, it's clear that Binks' team-mates trust his ability on the ball. Only Saphir Taïder, a central midfielder, managed more than him for Montreal in both games. Such confidence to receive possession is a relatively rare commodity in young defenders, but it's one Henry will appreciate and encourage.
Henry will also appreciate Binks' comfort on the ball and his attempts to break lines with passes. They may not always come off – like here, against the New England Revolution – but it shows a willingness to play positive passes through lines in order to push his side upfield.
Keep in mind that his first four matches for Montreal were also the first four professional matches of his career. As Binks gets more minutes under his belt, these passes will be a staple sequence in the Englishman’s game.
Montreal’s direct style of play and general lack of technical ability within their squad will frustrate Binks at times as he looks to find a target for these passes. It also plays into the weaker aspects of his passing range, but it will force him to improve his long-range passing if he is to play to his team’s strengths. Completing eight of his 18 attempted long balls in his first two MLS games is not a bad start, but there is room for improvement on his timing and technique.
Binks is also more than capable of carrying the ball forward on his own. The sight of him leaving defenders in his dust with a quick sidestep is quickly becoming a familiar aspect of his skillset, and it is enjoyable to watch too. He does not panic under pressure; he does not take awkward touches into the players rushing towards him or fumble over the ball when he tries to navigate around them. His composure when it comes to playing with the ball is noticeable, and he is going to be quite the player to watch if he continues in this vain.
This run here in the UEFA Youth League is excellent. It starts with a simple side-step around the forward, before he breaks through midfield between a couple of Bayern München midfielders. With three players dragged toward him, Binks can offload the ball to a team-mate in space, while maintaining possession. Being able to carry the ball into midfield is an extremely useful attribute when breaking pressure and progressing possession.
From a defensive viewpoint, the English defender has a solid foundation to build upon in 2020. While he may not be the most athletic defender, Binks is almost impenetrable at the near post and reads through balls well. Here, he is recognizing the run of Club Deportivo Saprissa’s Johan Venegas and stepping up to intercept the ensuing through ball.
His size and intelligence compensates for his lack of pace – but, in a league dominated by athletic footballers, coaches are going to expose that weakness. Miguel Barrios was the first player to test Binks’ speed, and he nearly got the better of the teenager several times. That said, Binks has adapted his game to handle players as fleet-footed as Barrios.
The awareness to make his recovery run in front of Barrios, and then stick his arm out, are crucial to him catching up to the ball before his opponent. It is a basic defensive technique, but players of Binks’ skillset often lack the defensive awareness and recognition necessary to make these strategic moves. Binks’ ability to do this without fouling his opponent is also testament to both his reaction time and composure in one-on-one situations. Statistically, his 11 ball recoveries between his games against New England and Dallas fairly indicate his capability to do this multiple times throughout a match without overworking himself.
It also helps that Binks has become somewhat of an expert in the defensive dark arts. The slight tug of the shirt or grab of the arm are all instrumental to the way he snuffs out attacks. He does so here, with a fair but aggressive hand-off, into CD Olimpia's Edwin Rodríguez.
Most, if not all, defenders practice these sly tricks to give themselves the upper-hand against forwards. Binks is no different, and it makes him a better defender because he puts these sneaky plays into practice.
Binks expects a lot of himself in his first year as a professional, including winning MLS Rookie of the Year. If Binks were to win that accolade, he would be the first player not selected in the MLS SuperDraft or signed to a Homegrown contract to do so. He would also be the second European after Julian Gressel in 2016, as well as the first defender since Austin Berry in 2012, to win the award. The motivation is there for him to be somewhat of a maverick.
He has also tapped into an exciting ew trend. Many young English players have explored the idea of going abroad to find playing time at senior level. Jadon Sancho has obviously become the poster boy for the English migration into the Bundesliga, and perhaps Binks can have a similar effect with MLS. For now, Binks has the opportunity to become the man in Montreal.
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