Vertonghen has become one of best centre-backs in Europe - Pochettino
LONDON -- Jan Vertonghen has stopped sulking and improved his mentality to become one of the best centre-backs in Europe, according to Mauricio Pochettino.
The Tottenham manager said Vertonghen's "mental aspect," particularly his body language, has changed since they started working together in 2014 and he described the 30-year-old as the club's most-consistent defender.
Vertonghen is one of just 14 players to have played every minute in the Premier League this season and his form alongside Davinson Sanchez has helped to mask the absence of Toby Alderweireld, who was injured for more than three months from November.
After a fine maiden season in England, Vertonghen struggled under coaches Andre Villas-Boas and Tim Sherwood in 2013-14 and footage of him lounging against the wall of the tunnel ahead of a 4-0 defeat at Liverpool epitomised Tottenham's apathy pre-Pochettino.
"He has improved in an aspect that was so important for him -- the mental aspect," Pochettino said. "Now he is a complete centre-back. We have worked a lot together to reach the level that he is at today.
"I remember his body language when I watched the game against Liverpool when [Luis] Suarez scored, the season before we came.
"He was slouched in the tunnel," said Pochettino, who stood up to imitate Vertonghen's relaxed stance.
"When I came, I told him: 'Why are you like that? You are here for a battle! You cannot show this body language -- you are a warrior!' It is difficult after showing this energy to go out and take part in a battle and fight.
"We worked a lot on this aspect and, yes, it is true that we clash a lot in training because he is clever and always has an argument and a reason why, but in the end I appreciate a lot his efforts in giving the team what we expect from him.
"It is good to praise him because he is a very good player who sometimes does not get valued enough.
"I am so proud that he has achieved this level today. Not only on the pitch but off the pitch. In my opinion he's one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League and in Europe."
Pochettino added that Vertonghen is fit enough to play for another decade until he is 40 and suggested the club will offer him a new deal before his current contract expires in summer 2019.
"He has unbelievably quality, physical condition, technique," Pochettino added. "He is so strong, he looks like a 20-year-old because when he runs he is fast, he is like my new dog -- a Rhodesian Ridgeback!
"It is easy for him to run. Physicality is his talent. It is genetic, it is his natural condition. He is an athlete. It is up to him but he could play until he is 40.
"The club believe that he needs to be rewarded. He's one of the players that deserves [a new contract]."
A source has told ESPN FC that Alderweireld's Tottenham future is in the balance after contract talks with the club broke down last month and the defender could be sold this summer.
Alderweireld's current deal worth £50,000-a-week expires in 2019 and he would like a long-term contract worth closer to £150,000-per-week, which Spurs are not willing to offer a player who turns 29 next month. Pochettino, though, insisted that Alderweireld is "still in our plans."
However, in comments that suggest Spurs are preparing for life without Alderweireld, Pochettino hailed Vertonghen's influence on summer signing Sanchez, 21, and claimed youngster Juan Foyth could become one of Europe's best centre-backs.
"It is a fantastic couple," Pochettino said of Vertonghen and Sanchez. "They have a fantastic partnership. Davinson has pace and energy, he is so fast, but he still needs to improve in different aspects and Jan is a perfect partner to help him to achieve all that we believe he can achieve. He is a great talent but he is still young.
"We need to think of Juan Foyth too, he is 20 now and a great talent too. He only needs time to adapt himself to the Premier League. He is going to surprise many people. Juan is a great kid with a lot of quality to become one of the fantastic centre-backs in the Premier League and Europe too."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.