Managers and coaches across Europe were on red-alert following the decision of Lewis Holtby to leave FC Schalke 04 at the end of the season. The confirmation of that last week has prompted a number of clubs to consider offering a pre-contract to the player who is available for free at the end of the campaign. The German international's contractual dispute with the Royal Blues came to an end after his side endured a catastrophic slump in form that saw the dismissal of the coach and Schalke 04 facing a difficult battle to secure a place in the Champions League next season. Holtby has already been a target for Liverpool and Arsenal and the young midfielder has admitted his intentions to move to the English Premier League.
Recently, though, Tottenham have joined the race for his signature and press reports over the festive break have indicated that the 22-year-old is poised to agree a pre-contract at White Hart Lane. With an English father - and a family of Evertonians - Holtby will be able to realise a lifelong dream of playing in the Premier League. Perhaps, influenced by fellow-German Steffen Freund, Andre Villas-Boas will acquire one of the brightest talents in the Bundesliga who could be the first step towards realising the objective of implementing a 4-3-3 system at Spurs. It is no secret that Villas-Boas prefers this formation but has made some minor adaptations in recent months to incorporate the in-form Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor. In addition to his ability, Holtby brings versatility in midfield and attack from his experience in the Bundesliga.
In his loan-spell at FSV Mainz 05, Holtby played wide-right in a flexible 4-3-3 formation that also incorporated Chelsea target Andre Schurrle on the opposite side. The 22-year-old was afforded the freedom to roam from the wide position, normally inside, which became a very difficult strategy to thwart given the focus on free movement. His return to Schalke 04 was much-anticipated, although, he shifted inwards to a central role.
Former Royal Blues head coach Huub Stevens fixed him in as a deep-lying playmaker, at times, but there was no question that Holtby was most comfortable in an advanced attacking-midfield role, in a similar style to Toni Kroos who encountered an identical positional problem at Bayern Munich. The beauty of Holtby in the Spurs ranks is his adeptness at changing roles. Regardless of whether Villas-Boas opts for Scott Parker, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Sandro, or Moussa Dembele in the central positions, the German midfielder can adapt likewise and fill in the role necessary. In his playing style, the Schalke 04 midfielder is very well suited to that of Tottenham and their quick, dynamic tempo. The Spurs central players are crucial to starting attacks, although, the reliance on that has shifted slightly to Jan Vertonghen who steps up to be the most efficient distributor of the ball.
Villas-Boas likes his players shifting the ball from left to right quickly, to allow either Gareth Bale or Aaron Lennon the space to dribble one-on-one with the full-back. This requires a brisk series of passes from the midfield to open up the space on the opposite side. Holtby is an almost perfect fit to that role with a broad range of passing, as well as, the positional awareness to fit a playmaker role. Despite his age, Holtby is a mature midfielder and takes responsibilities beyond his age and relative experience. The German likes to get his foot on the ball and assuredly take control of the game, something he is particularly effective at when in a 'No10 position'.
His leadership qualities will make him a firm favourite in England wherever he eventually ends up in the summer. After a rough time of things across London, Villas-Boas is gaining an understanding of the strengths of his squad, utilising the acceleration and pace of Bale and Lennon to punish spaces in behind the full-backs. Rather than rush into his philosophy, the Spurs head coach has shrewdly implemented his favoured strategy gradually, taking over from Harry Redknapp in the summer who favoured a 4-2-3-1 system last season.
The 35-year-old's strategy had immense success with FC Porto, securing the quadruple in his first season, including the Europa League. The addition of a more rounded centre forward to thrive in a 4-3-3 formation, plus Holtby, might just allow the Portuguese coach the tools to execute a similar blueprint with Spurs who look on course for a place in the top-four this season.