February 8, 2023

Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg may have shared the opinion of some Tottenham fans last season, but he has continued to show on and off the pitch exactly why Antonio Conte values ​​him so highly.

Only Harry Kane played more minutes than the Dane’s 3,986 for Tottenham last season, with the two making 50 appearances for the club. Ben Davies, with 51 appearances, was the only player used more by Conte than Hojbjerg in all competitions during a busy season. The 26-year-old started the campaign well under Nuno Espirito Santo, suffered a dip in form midway through the season but finished the campaign strong alongside Rodrigo Bentancur, with great performances in key matches, and the midfielder shone this week for Denmark. in international service.

Hojbjerg is a fascinating figure in the Tottenham dressing room, part of the management group within the team and he is a man with big opinions about everything that happens around him at the club. Those behind the scenes describe the articulate Dane as an intense character on the team, one who constantly pushes his teammates, but who can also be difficult to deal with at first for those who have never experienced his behavior. previously.

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Hojbjerg leads by example and often played through injuries for Spurs when he shouldn’t have because he didn’t want to let the team down. football.london understands that he, along with Eric Dier, is the first player to arrive at the club’s Hotspur Way training complex each morning and is one of the last to leave.

For Hojbjerg, Conte’s move to strict food controls from November has been no problem as the former Bayern Munich and Southampton midfielder invests heavily in his personal nutrition and keeps himself in the best possible shape away from home. ground. He is often spotted doing yoga at the training complex.

The Dane is someone who questions everything around him, sometimes with brutal honesty, and that extends to his relationship with Conte, with some club members admitting the two share many traits and similarities in their personalities. Although he has a strong vision of football, forged over the years, the Italian coach encourages discussion with his senior players.

He shares this notion with his predecessors at Tottenham, Mauricio Pochettino once admitting that he would constantly debate with defender Jan Vertonghen over all aspects of tactics and training.

“It’s true that we compete a lot in training because [Jan] is smart and always has an argument and a reason, but in the end I really appreciate his efforts to give the team what we expect from him,” the Argentine said in 2019. “It’s good to congratulate him because he is a very good player who sometimes is not valued enough. I’m so proud that he reached this level today. Not only on the pitch but off the pitch. In my opinion, he is one of the best centre-backs in the Premier League and in Europe.”

There is a similarity in the way Pochettino spoke of Vertonghen then as Conte does now of Hojbjerg. As his post-match press conference drew to a close following Spurs’ 5-1 demolition of Newcastle in the final month of the season, the Italian wondered why no one had mentioned his midfielder ground.

“I see a lot of players with a big improvement. Also Pierre, nobody asked me about him, but I think in every game he does a fantastic job, with the ball, without the ball, physically strong “said the head coach. “Every player improves their level and for that reason Tottenham go up and up.”

The feeling between the two is mutual, with Hojbjerg seeing the reasoning behind Conte’s ways and it’s perhaps telling that he refers to him by his first name.

“Antonio is a special coach, with a special way of doing things, with a very high level of performance. There is always a time of adaptation, a time of understanding on the sporting side and also on the personal side, and everything is linked good.” “, said the Dane.

Both men are equally passionate and driven, but some Tottenham fans thought they spotted a crack in their dynamic on the pitch after the 3-2 win at Manchester City. Conte was hugging all of his players on the turf after the big win, but when he reached Hojbjerg the midfielder appeared – from some angles – to pull his arm back and walk away before the head coach could congratulate him . Conte was left there, awkwardly standing with his arms outstretched, pausing for a moment as he stared at Hojbjerg’s back in bewilderment.

However, the Spurs boss later played it down, saying the midfielder simply didn’t see it and they celebrated together in the dressing room moments later.

Hojbjerg was a key figure for Conte as Tottenham grabbed fourth place. One criticism of the Dane from fans is that at times his passing can be erratic, but he has shown some real quality moments over the past few months, particularly with an assist for Harry Kane in the win at Leeds United.

In big games, Hojbjerg was there for his team and more. He was a huge presence in the draw at Anfield as he was in the North London derby against Arsenal and he was a crucial figure in the dramatic turnaround at Leicester.

Hojbjerg made 78 successful tackles in the Premier League last season, more than any other player at the club and placing him ninth on the tackles list for everyone in the league. He also completed 2,531 passes, sixth in the Premier League list behind a handful of Manchester City players, and 3,059 touches, fifth in the list, showing how busy he is during games.

“I want to try and play for the big titles. I’m not afraid to say that when you go to Tottenham people might not expect you to win things because of recent history. I I completely understand that, but I really want to change the cycle. Also, for my own career, my ambition, I want to fight,” he said in an interview with the Daily Mail in April.

“You don’t associate my style with big titles, but my contribution is for the team. One thing I know I can do is compete with anyone because it’s in my blood. I likes to push everyone, starting with myself, to the limit.”

His form continued after the Premier League season with dominating performances for Denmark in their wins in France and Austria, providing an assist against the former and scoring against the latter.

Against Hugo Lloris’ France side on Friday, Hojbjerg was one of the best players on the pitch, touching the ball 105 times, almost double the second-busiest Danish player. He played two key passes, completed a dribble, made two tackles, two interceptions and two clearances in a comprehensive performance.

Against Austria on Monday night he was named man of the match, scoring while providing a key pass, dribbling three times on the night and at the other end making three interceptions, a tackle and a key clearance as well as blocking two shots Austrians on goal. .

There should be increased competition in Tottenham’s midfield next season with Oliver Skipp returning from his pelvis injury to challenge Hojbjerg and Bentancur and Spurs are expected to bring in a new face to replace Harry Winks, who wants regular football in first team somewhere next season. , with Hojbjerg’s compatriot Christian Eriksen among those being scrutinized.

Some Spurs fans have questioned the quality of Hojbjerg, particularly during his mid-season dip in form, but it’s clear what he brings on and off the pitch. He may be an intense character, but with a huge season ahead, the Dane could be just what Conte and the team need as they take on the best in Europe.