The future of Toby Alderwiereld at Tottenham Hotspur
The Toby Alderweireld storm has been gathering for some time now, but it is almost as if, somewhere along the way, it has blown itself out without ever dumping its load. According to most Tottenham fans and many of the less one-eyed followers of other clubs, the Belgian is the best central defender in the league. The tabloids insist he is demanding £180k per week. The six million dollar man Levy, however, won’t budge from a paltry £130k which is what Manchesters City and United pay their ballboys. Given Toby’s contract has only a year left, they and a bunch of other giants will be smacking their lips at the prospect of snapping him up for a measly £50 million.
Toby was Mr Indispensible; losing him didn’t bear thinking about. A pure footballer and genius defender whose positional sense, reading of the game and intelligence means he rarely makes mistakes. And, imagine, a defender so good, he doesn’t need to foul the opposition to smuggle the ball away before dispatching it onto the toe of a teammate from five or fifty yards. But one long-term injury and several niggles seem to have stripped something from his game. He returned looking far less assured, slower (speed never being one of his principal assets anyway) and oddly accident prone, even against modest lower league opposition.
But still, he’s only 29 and defenders go on that bit longer. Surely he’ll find his form again? Maybe, but Spurs have managed pretty well without him, the defensive record every bit as solid, the unbeaten run in the league extending to 14 matches. And Spurs fans, it seems, have grown weary of Toby’s demands, urging him to show some loyalty rather than holding the club to ransom.
No Toby, no problem
Two key factors have allowed the club to dig its heels in, the first of these being Davinson Sanchez. The Colombian defender has been masterful, rising to the absence of his Belgian defensive colleague like a colossus. Powerful, mobile, quick, clever. Sanchez has been extraordinary, a virtual fixture at 21, a kid who, if he maintains his current arc, could become one of the most coveted players in the world.
The same can also be said of the second factor – Jan Vertongen. Alderweireld’s centre-back partner for many years, even before the pair joined Spurs at Ajax, has proven to be a figure of real significance for Spurs. So much so that combined with Sanchez, the two have formed an equally impressive partnership, if not even more so. So the question remains – when will the likes of Real Madrid come sniffing? It’s also worth adding that Dier can always fill in as one of a three or two, and young Foyth looks to be a prospect.
The team, the team
Pochettino is all about the collective. Superstar individuals are expected to put a shift in. Hence Kane, Alli and Eriksen’s prodigious work rate (take note, Marcus Edwards). As soon as a player sets himself apart, seeks special status, demands wages that throw the whole structure out, he’s cast adrift. Danny Rose is already halfway out the door and Mousa Dembele might also be talking himself into a cab. This perceived disloyalty could make Toby dispensible in Poch’s eyes, and his most recent comments about the difficulty his one-time star defender will have getting back into the side suggest his locker is already being cleared out.
The bigger problem?
Despite all this, Spurs’s relatively modest wage structure and the Pochettino magic may only stretch so far. Kane could be earning double elsewhere, albeit he’s Spurs through and through and, for now at least, desperate to win something with his club. But what about those without an emotional tie to the club, i.e. everyone except Harry Winks? It’s a short career and who can blame Kyle Walker for tripling his wages when he has maybe 5 years left to earn top dollar?
Spurs’s success is all the more remarkable for their sensible, organic approach to team building and Levy should be lauded for standing up to the madness. The fans of course want trophies, but there is joy to be had in watching a team blossom, seeing players bought on the cheap develop into superstars. However, at some point, you feel Levy will have to cave or risk losing everything he and Poch have so painstakingly built.
Will he, won’t he?
Of course, Toby might yet stay. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the Poch revolution, to play in the new stadium, to challenge on all fronts? But there will be no middle ground when it comes to wages. Levy’s idea of a compromise is to listen to everyone’s demands before settling on the figure he’s prepared to pay. So, Toby will probably be heading for a club willing to splash the cash. If that’s the case, then Spurs will have to go marching on without him.