Toby Alderweireld has reached something of a crossroads in his Tottenham Hotspur career.
Firmly established as the best defender in England across the previous two years, a seemingly innocuous hamstring injury sustained in Spurs’ Champions League group stage clash with Real Madrid put the Belgium international on the treatment table. Since that fresh November night, Alderweireld has not played once in the Premier League.
Alderweireld is the kind of player who simply loves to play every game. He declared himself fit for the north London derby with Arsenal in February, having played 90 minutes in an FA Cup tie against Newport County. But Mauricio Pochettino omitted him from the squad altogether against the Gunners, and then refused to allow Alderweireld to travel to Turin for the first leg of the Champions League last-16 tie against Juventus.
A year ago this would have been unthinkable – Alderweireld was the club’s best defender, and was absolutely vital to any chances of silverware, domestically and in Europe.
Yet, since Alderweireld’s injury, Spurs’ defensive heart has not skipped a beat. Jan Vertonghen and Davinson Sanchez stifled Cristiano Ronaldo et al as Spurs beat Madrid 3-1, and they have also seen off Arsenal and Borussia Dortmund without Alderweireld, and also made a stirring comeback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 against Juventus in Italy.
Vertonghen and Sanchez are now safely ensconced as Pochettino’s first-choice centre-backs, and form suggests that the Argentine should not change his stance. Alderweireld’s national team partner Vertonghen is in the form of his life, and has eclipsed his compatriot to become arguably his club’s second-most important player, only behind Harry Kane.
He makes more tackles per 90 minutes than Alderweireld – 1.63 to 1.33 – and also wins more duels, makes more clearances and also wins far more aerial challenges.
This has led to intense speculation that Pochettino has approved the possible sale of Alderweireld this summer. The 28-year-old is in his prime, but has yet to reach a contract agreement with the club, and ears have been pricked in Manchester.