First of all, let’s get things straight. This isn’t a ‘will you go out with me?’, ‘no’, ‘haha sorry that was my mate’ vibe.
Toby Alderweireld was in need of shifting even before news broke on Friday that he wants to leave Tottenham.
There are obvious upsides to keeping a player who has vast experience and is clearly still capable of playing at the top level – just rewatch Belgium’s Euro 2020 win over Portugal. But after many near misses in the past, now is the perfect time for Alderweireld to move on.
This isn’t his first rodeo in the Spurs shop window, either. At the end of the 2017/18 season – the first time in which Mauricio Pochettino stressed the need for a ‘painful rebuild’ – many expected Alderweireld to leave when a £25m release clause kicked in. Jose Mourinho’s Man Utd were heavily linked, but never pulled the trigger. Tottenham had zero activity in that window, which would ultimately have a domino effect and lead to the situation they find themselves in today.
Though he still failed to agree a new contract in north London, Alderweireld gained back his place in the starting lineup from Davinson Sanchez for the 2018/19 campaign, a sturdy backbone as a fatigued and depleted Spurs stumbled to their first ever Champions League final. Another summer came and went but the Belgian stuck around.
From the starting XI in the tweet above that beat Antonio Conte’s title-winning Chelsea, Spurs have already lost six of those players, yet only Kyle Walker left at the right time. That time has indeed come and gone already for Alderweireld, but while Spurs can still recoup a fee, it’s better he goes at this stage of the rebuild than any later.
Tottenham’s seventh-place finish last season was their lowest since the 2008/09 season. You know, the one where Juande Ramos had them bottom of the table in October. That’s how bad things were.
The respective appointments of Nuno Espirito Santo as head coach and Fabio Paratici as director of football, as well as Daniel Levy’s desire for Spurs to integrate youngsters and play positive football again, heralds the start of a new era. The only senior senior players that should survive a clear-out are Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Hugo Lloris. Alderweireld simply doesn’t have the quality to belong in that group anymore.
With Spurs also attempting to rebuild their defensive stability – they’re in talks with Bologna over 22-year-old Takehiro Tomiyasu – then it makes sense for the core of that backline to head on out. Alderweireld is definitely not worse than Sanchez or Eric Dier (at least one of whom should follow him out the door), but he cannot be the most important defender at the club anymore; it can’t function with him as the primary distributor and stopper.
Once the dust settles and Alderweireld has said his goodbyes, he will be remembered fondly as one of Spurs’ greatest ever defenders, capable of holding a torch to Ledley King. At his peak, he was the best centre-back in the Premier League – not bad for £12m.