The towering Belgian defender has been a rock at the back for Spurs since signing from Atletico Madrid in 2015, but this season he has hardly featured. Most of that is down to a serious hamstring suffered in October, but he has fully recovered from the tear, and yet has not played since returning to fitness.
Many have speculated as to why Alderweireld has been left out of the squad, and those with more mischievous thoughts have postulated that his contract situation may have something to do with it. While injured, talks of a contract extension reportedly broke down, and with his current deal expiring in the summer of 2019, questions have been asked of Pochettino, which he has deflected.
“My decision is always about football,” Pochettino said. “It is not personal and not because of a contract problem. I don’t care about that. Always my decision is about what is best for the team and the best for the club.”
Instead, the Spurs manager insisted, it is because those who have played in his place are in good form. “I am so sorry because Toby was an important player for us in the last two seasons. Then he got the injury and players like Davinson [Sanchez] and [Jan] Vertonghen stepped up — and you have got to deserve to play.”
Pochettino then gave Alderweireld an ultimatum, saying he will play when he deserves to. “If we are happy with the players who are playing, you need to wait. That does not mean he is not going to play again. But now he needs to keep pushing and try to show me he can play better than the others.”
Unfortunately, while a coach can challenge a player publicly, if that’s Pochettino’s true feeling then it’s unlikely Alderweireld will make it back into the team unless a player in the lineup is either injured or dips in form. Tottenham has conceded 26 goals this season, third-fewest in the Premier League behind the two Manchester clubs sitting in first and second place in the table, so with the way things stand, it’s hard to argue with Pochettino’s reasoning even if deep down fans don’t believe him.
Speculation regarding his future at Tottenham beyond this season has been rife as talks over a new contract stall and a release clause in his current deal could see him leave for $32 million in the summer of 2019. Alderweireld is being linked with a move to Manchester United, Real Madrid and others and this injury layoff has done little to quell the rumors.
Speaking in his press conference ahead of Spurs’ clash with Huddersfield Town (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com), Mauricio Pochettino confirmed Alderweireld will be missing for the key clash against Juventus with the scores locked at 2-2 after the first leg in Turin.
“It is true that we need to be careful with him,” Pochettino said. “I don’t believe he will be ready for Juventus.”
Spurs could revert to a back four and start Davinson Sanchez at center back alongside Vertonghen, or Eric Dier could slot back in to defense if Spurs decided to play three central defenders against Huddersfield.
With the top four chase well and truly on and Spurs the form team in the Premier League, there is no need to rush Alderweireld back. Yet you get a sense that more is going on here. Is Pochettino punishing Alderweireld for not signing a new deal? The Argentine coach has a reputation of being a manager who is ruthless when it comes to having players on his side. You’re either in his good books, or you’re out.
There’s a sense it could be a case of the latter for Alderweireld.