Bird Standing on Ball: A Beginner’s Guide to Tottenham Hotspur Players - Toby Alderweireld

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This is the tenth installment in a series of Tottenham Hotspur player profiles that I am creating. The articles are aimed at fans who are either new to Spurs or new to the game. You can find my other work in the fanposts section of the Cartilage Free Captain blog. Read, comment, compliment, ridicule, enjoy.

Player: Toby Alderweireld

Position: Center Back

Strengths: Toby Alderweireld has distinctive hair. Close cropped on the side, it accentuates the full-flowing, hairspray laden mop that is greased back over his scalp. When examining the hair credentials of Tottenham’s 2015-16 roster there is really only one who can challenge the newly signed center back; fellow Belgian and center back Jan Vertonghen. While no one disputes the grandeur of Vertonghen’s blonde mane, there is something a bit more edgy to Alderweireld’s doo. Like his hair, Alderweireld’s game is a bit more edgy too. At twenty-six years old Toby Alderweireld is a pacy, poised center back. The first thing one notices about him is the comfort he has on the ball. Strikers might be nipping at his feet after he wins an individual battle, or flooding towards him after he intercepts a pass, but in most cases tranquility prevails and Alderweireld maintains possession. He is also trustworthy carrying the ball up the pitch, moving with a remarkable fluidity for a central defender. Yet all of this pales in comparison to his greatest technical asset; the majestic long balls he launches at the opposition. Alderweireld has the capacity, from the non-threatening central defensive position, to spring attackers and unlock defenses. If the rival backline blinks, he will hit a precise, meteoric line drive to the feet of a darting attacker. Yet his long range passing isn’t the only thing that has pace. Alderweireld possesses the type of speed that allows him to keep up with thoroughbreds and helps compensate for a defense that might be vulnerable. Finally, Alderweireld can defend. He can be both disciplined in his containment and devastating in tackle. More vicious than Verthonghen, Alderweireld is decisive when engaging attackers and, more often than not, lays waste to the recipient of his challenge.

Weaknesses: Signed during the 2015 summer transfer window, Alderweireld has just four games in a Spurs shirt. Like the above musings in the "strengths" section, we have a limited number of games to truly judge him by. With this said there seems to be two core pitfalls to Toby Alderweireld’s game. The first is his physicality. While his pace would be admired by most defenders, he is a little slight for the position. He doesn’t have the mass to push around opponents and is susceptible to being outmuscled by a hulking target forward. In a match-up with a real bruiser, opponents might find it easier to hold possession and alleviate pressure by simply playing direct balls into their center forward’s feet. This also doesn’t bode well for defending free kicks, something Tottenham was abominable at last term. Alderweireld is six feet, two inches tall which, combined with his thinner frame and average heading ability, doesn’t make him the antidote to Spurs aerial maladies. Secondly, Alderweireld can be wild in his challenges. He already gave up a poor penalty to Stoke City in the second game of this season and the way that he commits to tackles, foreshadows future set pieces in and around Tottenham’s eighteen yard box.

History at Spurs: A former Ajax standout, Toby Alderweireld won the 2010 Ajax Talent of the Year award before transferring to Atlético Madrid before their historic 2013 season. Winning the La Liga Championship and reaching the Champions League final with Atletico, Alderweireld was loaned to Southhampton in 2014. After an impressive stint at Saint Mary’s, Tottenham Hotspur F.C. bought him for eleven and a half million pounds from Atlético Madrid. The deal marked the highest transfer fee that Spurs have ever paid for a defender. Alderweireld has started all four matches in Tottenham’s nascent 2015-16 season.

Role on Team: Toby Alderweireld is the first choice option at center back for Tottenham Hotspur. Reuniting with former Ajax teammate Jan Vertonghen, the Belgium came into preseason and quickly solidified the spot next to him in central defense. In a pinch, Alderweireld can be counted on to play at the right back position as he is asked to do for the Belgium National Team. Alderweireld’s main competition for minutes comes from youngsters Eric Dier and Kevin Wimmer and the gargantuan Argentine veteran, Federico Fazio. Without a considerable drop in form, it looks unlikely that any of the above defenders will dislodge the twenty-six year old from his place in the first eleven.

Prediction: Toby Alderweireld was brought in to provide relief to a defensive backline that hemorrhaged goals last season. More than just a warm body, Alderweireld brings a pedigree to the center of defense not seen since Vertonghen was signed three summers ago. In many ways, he is the perfect signing. Tottenham tend to buy players on the cusp of their prime or those who simply have bags of potential. In Alderweireld, Spurs have found a player whose best years are ahead of him, yet one who already has major experience in the upper tiers of European football. That he and Super Jan have already found success partnering in the back at Ajax, that he has played with Spurs’ playmaker Christian Eriksen on that same team, and that he has a history with #allthebelgiums in their national team setup, makes Toby’s transition to Tottenham logical and seamless. Further, he can get it done on the pitch in a position that was screaming for an upgrade. Outside of the penalty against Stoke and the following twenty terrible minutes of mayhem, I think he has performed as advertised for our club. Spurs have looked more composed and capable in the back and this stability should only continue. While the beginning to our season hasn’t accumulated the amount of points desired, there are signs of promise and Tottenham’s refurbished backline is one of them. If Alderweireld can stay consistent and Vertonghen can improve his form, Tottenham’s preferred center back pairing will be its most dependable in years.

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