Toby Alderweireld started and played 90 minutes in the back line yesterday as Belgium defeated Saudi Arabia 4-0 in an international friendly.
That’s the good news. The rest of it depends on if you’re a glass-half-full or glass-half-empty kind of person.
Tottenham Hotspur supporters are well aware of the necrotizing relationship between Alderweireld and Spurs over the renewal of Toby’s contract. The negotiations have been long and arduous, and have apparently stopped altogether after Alderweireld’s representatives demanded wages in excess of £125k/week, well above Spurs’ wage structure and similar to what Virgil Van Dijk is now making at Liverpool.
It hasn’t been helped by a long-term hamstring injury sustained this fall and another minor reoccurrence this spring that has reportedly kept Toby out of the Tottenham starting XI for the Premier League since November. Toby has repeatedly claimed that he’s match fit and ready to play, but Mauricio Pochettino has kept him out of the side with the exception of two FA Cup matches, sparking conspiracy theories that his absences have had more to do with the contract than the injury.
After his 90 minute performance alongside Jan Vertonghen on Tuesday, Belgium manager Roberto Martinez essentially warned Toby in comments to the press, saying that his place in Belgium’s World Cup squad is not guaranteed, especially if he doesn’t start getting regular minutes with his club side.
“Every player needs to get a really good period of football now. Seven weeks [until the World Cup] is not a lot of time. Certain players that play a lot of minutes, the playing time now is not essential. But other players who have not played that much, and Toby can be one of those – it is important.
“But what you see with Toby is that urgency and the defensive, natural habit of intercepting any threat around him. I saw him really sharp during the camp and [against Saudi Arabia] it was great to see that he was really strong in the last 15 minutes physically. And he lasted 90 minutes in a really good way.”
Those are pointed comments that puts Sunday’s match between Tottenham and Chelsea at Stamford Bridge as a potential rubicon for Alderweireld’s future with the club. Belgian outlets gave Toby mixed reviews on his performance for the Red Devils (which is understandable considering his lack of playing time the past few months), but it did pretty conclusively prove that he’s ready to play matches again.
Toby very obviously wants to play football, and Roberto Martinez’s comments add more fuel to the fire in a way that I’m not sure is entirely helpful. It does, however, put a pretty fine point on the situation: if he doesn’t start playing for Spurs again, he could quite possibly be left home when Belgium flies to Russia.
I don’t know what’s in Mauricio Pochettino’s mind. Playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge would be a challenge even for a 100% fit and in-form Toby Alderweireld, and it’s just really difficult to say if a 70% fit Toby is equal to or better than a 100% fit Davinson Sanchez. I argued on this blog earlier that a solid 90 minutes of international football could be a positive step in Toby’s recovery, one that could see him return to Spurs’ starting XI soon afterwards. It sure seems like he could be ready to return.
But what if Toby doesn’t start on Easter Sunday? Conversely, what if he’s on the bench, or starts and plays poorly? What does Pochettino do? Should Toby not even make the match day 18, I think you could make a compelling argument that his absence from the squad has more to do with his contract than his injury.
Tottenham with a healthy Toby Alderweireld is significantly better than Tottenham without him. And while I’m not quite willing to say that if Toby doesn’t start against Chelsea that he’s 100% out the door this summer, if he doesn’t even make the squad, it will be even more evidence suggesting he’ll be following the Kyle Walker plan away from north London.