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Toby Alderweireld’s £25m release clause is still active – why is nobody trying to sign him?

July 23, 2019

THURSDAY could be a big day for Tottenham. That marks two weeks before the transfer window closes on August 8 and it’s when Toby Alderweireld stops being available for a cut-price £25million under the terms of the contract extension he signed in December last year. 

The widespread assumption was that the 30-year-old Belgian centre-back, who is entering the final year of his deal, would be one of those leaving as part of a wider shake-up at White Hart Lane this summer, but as the clock ticks down on his release clause it felt significant that Alderweireld not merely started Sunday’s friendly against Juventus but was named as captain.

If Alderweireld’s immediate future does not lie at Tottenham, why else would Mauricio Pochettino give him the armband? It would make sense as some sort of farewell, but only if it were revealed as such. English football is perhaps guilty of reading far too much significance into the captaincy but here it’s hard to understand any rationale behind giving it to Alderweireld beyond a signal that he remains central to the group.

Certainly Alderweireld’s comments afterwards suggested he thinks he will be at Tottenham for the coming season. “In football,” he said, “everything can go quick but my focus is on Spurs and to be ready for the start of the season.”

Most obviously, that is very good news for Tottenham. Alderweireld started 33 of the 38 league games last season and his partnership with Jan Vertonghen is widely regarded as being one of the most effective in the league. But it does raise certain questions, the most obvious of which is why, in this era of hugely inflated prices, nobody was seemingly prepared to match that £25m figure.

It is true that Alderweireld, as things stand, would be available on a free next summer but that situation will surely not be allowed to continue. Roma are reported to have backed off, waiting until his contract expires but the likelihood is that the same will happen this season as it did last and that in December, so long as he is playing regularly, Alderweireld will end up agreeing another one-year extension, perhaps with a similar release clause. Besides which, Alderweireld is 30. He seems fit and hasn’t had particular issues with injuries but still, any club waiting a year for him must be aware that at his age the returns can diminish fairly sharply.

But it’s not just that £25m seems very good value for an experienced defender. It’s that, coming from Tottenham, Alderweireld’s wage demands are unlikely to be exorbitant. It surely can’t be that no Champions League club rates Alderweireld, in which case the only plausible explanation for the apparent lack of interest in him is that nobody believes he really wants to leave Tottenham.

Which is understandable. Alderweireld has been there for four years and, after reaching the Champions League final last season, the sense must be that this is the year when Tottenham’s direction is determined. There is a transfer budget again, and the squad is being tweaked.

Tanguy Ndombele has arrived and there are likely to be further major signings. This is the vital period that will decide whether Tottenham go on and, in their impressive new stadium, establish themselves as part of the elite or whether this last few years has been a blip before they sink back to their former level.

Having being part of so much of Tottenham’s development, why wouldn’t Alderweireld want to see it through? And Spurs need him. It’s not that Alderweireld is, in and of himself, irreplaceable. It’s that this is already a summer of flux with Kieran Trippier leaving and Christian Eriksen, who is also going into the final 12 months of his contract, making little secret of his desire to move on.

The Danish defender Joachim Andersen had been lined up as potential replacement for Alderweireld, but he has now moved from Sampdoria to Lyon. Stability at the back will be a valuable commodity as Pochettino continues to evolve his squad.

It’s possible that everything will change. As Alderweireld said, football can move very quickly. Thursday may not be quite the watershed it appears and a club in desperate need of a central defender may pay over the odds before August 8. But realistically, if Thursday comes and goes and Alderweireld is still at White Hart Lane, Spurs fans can look forward to another season of his dependability underpinning their challenge.