The Belgian wall that once stood at Tottenham Hotspur is set to finally be removed following Toby Alderweireld’s impending departure to Qatar side Al-Duhail.
Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen stood firm at the gates of Spurs’ defence for half a decade together and at their peak together were up their with the best centre-back partnerships in the world.
Of the two former Ajax team-mates, Alderweireld ended up lasting longer at Tottenham, something that seemed unlikely in the preceding years.
Yet, a year after Vertonghen left Spurs at the end of his contract and later moved to Benfica, so Alderweireld is now set to join him in leaving north London, only to head in a different direction to the Middle East.
Tottenham’s new managing director of football Fabio Paratici is clearing the decks of long-serving older players, with the Belgian joining Erik Lamela in leaving the club, following the departure of Danny Rose and Paulo Gazzaniga after the duo’s contracts ended.
For years, Alderweireld was an absolute Rolls Royce of a defender, knowing the perfect moment to tackle and rarely ever throwing himself into a challenge.
While Vertonghen was the more mobile defender in getting up the pitch, Alderweireld had the passing range with his crossfield passing or diagonal balls through to the likes of Dele Alli becoming a trademark.
He was widely acknowledged to be one of the Premier League’s best defenders and coveted by every club within it.
The Belgian’s problems at Tottenham though began in the first half of the club’s Champions League victory against Real Madrid at Wembley.
Alderweireld suffered a serious hamstring injury that day and as well as the injury itself, which took a few months to recover from, when he recovered he just did not seem to have the full belief of both of his successive managers.
Mauricio Pochettino preferred new signing Davinson Sanchez for much of that season as the Belgian took time to get back to full fitness and into his rhythm and the Argentine is not believed to have been the biggest fan of Alderweireld’s attempts to bypass the midfield with those trademark long passes.
Alderweireld did come back into Pochettino’s plans the following season but the Belgian’s contract situation was constantly dragging on in the background and in the summer of 2019, Tottenham took up the option to extend it by a further year.
In doing so, they activated a release clause that stated clubs could signed Alderweireld for just £25m. A couple of years ago, a queue of clubs would have lined up to snap him up.
Instead nobody chose to make a move for the centre-back to free him from his contract, not even Manchester United who had previously shown interest through then manager Jose Mourinho.
It looked like Alderweireld was going to end up as a free agent when suddenly everything changed at Spurs and Pochettino was gone, with Mourinho replacing him.
The glee on the defender’s face was there for all to see when it was suggested that Mourinho was in talks during an interview on international duty the night that Pochettino left.
Mourinho signed up and so did Alderweireld just a month later, committing to a three-year deal that had previously looked unlikely.
However, even under Mourinho he began to find himself in and out of the team in the Portuguese’s first full season, playing in just 25 of the 38 Premier League matches.
He returned for Mourinho’s final game against Everton before interim head coach Ryan Mason handed him his longest stretch of league games in the season.
Alderweireld might not have been at the peak he was but he was still capable of top drawer performances. His best display of the season came in the Carabao Cup final when he rolled back the years against Manchester City, Tottenham only eventually succumbing to a late goal.
The player was always believed to be a model professional, whether he was playing or not, but Alderweireld had decided though that his future lay away from Tottenham and he made that clear to the club.
The player openly stated that he wanted to move back home to Belgium or to the Netherlands, but issues lay in which clubs in both countries could afford a fee plus his wages that made him one of Spurs’ top earners.
The solution ended up being a move to Qatar in the mean time, set to bring Tottenham more than £10m in a fee and Alderweireld the wages he wanted, although once again it’s strange that none of Europe’s big clubs came in for the Belgian.
Spurs’ defence will look very different next season but it will take some doing to beat what Alderweireld did with his team-mates at their peak.
Under Pochettino, Spurs had the Premier League’s tightest defence for two seasons and Alderweireld deserved more than the lack of silverware gained during those years.
He will wind down his career in Qatar before he moves home with his young family in the years to come, but he will always remain a popular figure at Tottenham.