The Player of the Year nominees were announced sometime back and as is the case every year, some players were hard done by and should’ve got a mention. Remarkable, or unremarkable because it doesn’t come as a surprise, as it is, no defender or goalkeeper was mentioned in the list and N’Golo Kante was the only player with some defensive attributes who got a place among the nominees. The one player who really made a case for inclusion is Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld.
Spurs’ title challenge this season has been due to the hard-work of boss Mauricio Pochettino. What is incredible is that not only have the London side scored the most goals, they have also conceded the fewest. It’s not rocket science that their incredible season has been built on a solid foundation at the back and it’s not as though the side is only outscoring their opponents in every game, as was the case a couple of years back with Liverpool.
Harry Kane’s heroics have got him a mention in the Player of the Year shortlist while Dele Alli finds himself in the Young Player category, so where is the recognition for Toby? Of course the argument can be that you possibly cannot include every player in the list but the Belgian’s contributions have been significant enough to get him a spot in the list. To put it into perspective, Tottenham conceded 53 goals last season, which was as many as relegated Burnley and two more than relegated Hull City. Their defence was the weakest link of the side as Pochettino tinkered with the defensive partnership. Alongside Jan Vertonghen who started 30 league games, Federico Fazio started 20 games, Younes Kaboul and Eric Dier started 11 games each and even Vlad Churches got gametime and started four games. It was the former Espanyol manager’s first season so it made sense that he was trying out everything at his disposal. Clearly he saw there was something needed in defence. It was Toby Alderweireld.
Tottenham battled with Southampton for the services of the Atletico Madrid player who was on loan with the south coast side for a year and did really well even then. After all, Southampton had conceded 33 goals which was the second least in the league, only one more than champions Chelsea.
The defender seamlessly slotted in with compatriot Jan Vertonghen and the Belgian duo gave Spurs a rock solid partnership at the back. What can be lauded as Alderweireld’s biggest accomplishment since becoming the indispensable member of the team is that he has also managed to bring out the best in partner Vertonghen.
The 27-year-old has proved to be a calming influence in the defence and has formed a great understanding with Vertonghen which has been on display for most of the season. Their chemistry at the back hasn’t gone unnoticed and it doesn’t come as a surprise as the two have the experience of playing together previously with the national team as well as Ajax.
Vertonghen has always possessed quality but hasn’t been partnered well at the back. The presence of Alderweireld has provided a calming influence at the back and unmistakably taken weight off the shoulders of Vertonghen as he has looked strong and compelling at the back all season.
It has been apparent in the past that left footed Vertonghen likes to come out of the box and play on the front foot. This has often put him under the microscope as he has on many occasions, left the defence very vulnerable. However, now that he has Alderweireld who is right footed alongside him, those mistakes don’t happen as the former Atletico defender can make sure Lloris is not left in peril at the back.
Alderweireld doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses in his game and it is obvious that he has a very rounded style of play. His height makes him imposing in the air, his distribution is worldly and he is fast, which is essential because if he makes a mistake, which happens very rarely, he can quickly track back and make amends. He doesn’t get caught on the ball and his football intelligence is excellent as he knows when to retain the ball and when to release it. It is also incredible that he hasn’t committed a single foul in 600 minutes of football (ongoing). That is sensational for a defender anywhere, but especially the very physical Premier League where shirt tugging and pulling happens in almost every game.
All in all, Toby Alderweireld has proved to be an excellent fit for Tottenham. He complements Pochettino’s style of play very well as they play a high line which needs excellent mobility from the defenders.
His exclusion from the Player of the Year nominees is glaring to say the least but doesn’t come as a shock as defenders have been excluded from glory from days of yore. In the last five years, there hasn’t been a single defender nominated. In the last ten years, only two defenders have been nominated – Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic (twice). This is clearly a problem.
Alderweireld makes a serious case for the defence.