Less than a week to go now. It’s pretty much an accepted norm that the international break is no more than an unwanted bother, an annoying distraction from the weekly drama, passion and excitement of club football. It’s a sad reality of today’s game, but one that doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon. Many probably didn’t even bother watching, particularly those forced into welcoming the cold embrace of Gareth Southgate’s England revolution.
The break can also be used as a short window of reflection though and so in that sense it couldn’t have come at a more ideal time for Spurs fans. Hasn’t it been fun to just look back and revel in a feeling that only football can give you? A performance that verged on the very brink of perfect and one that has been at the forefront of my mind whilst the dull shadow of international football has loomed.
Almost all of the men in lilywhite played to their absolute maximum in a showing that has finally seemed to attract some attention, even if it has been as a means to the growth of Brendan Rodgers’ ego.
Most agreed that Victor Wanyama was the outstanding member in a near-faultless team and he has rightly received adulation and praise. For me though, the most striking thought during the long wait for Tottenham’s return has been centred around Toby Alderweireld.
You may have to excuse me, because this is going to start sounding like a gushing teenage girl at a One Direction concert. We are just so lucky.
And that’s not to belittle Tottenham, nor to suggest that any player is ever bigger than our club. Every so often though, we are treated to a player that is just so exceptional that it does feel like a blessing to watch. They’re the sort of players that could improve any team in the world.
Gareth Bale was probably the last. Before that, Luka Modrić maybe to an even further extent. Alderweireld may be similar to Modrić in that we won’t truly realise just how special he is until he’s gone. We watch the Croatian midfielder at the Bernabéu now with an awe and amazement at the ease and grace with which he plays.
Alderweireld has that same exquisite aspect to his game. We’ve become desensitised to his incredible level of performance because of the unerring consistency with which he achieves it. The Belgian has normalised defensive skills that had looked so difficult to master for the likes of Vlad Chiricheș, Younès Kaboul and Federico Fazio.
His outstanding positional awareness, timing of tackles, authority in the air and effortless distribution have somehow become almost unnoticed because that’s just what Toby Alderweireld does. And then every so often, it comes back into your mind that he’s been doing that the whole time and you’re reminded all over again what a fantastic player we have at the heart of our defence.
The victory against City was another one of those reminders. Wanyama and others maybe gained more attention, but Alderweireld’s typically immaculate display has rekindled a debate that hasn’t really been taken seriously up until now. Is he better than Ledley King?
Timid, slightly embarrassed early suggestions have developed into a more confident and genuine discussion and – whisper it quietly - there are a large number who believe the 27 year-old has indeed dethroned our once great but fragile captain.
A certain mystique still hangs over King’s career; we’ll never truly know what he may have accomplished if it wasn’t for those knees that remained an agonising asterisk against his name. However, he was so much more to the club, and the area of Tottenham, than just a special player.
Everything that King carried with him, as well as his sheer level of excellence, has built him up to iconic status, seemingly untouchable. Out of all the talented players at the Lane over the last decade, he is the only one truly deserving of a place amongst the club’s most exclusive of legends – alongside Nicholson, Blanchflower, Mackay and Hoddle. This then puts into perspective, particularly for any non-Spurs fans, just how incredible it is that the Alderweireld/King debate is even one worth considering.
Like his legendary predecessor in the centre of Tottenham’s defence, Alderweireld has the extraordinary capacity to improve the players alongside him. That’s not intended as a slight on Jan Vertonghen, who is certainly the next best central defender Spurs have had in the last decade after his current partner and King. Yet, after almost seeing the door at White Hart Lane, Vertonghen is now playing better than ever before. Danny Rose and Kyle Walker too are so confident in their ranging forwards because of the solidity of the Belgian wall behind them, as well as the tireless work of the likes of Wanyama and Eric Dier.
This gushing has somewhat messily got the point across. In a period of such promise and progress, Alderweireld plays the ultimate symbol of Tottenham’s metamorphosis under Mauricio Pochettino. Once the Premier League recommences, he’ll keep timing his tackles perfectly, he’ll keep spraying diagonal passes across the pitch and he’ll probably keep scoring important goals. And we’ll accept it as normal, because that’s just what Alderweireld does.
Right now though, with the real football on it’s two-week hiatus, we can just take some time to indulge ourselves a bit more in what he does. Go on, it feels great.
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