Tottenham need Toby Alderweireld to prove his commitment after transfer flirtations
The Premier League transfer window has come and gone, but Toby Alderweireld is still a Tottenham Hotspur player. The question is: do the fans still want him playing for the club?
The first murmurings that all was not well between Alderweireld and Spurs began to surface a month or so after he limped off the field with a hamstring injury during the Champions League tie against Real Madrid at Wembley last November. The rumours hardened when manager Mauricio Pochettino showed a curious reluctance to play the Belgian defender in his starting XI when he returned to fitness and, come the end of the season, it appeared to be a matter of when, not if, Alderweireld left White Hart Lane.
The days turned into weeks, which turned into months, with still no deal agreed between Spurs and Manchester United. Everyone assumed it was just chairman Daniel Levy playing his usual hardball games in the negotiations and that the transfer would eventually be completed. Yet nothing happened. At all. Spurs sold or signed no-one.
The club had previously insisted it would be looking to strengthen the squad but didn't even manage to sell players, such as Moussa Sissoko, Vincent Janssen, Georges-Kevin N'Koudou and Fernando Llorente, in whom the manager had overtly lost faith.
While there is some virtue to be found in maintaining continuity and not losing key players, a complete stalemate is hardly indicative of a club seeking to win a trophy for the first time since 2008 and looking to progress to the next level.
Alderweireld is a key part of that. Alongside Jan Vertonghen, he was at the heart of the defence for what was arguably the second best side at this year's World Cup. So to even think about leaving him on the bench is absurd. There is no Spurs side that would be stronger without him and he simply has to play.
Less than a year ago, he was the fans' -- and the manager's -- favourite; a model of consistency, driving the team forward when the going got tough. He can and must become that player again.
Yes, Alderweireld has made salary demands that Spurs have been either unwilling or unable to meet. Yes, Pochettino has made it clear he did not think the defender was in fit physical or mental shape to command a regular place in his starting XI. Yes, an impasse had been reached whereby everyone appeared to think it was in their best interests for Alderweireld to leave the club but no one was able to agree on how to make it happen. But the time for playing games is over.
The ball is now in Pochettino and Alderweireld's court: they owe it to the fans to resolve their differences. Supporters have put up with a lot in recent years: the inconvenience of the move to Wembley; hugely inflated ticket prices at the new stadium; a squad that has not been strengthened. The last thing anyone needs is lingering resentment between the manager and a star player that could destabilise others.
As the manager, it's up to Pochettino to make the first move. He needs to take Alderweireld to one side, explain to him that contract negotiations are just an occupational hazard of the modern footballer and reassure him that he will be one of the first names on any teamsheet.
Much also depends on Alderweireld. He must put disappointments of the last year behind him and prove that he has committed himself to Tottenham once more. There can be no place for sulking, as Luka Modric did when he was initially denied his move to Real Madrid, rather he should model himself on Gareth Bale.
Even when it became clear that the Welshman would be leaving, he carried on giving 100 percent right to the very end. In his very last competitive game for Spurs, he produced a late solo wonder goal that clinched three points that guaranteed the team a top five finish. Some players might have seen that as beyond the call of duty; Bale saw it as being a true professional and the fans loved him for it.
Of course, it's possible that Alderweireld may still leave. The United deal may be dead in the water but the transfer window is still open for him to move to another European club should any express a serious interest until the end of August.
But if he stays, Alderweireld must knuckle down and prove his commitment this season. If he does then no one will begrudge him a move to another club next year if that is what he still wants.