COMMENT By Richard Parks
Mauricio Pochettino’s apology to Toby Alderweireld just doesn’t ring true.
It is the same with the manager’s repeated denials as to why the best defender at the club has been frozen out of the Tottenham squad.
While Pochettino can offer a semi-persuasive case as to why the Belgian is not in the starting XI – Davinson Sanchez has been playing solidly and the team are winning – his argument collapses because Alderweireld does not make the matchday 18 and has not done so in the Premier League since tearing his hamstring in early November.
Back in January, the player declared that he was “fit and ready” to play, although he subsequently suffered a setback that ruled him out for a few weeks after playing in two FA Cup matches against lower league clubs.
The Belgium international, 29, has been omitted from the Spurs matchday 18 for their last two Premier League matches – wins over Stoke City on Saturday and Chelsea six days earlier – after proving his fitness by playing a full match for his country during the recent international break.
Pochettino has denied that Alderweireld’s omission is related to his contract stalemate with the club and has insisted that Sanchez and Jan Vertonghen deserve to be selected ahead of the former Atletico Madrid man.
“I am so sorry because Toby was an important player for us in the last two seasons,” Pochettino said, as quoted by the Sky Sports website. “Then he got the injury and players like Davinson and (Jan) Vertonghen stepped up, and you have got to deserve to play.
“If we are happy with the players who are playing, you need to wait. That does not mean he is not going to play again. But now he needs to keep pushing and try to show me he can play better than the others.
“I don’t care about the personal situations with the club. If they show me they deserve to play, they are going to play. It is not about personal feelings or emotions. It is about providing the team with the best tools to win.”
Further analysis of Spurs’ squad strongly suggests Pochettino is masking the truth here.
There was no centre-back on the bench against Chelsea, and it was the same against Stoke, although the versatile Eric Dier – dropped for the clash at the Bet365 Stadium – can play in the position perfectly well.
If Alderweireld had not been frozen out, then he would at least be on the bench. Don’t forget, he has spent nearly half his career playing at right-back and his versatility is just as impressive as his all-round class.
Don’t also forget that Pochettino has always tended to name a reserve centre-back on the substitute’s bench, including Kevin Wimmer and Cameron Carter-Vickers for most of last season.
In fact, the Spurs fans who have hailed Alderweireld as the best defender to play for the club in the last 30 years – and that includes the hallowed Ledley King – reckon he is so comfortable on the ball he could slot into midfield and still be one of the best players on the pitch.
It is accepted that there is plenty that Pochettino just can’t say about Alderweireld while his contract row with the club rumbles on.
And, he has to speak with a somewhat forked tongue to protect what is a very valuable asset for the club.
But, pull the other one for the reasons for freezing such an outstanding player from the side. You’re a great manager, Poch. But we’re not buying your reasoning.
In other Tottenham news, the club are working on a deal to sign a 29-year-old left footer who would be a sensational signing.