With his departure to Qatar’s Al-Dhuail, replacing Toby Alderweireld is not a top priority for Tottenham Hotspur. In the immediate sense, a matter of signing a like-for-like centre-half in lieu of lost talent. But it also signifies the need to rebuild and establish a comfortably solid defence.
Replacing Toby Alderweireld
A Replacement is Needed
Previous analysis of the future Tottenham defence featured Alderweireld as a central lynchpin. It’s a matter of comical journalistic timing that such speculation came days before his departure. It felt scarcely conceivable that such a talented international defender would take up the offer of Qatari petrodollars.
But the dye is cast, and the search for a new defender intensifies. Tottenham need a replacement. In reality, they have needed one for a few seasons now. His departure is not the beginning, but rather it highlights and vivifies what was already required.
During the halcyon seasons in which he partnered with Jan Vertonghen, Spurs had stability and solidity. For a side renowned for attacking flair with a defensively vulnerable underbelly, this coupling provided the foundations from which to grow.
They did the vital work at the back, and could also play out with aplomb. They were comfortable passing out and slowly building possession-based attacks. But Alderweireld’s ability to launch targeted, accurate long balls forward was a vital attribute. It offered variety when ground-based play didn’t work, and could utilise the pace and strength of the attackers. His ability to ‘ping’ was matched only by that of the NHS App.
But the past few seasons have seen a diminution of such qualities. He was never the fastest, but there was a noticeable drop off in pace. The uncoupling and subsequent departure of Vertonghen to Benfica undermined previous stability and cohesion. Somewhat counterintuitively, the tactics of Jose Mourinho (namely the lethargic build-up play) did not lend to such long-ball play.
The transfer rumour mill is relentless. The moment a player is mooted and analysed, the move is either confirmed or scuppered. Nonetheless, the chatter surrounding Cristian Romero is promising, particularly with Atalanta eyeing Felix Uduokhai as a replacement. Replacing Toby Alderweireld with Romero would be a very satisfactory outcome.
Romero was part of the Argentina side that triumphed in Copa America, in addition to Tottenham’s Giovani Lo Celso. He was instrumental in Atalanta’s passage to the Champions League round of 16, and their subsequent re-qualification. He has an Italian Cup final appearance to boot and was named the best Serie A defender of the season.
Whether the pursuit of Romero comes off remains to be seen, especially with Barcelona purportedly on the prowl and talks of the deal slowing down. It also looks like the cash plus Davinson Sanchez move for Sevilla’s Jules Kounde is off. But whoever Paratici and co. purchase, he must go some way to replacing Toby Alderweireld and his old qualities.
But inactivity is not an option. With little over two weeks until the start of the season, a defender of Alderweireld’s former talent is needed, quickly. Ideally, the club would be looking for two, to compensate for the loss of Vertonghen in 2020. But if Nuno Espirito Santo is prepared to blood through young prospects, a satisfactory solution could come to fruition.
Japhet Tanganga has demonstrated his first-team qualities. Without wishing to play up to hyperbole, he could one day become a Ledley King-style figure. This isn’t just because of his chequered injury record thus far. He defends astutely, can play out, and his stints at full-back demonstrate an ability to ‘ping’ balls accurately.
Joe Rodon too has shown his defensive qualities during his brief stints last season. He was also astute at the back for Wales during Euro 2020 (4-0 defeat to Denmark notwithstanding). Considering he was signed from Swansea City as one for the future, it would be foolish not to embrace his potential.
The UEFA Europa Conference League provides the perfect opportunity to blood such youngsters. Without indulging in English exceptionalism and football snobbery, the calibre of opposition Tottenham are likely to face isn’t exactly terrifying. The play-off and group stage provides the stage for young players to improve and demonstrate their ability.
There is still time to bring in a defender capable of replacing Toby Alderweireld. But the club should not fall into the habit of waiting until the eleventh hour for financial niceties. The rebuilding project is daunting – the sooner it begins, the better.