Alderweireld seemed to be on way out of Spurs until Mourinho turned up

‘He is an unbelievable man-manager’: Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld seemed to be on his way out of Spurs… then Jose Mourinho turned up

  • Toby Alderweireld lost his way a little bit in the final days of Mauricio Pochettino 
  • Last December he signed a new deal at Spurs, something that never looked likely
  • The Belgian centre half has praised Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho
  • Alderweireld spoke out his upbringing and his time at Ajax and Atletico Madrid 

As Toby Alderweireld made the long journey by road and rail to get from Antwerp to Birmingham for Tottenham’s game at Aston Villa earlier this month, it must have been hard to escape the overwhelming feeling of a new start.

Having just witnessed the birth of his son Jace in Belgium, Alderweireld had planned to fly to England in time for his team’s game. But with his plane grounded by a storm, the 30-year-old’s trek through Belgium on the Eurostar back to England was motivated in part by a will to impress a new manager.

‘For me Jose Mourinho is an unbelievable people manager, someone who you want to travel eight hours by road to play on a Sunday after your son is born,’ Alderweireld said this week.

Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld lost his way a little bit in the final days of Mauricio Pochettino

‘That’s the feeling you get, the feeling I have for him. You don’t want to disappoint him.’

Aldwereireld’s afternoon at Villa that day was mixed. He scored an own goal and then his team’s equaliser as Tottenham won 3-2.

Nevertheless, the latter half of this season feels a little bit like the second coming of a player who lost his way a little bit in the final days of Mauricio Pochettino.

Last December he signed a new contract at the club, something that never looked likely during the final difficult days of Mourinho’s predecessor.

Just as importantly, he is back in the team.

‘I guess it looks like I am happier now because the former manager left and I signed a deal,’ he said.

‘But I was happy back then as well.

‘For me Jose Mourinho is an unbelievable people manager,’ Alderweireld said of the Spurs boss

‘There were a lot of things going on behind the contract but I’ve always been happy at Spurs and will always do my best for Spurs.

‘The more options I got the more I had to choose what I wanted and I was just like: “I want to stay at Spurs”.

‘With a second child on the way I just wanted to stay and when the new manager came in he just asked me if I wanted to sign.

‘After that the process went a little bit quicker because he did some things.

Alderweireld scored an own goal and then his team’s equaliser as Tottenham beat Aston Villa

‘I don’t know what the club’s tactics were. But when Jose came in it moved a bit quicker.’

Alderweireld will always be associated with the best days of Pochettino’s Tottenham. A defensive line that once went Walker-Alderweireld-Vertonghen-Rose was once one of the most formidable and athletic of the modern Premier League era.

Equally, he undoubtedly suffered at Pochettino’s capricious hands – even if he doesn’t want to say so. The Argentinean was not a man to indulge players prevaricating over contracts and only now does it seem that the central defender can really look forwards again.

‘It always hurts when you are left out,’ he told Sportsmail.

Belgian defender Alderweireld sat down to speak to Sportsmail’s Ian Ladyman (left)

‘The manager never gave me any reasons. But I understand that.

‘I am not the guy who knocks on his door and says: “Hey, what about me?”. I think that is very selfish.

‘Let’s be honest, he brought this club to the next level and I am grateful for what he did for the club. I think everyone is.

‘I just always thought – again it sounds like arrogance – that I will show I deserved to be in the team, and that’s what I did.’

Alderweireld walked through the gates of Crowland Primary School just off Tottenham’s Seven Sisters Road on Thursday to scenes of what we may describe as general disbelief. The children of Year 6 had not been told he was coming.

The Belgian is a big man with a disarming smile and, it turns out, an ability to interact with those who could only ever hope to see his like on the screens of their TV sets.

Alderweireld was there to talk to the children about ambition and help them with a poetry activity as part of the Premier League’s annual Writing Stars competition.

Defender went to Crowland Primary School off Tottenham’s Seven Sisters Road on Thursday

‘For me it is still strange to see people react like that when they see me,’ he smiled when he sat down to talk for half an hour afterwards.

‘I do not see myself as a big star or anything like that.’

At this point it seemed appropriate to remind him he has played in two Champions League finals – with Tottenham last year and with Atletico Madrid in 2014 – and has 98 caps for Belgium. Only three players have more.

He explained: ‘Sometimes when I am walking with my wife on the street someone will call out and for a second I think: “How do they know my name?”

Alderweireld talked to the children about ambition and helped them with a poetry activity

‘But I think it’s a good way to be. If you start to think you’re something then it’s not nice and I am not that sort of person.’

Alderweireld puts his attitude to life down to his upbringing in Antwerp. His mother was a housewife while his father worked at a chemical plant.

‘My father actually had two jobs and that way of living and working hard is all I know,’ he explained.

‘He doesn’t like me telling this story but when we were growing up we didn’t go out for dinner a lot. But every two months we would go out for a pizza as a treat and I was only allowed to order one Coke with my meal. Not two but one.

‘So I had to eat all of my meal with just one drink. It is something that has stayed with me.

Alderweireld’s children will grow up in a different world to the one he knew two decades ago

‘Even now when I go out for a meal and order a second Coke I think: “Wow, yeah!” I am so pleased! Two Cokes!

‘Don’t get me wrong, my parents always gave us everything we needed. But it was always earned with hard work.

‘I remember after school and in holidays me and my little brother going to help our father clean apartment blocks.

‘I am not ashamed of that, the opposite. I feel proud. It’s important to know where you come from.’

Alderweireld is a father of two – Jace was born weeks ago and daughter Ayla is 18 months old

A father of two – his daughter Ayla is 18 months old – Alderweireld’s children will grow up in a different world to the one he knew two decades ago.

‘I have had this conversation a lot with my wife, family and friends in the last couple of weeks since my son was born,’ he nodded.

‘We will try not to spoil them but it’s difficult. When my little girl looks at me with her gorgeous eyes it is difficult to say no.

‘But I will try to make sure they have respect for everyone and respect for everything they have.

‘It’s going to be difficult and certainly different to my childhood because even my wife had a different upbringing to me – she is an only child.

‘But we will do our best to ensure they appreciate everything they have and work hard to try to achieve what they want.’

The remarkable passing range and ability to use a football well was drilled in to Alderweireld during five formative years at Ajax. His desire to win originates from a short time under Diego Simeone at Atletico Madrid.

Alderweireld only played a handful of time for the Spanish club but one appearance was as a substitute as Real Madrid stole the 2014 Champions League Final away from their neighbours in extra time in Lisbon.

‘At Ajax it is all about playing,’ he said.

The remarkable passing range and ability to use a football well was drilled in to him at Ajax

‘It is passing and techniques.

‘But I remember the first time in Madrid training I controlled the ball in the 18-yard box and Simeone was: “Stop!! Never do that”. He doesn’t like it.

‘It made me think and it made me understand. It’s very positive to see both ways. I am grateful to what he taught me.’

During Tottenham’s best days under Pochettino the Alderweireld to Dele Alli long pass was part of the scripture. It came from hours of practice.

In terms of Mourinho’s Tottenham outfit, maybe nobody knows quite what it is yet

‘Aw, I can’t even count how many times but it’s a lot,’ he laughed.

‘Before training. I love to play that ball. So its again, again, again.

‘It is strange because if I think about it I will play the wrong pass. If I don’t, it goes well.

‘Sometimes even now in training I just play a long ball to no one. But I imagine them being there.

‘I do it in the warm up too. People must be thinking: “Why is he just whacking the ball to no one?”.

‘But I know what I am doing.’

Centre half Alderweireld believes the answers will only really arrive next August

At Tottenham it is accepted that the rebuild under Mourinho may take a while. Something seemed to be lost after last June’s Champions League defeat by Liverpool and Pochettino’s demise soon followed.

‘Yeah and maybe we didn’t realise it at the time,’ reflected Alderweireld.

‘Things like that are difficult to get out of your system. You say to yourself you will go again but under your skin it’s like: “Arrrghh..”.

‘It takes time to recover.

‘I don’t mean to use a strange example but if you split with your girlfriend it takes time. You get good moments and bad but it takes time.

‘He [Pochettino] worked us so hard, the hardest of everyone. Everyone made that next step towards professionalism under him. He made a young team take big steps.

‘But if you see our fighting spirit you will know we will get it back,’ Alderweireld said

‘So in that moment when you suddenly realise it’s not working any more, it is very difficult to accept that. Very difficult, yeah.

‘We were in that story with him. I will never say a bad word about him.’

In terms of Mourinho’s Tottenham, maybe nobody knows quite what it is yet. The remainder of the season will tell us more but Alderweireld believes the answers will only really arrive next August.

‘I think next season, with a good pre-season, we are going to see the real Tottenham,’ he said.

‘The fans should be optimistic. It is actually positive that we are fighting for top four and we are all disappointed by it. That’s very positive as it shows our standards.

‘We are trying to find our way back to get good form. It’s only human you know.

‘But if you see our fighting spirit you will know we will get it back.’

Toby Alderweireld visited Crowland Primary School in Tottenham to encourage entries into this year’s Premier League Writing Stars poetry competition.


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