Thu. Dec 2nd, 2021

Alderweireld was part of the latest exodus of Pochettino players from Tottenham over the summer, joining Qatari club Al-Duhail after six years, 236 appearances, two title challenges, two FA Cup semi-finals, one League Cup final, one Champions League Final and no trophies in north London.

“No, no, I don’t think the club can regret anything. I think they did wonderful,” says Alderweireld in an interview with Standard Sport.

“You don’t know all the things that happen in a club. It’s not Football Manager. I know for sure that [chairman Daniel] Levy gave 100 per cent for the club. It’s good they’re not happy with where they are now. The structure is there to be one of the biggest clubs in the world. Maybe they need some more time. I know in football there’s no time but I don’t think the club should have done anything else.

“How many times do you see clubs invest too much and then they’re in trouble? Spurs know what it is to be healthy.

“Of course, it will always be said ‘no silverware’ and I understand that. But it’s a wonderful period in Spurs’ history. I think the fans will enjoy thinking about it.”

Alderweireld clearly enjoys reflecting on his six years at Spurs, particularly the four-and-a-half seasons in Pochettino’s finely-tuned, hard running team.

The Belgian gushes about his fondest memory, the Champions League semi-final at his former club Ajax. Like every Spurs fan, he has watched the footage back over and over again, devouring every fresh angle of Lucas Moura’s second-half hat-trick.

“We were finished: 2-0 [down], in total 3-0,” Alderweireld says. “If you think about, where do we get hope from there? But Pochettino said we have to change, we go all or nothing. When I think about it now, it’s like, ‘3-0…impossible!’ But for some reason we were like, ‘Yeah, let’s go!’ It was very special. I think one of the best games in the history of football.”

Alderweireld celebrates after Spurs beat Ajax to reach the Champions League Final in 2019

/ Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I

Six months later, in November 2019, Pochettino was out of a job, sacked by Spurs and replaced overnight by Jose Mourinho.

Alderweireld, who was on international duty at the time, says the news came as a “big shock” but with hindsight he feels the curtain really came down on Pochettino’s reign with defeat to Liverpool in the Champions League Final.

“That would have been the trophy for our golden generation. With the money we spent – almost nothing – and the way we played, it would have been an unbelievable achievement, especially if you saw the teams we beat,” says the 32-year-old, who also lost the 2014 Final with Atletico Madrid.

“Afterwards the tank was empty. After a couple of seasons, it was one too many. When I look back now, we needed a bigger break to really have the desire to go again. The disappointment was too fresh.

“It was the same for everyone, even Poch. A manager’s career is different but the opportunity of Champions League Finals is [rare].

“I know for sure he loves Spurs, even to this day, and to achieve it with the club at the time would have been maybe the biggest achievement ever in Spurs’ history. So it’s logical. He needed time to refresh himself and get the desire to go again.”

After Pochettino’s departure, Spurs entered a downward spiral which is showing no signs of slowing, but the club is finally pushing ahead with the “painful rebuild” long called for by the Argentine. Christian Eriksen and Jan Vertonghen both departed within a year of the manager, while Alderweireld was one of seven established players allowed to leave the club over the summer.

A feature of Spurs’ struggles in the last two seasons has been a lack of unity, with supporters turning on the managers, players and board, and a fractured dressing room. It is all so different from the band-of-brothers spirit fostered by Pochettino and his staff, who managed to unite the club from boardroom to terraces.

“The team was so close. You get close because the Pochettino way is not the easy way,” Alderweireld says. “You work so hard every day. Days off are very, very rare.

Alderweireld scoring against Arsenal last season

/ Getty Images

“You get the same as the army really. You get angry but you get fitter, you get better. Train on, train off! You do it and it creates a group, like, ‘Let’s do it together’. So that was the feeling, especially in the seasons with Leicester, Chelsea, the Champions League.

“Then some players go and some players come and it needs redoing. Sometimes you need chemistry that works. I’m not saying it didn’t work but we have to be honest. The group we had then was a very special group of friendship.”

Another issue was the decision to allow Amazon Prime’s cameras into the club for the 2019-20 season, a move Pochettino was deeply uncomfortable with.

“Some things should have stayed in the dressing room,” Alderweireld says. “Because not only in football, in every work environment, things happen that are only meant to stay there. After a while you didn’t think about it anymore but it didn’t make it easier.”

Alderweireld was a regular under Pochettino but there were frequent suggestions that they did not always see eye to eye. The defender was also thought to be among the players Pochettino was most willing to offload when he initially called for a rebuild in the summer of 2018.

“Poch is more clever than me,” says Alderweireld, who insists he never thought about leaving Spurs that summer. “He saw things that I didn’t see. I thought we had a very good squad.

“Our relationship is very positive. I’m always very grateful that he bought me to Spurs. He was the guy who texted and called me that I had to come, he was the guy who got the best out of me, 100 per cent for sure. I was most fit under him.

Alderweireld and Mauricio Pochettino

/ Getty Images

“Of course in football if you work four or five days together and you’re a big personality – because I have my thoughts about football as well – you have discussions. And that’s fine.

“But I never had a problem with him. Never ever. I’m grateful because he took me two or three levels up.”

But didn’t he finally sign a new contract in December 2019, a month after Pochettino was replaced by Mourinho?

“It was nothing to do with the manager. It looked like that but it wasn’t,” says Alderweireld, who explains that the club only offered him what he considered a fair deal when he entered the final year of his contract.

The centre-half’s relationship with Mourinho was more complicated and included a notable flashpoint in April, when the Portuguese claimed he had not selected Alderweireld in the squad for a trip to Newcastle because he had returned late from international duty. In reality, Alderweireld had been training for three days prior to the match.

“We did talk about it. He said, ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean you’. And it was fine,” Alderweireld says.

“Still, I think he’s one of the best, a proven manager. He came in a difficult period in Spurs’ history, changing stadium and after the Champions League Final the expectations were so high. But I learned things from him, even if I’m 30, 31, that I still use now in my game. It wasn’t what we both expected maybe but I don’t want to put any blame on him.”

Alderweireld is speaking over Zoom from his apartment in Qatar which he shares with his wife and two small children, who can occasionally be heard in the background.

He insists he was not forced out by Spurs but decided to escape the relentless rat race of European football.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s good money,” he says. “But I want to see my family a lot more. [Today in football] there’s more games, more tournaments. More! I’m on 116 [Belgium] caps. It means I not only play the games but travel.

Alderweireld left Spurs in the summer after 236 appearances for the club

/ Getty Images

“For 13 years I’m in the national team, Europa League, Champions League, Premier League. It’s always more, more [time] away from home.

“My daughter is three. My son is one-and-a-half. I miss them a lot. And I miss things from them a lot. They grow up, they do their first things. I’m never there. That was a big part for me. Maybe I’d enjoy my football more because I’d be more at home. I always had a feeling I wasn’t there. How many Christmases did I miss? How many New Years?

“So I thought if I want to enjoy my football and keep enjoying it, I have to be more at home.

“I played two World Cups, two Euros. There’s another World Cup coming. When do you say, ‘enough’? I have goals [in football] and in the meantime I can bring my children to school and see them a lot more than in England.

“Spurs never pushed me [out],” adds Alderweireld, who signed a two-year deal with Al-Duhail, and wants to play in the Qatar World Cup next winter.

“I think I’m not lying when I say they respect what I did for the club. I gave my best years for the club, achieved a lot of big things together.

“And I have a lot of respect for Spurs. They said if you want to go, we understand. You gave your best for Spurs and we’ll work with it if that’s what you want.”


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