Had Jose Mourinho got his way last summer, Toby Alderweireld would be a Manchester United player.
If reports from around the time are to be believed, the Belgian was Mourinho’s top target, with Ed Woodward’s refusal to sanction a deal for the Tottenham Hotspur centre back sparking the start of a spiral that would see the Portuguese out of a job by Christmas.
With another summer transfer window starting to appear on the horizon, it seems that Alderweireld will once again be the subject of much speculation. Man Utd have, once again, been linked. But, it is the mention of Arsenal as potential suitors which is most compelling.
We all remember the last time a world class central defender crossed the North London divide (no, not William Gallas). Sol Campbell’s move from Spurs to Arsenal 18 years ago was arguably the most astonishing transfer ever witnessed in the Premier League era and so his name will be brought up if Alderweireld makes the same switch.
Of course, the waves of an Alderweireld move to the Emirates Stadium wouldn’t be as choppy.
Campbell was, at the time, Spurs captain. Alderweireld, by contrast, has been in and out Mauricio Pochettino’s starting line-up this season, with youngsters Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth often preferred.
Despite this, Alderweireld should be a priority for Arsenal this summer. While Unai Emery has made great strides since arriving in North London, with the Gunners on course for a top four finish playing a brand of exciting, attacking football, there remains more than a hint of Arsene Wenger-era weakness at the back.
On ability alone, there’s a case to be made that Alderweireld is still Spurs’ best centre back. He is certainly more accomplished than both Foyth and Sanchez, who Pochettino has surely phased into the team in anticipation of Alderweireld leaving at the end of the season.
At 30 years old, it’s now or never for Spurs to get some value out of the Belgian.
Arsenal’s transfer policy, at least in the post-Wenger age, isn’t too dissimilar from Spurs’ and so it could be pointed out that Alderweireld doesn’t fit their strategy. The Gunners should make an exception for him, though, especially if the mooted price of £25m is accurate. Alderweireld would give Emery the defensive leader he currently lacks.
At that price, Arsenal would likely face stiff competition for the Belgian’s signature. United need a centre HALF just as desperately as they did a year ago and with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reportedly promised a £200m transfer budget this summer, a deal for Alderweireld at £25m would be a shrewd use of that money. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have also been mentioned as suitors.
A tough sales pitch might be required to convince Alderweireld that Arsenal can offer him something Man City, Man Utd and PSG cannot, but they must at least put their case forward. Emery needs a defensive kingpin to lead from the back and Alderweireld would be that figure.
As long as Koscielny and Sokratis remain the Gunners’ first choice centre back pairing, their progress will remain incremental.
Emery has done well to partially overhaul the culture of mediocrity that had festered under his predecessor, with Arsenal no longer the soft touch they were under Wenger. But the Spaniard is still to be truly backed in the transfer market. £80m-worth of signings were made last summer, but only one of those additions (Lucas Torreira) tipped the scales over £30m. The big money signing of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette and Henrikh Mkhitaryan were made for Wenger the season before that.
The suggestion is that Arsenal don’t plan on shopping at the top level of the transfer market as long as prices are inflated so grossly, but this is why an exception must be made for Alderweireld if he’s available for £25 million.
The Belgian would have little sell-on value and at 30 he might be at the peak of his powers for only another three seasons, but he’s what Arsenal need.