It would hardly feel like a season in the Premier League if Spurs didn’t have one of their best players constantly linked with a transfer. The subject of this year’s edition of the nasty rumor mill is defensive stalwart Toby Alderweireld. Though the veteran defender is currently working his way back to fitness (Belgium passed him fit this week), he is without a doubt one of the most important men in Pochettino’s squad when available.
The sticking point this season is simple; Toby’s contract is up soon and the club are reportedly refusing to meet his wage demands for an extension. If you can believe the numbers that have been tossed around, Toby is looking for around £150,000 a week—a figure that would make him the highest paid player at the club. For context, Harry Kane is only on around £100,000 a week. Spurs do, however, have one of the most generous incentive structures (i.e., performance bonuses) of any current Premier League club.
So how do the club solve this conundrum? There’s no question Toby is a hugely valuable player, so losing him could be quite an issue. But paying up isn’t necessarily the best choice either, as it could unsettle the rest of the squad who make significantly less per week than Toby is asking for. It’s a catch-22 for manager Pochettino and club chairman Daniel Levy.
Fortunately for them, I’m here to drop some knowledge.
Why we could pay Toby: he is really, really good
I’ve been a Spurs fan for quite some time, and in that roughly 15-year span we have been known for being quite a leaky defensive outfit. Since his arrival in 2015, however, Toby has gone a good way toward helping us shed that stereotype. In every season he’s been at Spurs, we’ve had either the fewest or joint-fewest goals conceded in the league. This season looks to be the first that will buck that trend, which is not surprising given Toby has started just 10 games.
Beyond the facts and figures (since I know not everyone loves statistics), Toby also looks extremely comfortable and effortless in his defensive duties when fit. He’s a real leader at the back, and actively improves the play of those around him in a manner similar to Jan Vertonghen. Young players like Davinson Sanchez and Juan Foyth clearly benefit from playing next to Toby, as do our fullbacks. Wide defenders Kieran Trippier and Ben Davies in particular seem to need Toby in the back line to prevent them from playing a daft offside line at times.
So, Toby is a statistically solid player, fun to watch in games, and a stabilizing influence on his fellow defenders. What’s not to like?
Why we won’t pay Toby: we’re too cheap
I can almost hear the groans of the pro-Levy brigade as I type this section, but hear me out here. Our wage structure is absurdly limited by the standards of a top 6 club. Now, I know we have the new stadium to pay for and I know that staying in the green is paramount to create long-term success. But let’s be honest, people; we’re not exactly hurting for cash.
Spurs routinely make a profit during transfer windows and our net spend (i.e., what we make back each year vs. what we spent) is regularly among the lowest in the entire league, let alone the top four clubs. City, United, and Chelsea for example almost never recoup their financial losses from big-money transfers. On top of being frugal with incoming transfers, we’ve also made a habit of developing our own players instead of buying them. Kane, Dele, and Dier were all either homegrown or brought in for less than £5M. Not a single one of them would go for anything less than £50M if we put them up for transfer tomorrow.
Point is…we’re not strapped for cash. Some of our players are also wildly over-performing expectations and deserve to be rewarded for that. At any other top club in Europe, Kane would be on close to double his current wages. I’m not saying we need to compete at the £200,000+ level from a salary perspective, but we can certainly afford to go north of £100,000 for most of our starting XI.
All that said, Levy probably won’t budge on the wage limit anytime soon. Which means Toby is most likely gone this summer, as it’s our last chance to offload him for a transfer fee instead of seeing him walk as a free agent.
My thoughts: pay the man
I’ve been shocked lately to find that most Spurs fans seem happy to let Toby go this summer if a cut-price deal can’t be reached. Do these people not remember where we were just 4-5 years ago, conceding a boatload of goals each season because our defense was a mess? Have they forgotten the Vlad Chiriches and Fazio era? Or the years of Younes “marauding center back” Kaboul and Michael Dawson? Daws may be a proper yiddo, but he was a bang-average defender whose heart always surpassed his game intelligence.
Anyway, the arguments I’m seeing against re-signing Toby are…
First, people are happy to see Toby go because they think paying him what he wants will unsettle the rest of the squad. That would be true if not for the fact that you could also just raise everyone else’s wages too. I’m not a mathematician, but if you took our starting XI and gave them each a £30K per week pay rise, you’d be looking at roughly £12.5M additional spend each season. Our payouts from Champions League, our league finish, and TV deals alone could probably cover that. We wouldn’t even have to dip into our transfer funds (which always wind up in the green anyway), or our rising ticket prices to cover that. Plus, if you’re re-committing a solid starting XI to long-term deals, you don’t need to go buy new players.
Second, fans wants to see Toby go now so we can get some money for him this summer. Again, on the surface this is a good idea. Yet when you start asking yourself where that money is going to go, it becomes less so. What good is an extra £50M if we are…
A) not going to re-invest it in the squad
B) not going to reduce ticket prices
C) not going to use it to raise other player’s contracts to be at least closer to other top clubs
History would suggest that none of the above are likely to happen even if we sell Toby. So why make the team objectively worse for little tangible benefit?
Listen, Toby ain’t no spring chicken. At 29, he’s seeking what is likely the last big contract of his career. If we give it to him, he’ll give us his veteran years (like Vertonghen) and potentially help us win something. If we don’t, he will almost certainly go win something with a club that will pay him what he wants. Which again, given his pedigree and industry standards, his salary demands are not that excessive.
We may be able to afford losing Toby. After all, Davinson Sanchez has made big strides in his first season and is the logical successor. But Toby still has 2-3 great years to give, and I’d hate to see him giving them for another club because we were too cheap to pay a top-5 center back in the world the money he’s very obviously worth.