Last summer, Belgian defender Toby Alderweireld moved from Dutch side Ajax to Atletico Madrid. A year later, he has failed to become a steady member of the Spanish side’s first XI. But with what could be his do-or-die season ahead of him, he’s best to stay exactly where he is.
Like many Belgian players of his generation, a lot was expected of Toby Alderweireld. And as we’ve seen during the World Cup, it is often difficult for that generation of footballers to live up to those expectations.
While Belgium, who reached the quarter-final, were not exactly a bad side in Brazil, there was a general sense of disappointment surrounding their performances. Creative players like Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne were unable to exert as much influence as was hoped, and the Rode Duivels often seemed unable to force their will on their opponents as a collective.
Similarly, Belgian players like Romelu Lukaku and Marouane Fellaini, at least until recently often hyped up for their talent, find it hard to leave their mark on club football. Of course, these players are still young, but at the moment, the label of “Golden Generation” seems smeared with at least a shimmer of doubt—at least on the surface.
The same holds true for Alderweireld at the moment. As a key man of Ajax’s all-conquering Eredivisie side, he won three Dutch league titles in a row at the club. As was noticed by critics, his aerial abilities and physical strength made him seem like the ideal, modern centre-back. Surely, he was going to a big club in a big league and was going to succeed?
So far, he hasn’t. Atletico Madrid won La Liga and reached the final of the Champions League, but Alderweireld merely played a supporting role in this successful campaign. With fierce competition ahead of him, he hadn’t succeeded in becoming part of manager Diego Simeone’s first XI.
It is, however, just as unfair to label Alderweireld a failure as it is to denounce Belgium’s World Cup run as inadequate. No, he hasn’t been an unequivocal success, but that’s largely because the narrative surrounding him—and the Belgian national team—simply doesn’t live up to reality.
Some people might expect Alderweireld to leave Atletico Madrid and try his luck elsewhere. But it will be difficult for the centre-back to find a club that’s a step up from La Liga’s title winners. Simultaneously, he is too talented to move to a smaller club at this point in his career.
It will be a gamble for Alderweireld. Now that he’s 25, it’s time for him to be granted playing time and become a key member of a prize-winning side. But moving to a new team will not help him achieve that, especially not when you consider the complications and insecurities that come with moving clubs.
Facing a key moment in his career, Alderweireld is best to stay put. Only then can he truly fulfill all the potential that he undoubtedly possesses.
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