Tottenham Hotspur manager Mauricio Pochettino has dismissed speculation linking Toby Alderweireld with a possible departure, insisting his decision not to include the defender in the squad for Tuesday's meeting with Juventus is for the player's own good.
The Belgium international is on the comeback trail after injury, and while he featured in the recent FA Cup win over Newport County, he wasn't involved in Saturday's 1-0 win against Arsenal nor will he feature opposite the Italian champions in the UEFA Champions League.
His absence has triggered speculation about a possible transfer, but Pochettino insisted he is being cautious with Alderweireld's comeback, per Dan Kilpatrick of ESPN FC:
"My responsibility is to put him in at his best and not take risks," the Spurs boss said. "It is another thing players when they are on the pitch they are taking a risk because football is about risks. But not if we don't feel he is in a condition to cope with the demand of this type of game in the Champions League, or Arsenal or Liverpool. That is the reality."
Pochettino also cited the example of Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley, who has recently suffered a recurrence of a hamstring problem.
As noted by Het Laatste Nieuws' Kristof Terreur, the Tottenham boss has been more cautious with Alderweireld's recuperation than he has been with other members of his squad:
Kristof Terreur 📰 @HLNinEngeland
Comebacks: Lamela (🚑 1 year) ©️Starts for Spurs U23 (18/11) ❌ not in sq ❌ not in sq ✅Sub on (28/11) Wanyama (🚑 4 months) ©️Sub-on vs Swansea (2/1) ✅Sub-on (4/1) ✅Starts (7/1) ✅Sub-on (13/1) Alderweireld (🚑3 months) ©️Starts vs Newport (7/2) ❌not in sq ❌not in sq https://t.co/6alQaTOvYM
It was reported by the Daily Telegraph's Matt Law earlier in the week that Alderweireld's omission from the squad for Tuesday's game has brought his long-term future under scrutiny.
Law wrote that Manchester City, Chelsea and Real Madrid are all keeping an eye on developments regarding the 28-year-old. Alderweireld's contract is set to expire in 2019, and while Spurs have the option to extend the deal by a year, a £25 million release clause would come into effect.
Clubs would have no issue paying that type of money for a man arguably regarded as the best centre-back in the Premier League when he's at his best.
The Belgian reads the game well, relishes physical battles and forges a rock-solid partnership at the base of Pochettino's team alongside Jan Vertonghen. Additionally, the former Atletico Madrid man is excellent on the ball, meaning he's often the man to initiate Tottenham attacks.
Losing him would be a big setback, although football writer Raj Bains doesn't believe these latest instances point to an exit:
Spurs will want Alderweireld to be at his best when he does return, as they continue to fight on three fronts. In the Champions League and the FA Cup, they'll be hopeful of making deep runs, while in the Premier League, they remain in a fight with Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea for a top-four berth.
In key games against Arsenal and Juventus, playing Alderweireld, who will still be recovering match sharpness, would have been a risk. Pochettino will hope his patient approach with the player prevails later in the campaign.