A blog following in Dennis' footsteps. Ajax, Arsenal and Dutch football
My name is Willem (@BergkampFlick) and I’m an Arsenal fan from Holland. This is the first time I ever wrote in English, so any positive and/or negative feedback is more than welcome. If you like this post, please share it. Enjoy!
Now that the silly season has officially started up again, and every player in the world is linked to every club in the world, we could do with a little bit more in-depth reading.
Although fuelled by the ‘Alderweireld to Arsenal’ rumour, this piece is just a short analysis of what I believe a modern-day centre back should be and how Toby Alderweireld fits that mould.
Defending isn’t what it used to be. In the modern game, a defender has to be able to do much more than being a hard, strong tackling presence at the back. The beautiful game has changed over the years, and defenders have had to adapt to that. A few prominent examples of the complete modern defender: Thiago Silva, Gerard Piqué, and.. Toby Alderweireld.
This is not a qualitative comparison between Toby Alderweireld and the other two players, who are both among the top-5 defenders in the world. It’s merely an analysis, for the young, relatively unknown Belgian exemplifies the qualities I believe are indispensable for a modern-day defender.
I asked Mohamed Moallim (@Jouracule), writer on Dutch football for FourFourTwo magazine, about his opinion on Terror Toby. Here’s what he had to say:
How do you rate Toby Alderweireld?
I like him. He reminds me of Gerard Piqué in terms of composure and technique. He does however have the occasional ‘brain fart’: rash tackling.
What level do you think he is capable of?
I think below world class
Do you think he’ll overcome those ‘brain farts’ in time, being only twenty-three, and do you think [Ajax manager] Frank de Boer is good for his development?
I can’t see why he couldn’t overcome those ‘brain farts’. Frank de Boer is perfect in that aspect. He is simplifying Alderweireld’s game. Keep in mind that Ajax defend as a unit: Circulation football with forward pressing. In this system Alderweireld is effectively a playmaker, he builds attacks. As a defender he reads the game well and is aerially competent.
Alderweireld joined the Ajax youth ranks in 2004, after spending 5 years at Germinal Beerschot Antwerpen (GBA impressingly also produced his compatriots Jan Vertonghen and Thomas Vermaelen). The Godenzonen are famed for their youth system and have a history of producing technically skilled, complete footballers ever since the days of Rinus Michels and Johan Cruijff.
Unsurprisingly, the three Belgian musketeers are able to play in multiple positions, ranging from every position along the back line to defensive midfielder. While Vermaelen is often seen as the best of the terzetto, Alderweireld has a very bright future ahead of him.
Already having played over 170 professional games in his career (of which 35 in European club competitions), Alderweireld is a more experienced player than his age would suggest. In Ajax’ 6 matches in the Champions League’s so called Group Of Death, Terror Toby achieved a neat 85,5% passing success, playing an average of 68.8 passes per match.
A large part of the player’s development is down to Frank de Boer. The former defender played over 750 professional games in his career, so he naturally has plenty of advice for a young defender like Toby. Having played under Van Gaal in his Ajax and Barcelona days, de Boer was naturally inclined to play possession-based, passing football as a player. As a manager he has brought that philosophy back to Ajax, where he originally learned this style. Toby also has a similar long shot and –pass ability as his mentor.
This is helping the 23 year old a great deal, because the team’s pressing relieves pressures on the defenders, and the short-passing philosophy allows him to express his footballing qualities.
Since Frank de Boer took over, Ajax have won back-to-back titles. On both occasions they conceded the least amount of goals in the league, and although Ajax’ style of play as well as Jan Vertonghen and Kenneth Vermeer played a big part in that, Alderweireld’s contribution has to be celebrated as well.
Altogether, I have every reason to believe that Toby Alderweireld will be a great defender in a couple of years. With Frank de Boer’s guidance and a few years of maturing in the Eredivisie, I can easily see him playing for one of the top clubs in Europe’s top-5 leagues. It’s up to him to prove me right.