Dividing a fanbase: The Curious Case of Toby Alderweireld

Image: SpursWeb

Wage structure

Two fairly innocuous words that, in the vast majority of contexts, refer simply to the way someone at the top of a commercial tree pays those clutching onto the branches below them.

But to anyone who associates themselves with Tottenham Hotspur, ‘wage structure’ is a polarising term. A term that defines logic, frugality, principle and – most vitally of all – ambition.

To some, it’s a dirty term.

It signifies a self-imposed restriction on the club’s ability to perform; like a sprinter tying his shoelaces together before a race.

To them, it embodies a trophyless, blinkered stubbornness that costs them opportunities of victory… of glory.

And now, more than ever, it symbolises Toby Alderweireld.

Dripping in six figure salaries

With football continuing to accelerate as a commercial juggernaut like no other, discussions on anything financial in terraces, pubs and workplaces rarely adopt a tone other than the familiar isn’t-it-crazy-what-he-earns scoffing.

Money sloshes in all corners of the Premier League; leaving distinctly average players dripping in six figure weekly salaries.

England’s elite clubs have never been better at marketing their product – particularly at Champions League sides like Spurs, brand (and thereby the customer) is centric to everything they do.

Every ticket sold to ‘Tottenham Hotspur Stadium’, every Nike shirt printed, every gourmet burger scoffed and every beer (brewed within the ground) will be sold at a carefully considered yet heavily inflated price.

Why? Simply because they can be: capitalism in its brashest form.

But what does any of this have to do with the well-coiffured Belgian defender?

Well, the esteemed centre-half now looks almost certain to not feature at that new stadium, after long-term contract discussions ground to a halt.

Why? You guessed it.. the salary! That evil Daniel Levy won’t offer him £150,000 / £180,000 / £200,000 a week – depending on which sensationalised tabloid you read.

The reason is simply to protect Levy’s holy grail: the wage structure. Caving into Toby’s demands, fears the bald-headed wheeler-dealer, would leave his office resembling an A&E waiting room of players looking for their own salary bump.

And perhaps that would be the case. But, these fans scream.. “you’ll have to pay them at some point!”

Love of the team

Actually, that’s probably not correct. As Mr Alderweireld now knows, Levy isn’t at odds of paying anyone a penny more than he fancies.

What’s unique about this is that no one at Spurs is doubting his ability. Some point to his fellow ex-Ajax defender Davinson Sanchez as his heir – but there’s no suggesting he’s even a better option.

So why lose him, then? Well, avoiding the release clauses and image rights technicalities for risk of death by boredom, the answer is actually very simple.

Mauricio Pochettino has built Tottenham Hotspur into a team. Not a group of individuals, with the odd star player – a team.

Each player has an emotional bond with the bloke he happens to be passing a ball to.

Each player wants to do everything he can for the other and their omnipresent Argentinian gaffer.

That’s why Spurs continue to overperform and why Alderweireld’s demands for a big contract, at 29 years old, will not have sat well.

His request to be remunerated at double his current wage, while no doubt a fair ask, flies in the face of what Pochettino’s Tottenham stand for.

It is about the love of the game and, consequently, the love of the team. Money is not a topic he will allow the side to be divided on.

And so, despite being emblematic of the club’s two title challenges and not once appearing to exude anything but complete professionalism, Alderweireld will be treated like an aggressive cancer: cut away before the rest of the body is affected.

Time will tell if – or indeed when – that cancer returns in another form.

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