Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino says he would have risked Toby Alderweireld’s career if he had included him in the squad for Tuesday’s game against Juventus.
Alderweireld, sidelined since Nov. 1 with a torn hamstring, did not travel to Turin for the Champions League round-of-16 first leg, despite coming through 90 minutes on his return in the FA Cup win over Newport last Wednesday.
The Belgium international was also left out of the 18-man squad for Saturday’s north London derby win against Arsenal, and Pochettino said he did not want to take chances with Alderweireld’s future.
“From the day he got injured, our idea was to create a plan to help him, and we worked together with the medical and sports science [teams] to analyse his injury,” Pochettino said.
“He is 28 and it was a massive injury that we need to care for, and be cautious because we cannot put his career at risk. We designed a plan from day one to provide him with best tools to recover as soon as possible and be stronger than before.
“He started to work with the team, under our judgement, and he needed to build his fitness strongly. He needs to work hard. To play this type of game [against Juventus] you need to be 200 percent. Competing is not the same as training and that’s why we are caring about him with our plan. In the moment he will be in a condition to play in high-level again, he can compete for one place in the starting XI.
“It’s always what we try to do with different players and of course we are sorry for him to miss games like Arsenal or the Champions League. We work a lot to try to play this type of game. I can understand and we are frustrated too. When you can’t play it’s difficult to accept.
“Of course it’s a very important game but he will have the chance and be strong after the injury but we need to apply our common sense and be careful in how we will use him in the first few weeks after he is fit for training.
“To compete is different. We were lucky to have the replay against Newport for him to start to feel the competition. If all is going well he will be part of the team next Sunday against Rochdale [in the FA Cup fifth round]. We’re going to assess him day by day.”
Alderweireld first declared himself fully fit on Jan. 24 and, speaking after coming through the replay against Newport, he insisted he was ready to face Arsenal.
Pochettino, though, said players always believe they are fit to play and revealed that he and assistant manager Jesus Perez had a two-hour conversation with the Belgian in which they explained he was yet ready.
“We explained during two hours — first it was a conversation with Jesus and for nearly two hours with Jesus and myself after the Liverpool game,” he said.
“We understand the player last season was working hard to try to play in the Champions League and it is normal it is exciting to have the possibility to play. The player always feels they are fit to play but it is our responsibility together — the medical and fitness area — to take the best decision.
“For us it is easy to put the player to play and then if something wrong happens, the responsibility is with us. Then the player is put at risk. With different injuries,
“OK, you can take the risk but with this injury be careful. Look at different players that have set-backs, like Ross Barkley, and be careful because he is not 20 years old, he is 28, 29.
“My responsibility is to put him in at his best and not take risks. 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.”
Apart from Alderweireld and young defenders Juan Foyth and Kyle Walker-Peters, Pochettino has brought a full squad to Italy but he said there was no comparing the two clubs.
“I think Juventus is a massive club,” he said. “We cannot compare with Juventus. In their history they won everything. In the last three seasons they play in two Champions League finals.
“At Tottenham we’re building a nice project — new facilities like training ground, a new stadium. It’s impossible to compare their history with Tottenham. Of course our dream is to reach the level of Juventus. We’re going to be competitive and we’ll see if we can compete tomorrow. I’m so excited. My focus tomorrow to try to play the game and be competitive.
“Always my dream as a coach, when I started with Espanyol, was to play in the Champions League against a team like Juventus in Turin. It’s an exciting moment for us that we want to enjoy with good ideas.”