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Spurs and Saints’ tussle for Toby Alderweireld takes more twists and turns

As soon as Atletico Madrid-owned defender Toby Alderweireld began putting in his first brilliant backline performances for loan club Southampton last season, it was clear his future would cause consternation over the summer. However, few would have expected the transfer saga to involve the threat of legal action for Atleti (20/1 with Coral to win the Champions League).

Belgium international Alderweireld had struggled to settle in Madrid after arriving from Ajax, but took to the Premier League like a duck to water, and was said to be attracting attention from the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham, as Saints continued to storm up the table.

Atleti were originally believed to have inserted a buy-out clause into Alderweireld’s loan deal, which would allow Southampton (12/1 for a top four finish) to sign the centre half for a fee of around £6.8m when his temporary stint at St Mary’s expired.

Having conceded just 33 Premier League goals, only second to champions Chelsea on 32, with Alderweireld and Jose Fonte as the main stars in the heart of their defence, it seemed a no-brainer that Saints would move to snap-up the composed centre back for such a bargain price.

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At the time, with now Inter Milan defender Miranda plus Uruguay pair Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez then in their ranks, Atletico appeared to be getting a decent deal. Alderweireld’s unexpectedly excellent outings soon made that clause seem much less appealing for the Spanish capital club, though.

However, Atletico reportedly failed to cancel that clause, which is rumoured to have required a £1.5m payment to Southampton, within the agreed timeframe, meaning Ronald Koeman and co should still have first dibs on the 26-year-old.

Things only began to turn sour when, as predicted, Tottenham were also understood to have shown an interest in Alderweireld, with Spurs chairman and shrewd operator Daniel Levy rumoured to have flown to Spain to seal a deal.

Tottenham are thought to have tabled a £9.2m offer, which would certainly be more tempting to both Atletico and Alderweireld, who could link-up with compatriots Nacer Chadli, Mousa Dembele and ex-Ajax defensive teammate Jan Vertonghen in north London.

Should such a deal go through for impressive Alderweireld, who can also be deployed in defensive midfield or at right back, Southampton could take legal action against Atletico for breaching their agreement, as the Saints strive to avoid the kind of exodus seen at St Mary’s last season.

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Such complex negotiations are uncommon in England, unlike in Italy and Spain, though past precedents have been set. In 2006, a dispute over John Obi Mikel’s move from Lyn Oslo to Manchester United arose, with Chelsea also claiming they had rights to the midfielder.

The disagreement was eventually settled by the Blues, who paid the Red Devils £12m after they terminated their agreement for the Nigerian, allowing Mikel to immediately move to Stamford Bridge.

Selling Alderweireld on for a slightly higher fee to Spurs would not benefit Southampton in the long-term, however, as the 48-capped Belgium defender would be difficult to replace for the prices mooted and Mauricio Pochettino’s men are direct rivals both domestically and in the Europa League.

As Koeman crafts a squad able to compete in that continental competition, having already lost right back Nathaniel Clyne to Liverpool, purchasing the adaptable Atleti star permanently would be the only truly positive result for the much-plundered club.

With Alderweireld supposedly open to the idea of signing for either side, it appears that the decision over whether to abide by the agreement, or risk a legal battle, is down to Atletico alone. Southampton’s strong reaction not to roll over bodes well for fans though, as where Alderweireld ends up could have an important impact on future Europa League places.