Toby Alderweireld admits he was “honoured” after residents of his home town of Ekeren began a petition to erect a statue of the Tottenham defender to replace that former king of Belgium Leopold II, though he has played down suggestions the idea could become a reality.
Likenesses of Leopold II, who oversaw atrocities in the Congo from 1885 to 1908, have been graffitied or removed following anti-racism protests across Belgium, which were sparked by the killing of George Floyd in the United States last month.
One such statue was removed from the centre of Ekeren, a northern district of the municipality of Antwerp, as protestors call for the country to confront its colonial past.
Some locals quickly decided on who they wanted as a replacement, with more than 900 people signing a petition calling for a statue of Alderweireld. The 31-year-old, though, isn’t taking the calls for him to be immortalised in bronze seriously.
“I was laughing.I thought it was some kind of joke, that people are actually signing the petition,” he told the Guardian .
“I have to say I’m a little bit honoured as well. It’s a small town in Belgium and until I was 15 I spent my youth there. I went to school there and I still go back. If they really wanted to I would never say no because I would be honoured, but I will not sign my own petition. Of all the people who have, I think about 80 per cent are my friends.
“I would never say: ‘This is a good time to put up a statue of me,’ because I don’t think I will ever deserve a statue."
Alderweireld would not be drawn on the removal of the King Leopold II statue, though he does agree that lessons can be learned from the actions of previous generations.
“I don’t know if it’s good to take down the statue and I’m not going to get involved in that, but I do think it’s good to look back at the history and learn from it,” he added.
“It’s the same with the history from the world wars. Of course I’m disgusted about all the things that have involved racism and I will never understand it, but taking a statue down? All I will say is that we have to look to that period and look at what went wrong so we never get in that situation again.”
Alderweireld and his Tottenham team-mates have been gearing up for the return of the Premier League, with their first match since the coronavirus shutdown against Manchester United on Friday.
The unscheduled break has worked in Tottenham’s favour, as it gave forwards Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min extra time to recover from injuries that were originally expected to rule them out fo the rest of the campaign.
“In training he looks fully fit, top fit, so we’re going to see the old Kane again,” Alderweireld said. “He has been out for a longer period so his desire to show everyone is unbelievable, so you’re going to see a very good Kane.”
Alderweireld also insists that the rest of the squad kept themselves fit during the three-month break, meaning they will be fully prepared when they face the Red Devils on Friday.
“Everyone went into ‘beast mode’ – training, training,” he said. “We didn’t know when we were going back. Maybe the week after, two weeks after. So people think we were on holiday but we sure weren’t.
“When we were back training we felt like: ‘I’m ready,’ not like in pre-season when it’s: ‘Oh, I have to start all over again, I feel muscle pain.”