Atlético progress delights ambitious Alderweireld

Defender Toby Alderweireld tells about finding his feet at Club Atlético de Madrid, his hopes for 2014 and why they will be a match for AC Milan in the last 16.

Toby Alderweireld celebrates after scoring in the Copa del Rey on 18 December
Toby Alderweireld celebrates after scoring in the Copa del Rey on 18 December ©Getty Images

The settling-in period at UEFA Champions League challengers Club Atlético de Madrid is over for Belgian international Toby Alderweireld and while he is happy with his progress, he tells there is more to come in 2014.

Drafted in from AFC Ajax for a reported €7m last summer – on the same day midfielder Josuha Guilavogui arrived from AS Saint-Étienne – he has offered coach Diego Simeone a dependable alternative to established central defenders Diego Godín and Miranda. A slightly nervous debut for Los Rojoblancos during the 1-0 Liga reverse away to RCD Espanyol in October aside, Alderweireld has slotted seamlessly into a team challenging for honours on three fronts.

"The adaptation process has been a good one and I am playing more and more so I am very happy," explained the 24-year-old, who has made eight appearances in all competitions for Atlético. "I proved to myself that I could do this [make the move a successful one] and I proved to the coach that all I want is to do my best for this team; I am really enjoying playing here now."

A three-time Eredivisie champion with Ajax, Alderweireld is enjoying his fourth successive UEFA Champions League campaign and says that a strong collective mentality was key to Atlético's group stage success. "Everybody here works very hard," he said. "We have some very talented and experienced players. Nobody here is bigger than the group and that's our strength. We play every game looking for the right result with our coach urging us to go for three points, nothing else."

Alderweireld's international star is also on the rise, with Belgium been billed as possible dark horses for this summer's FIFA World Cup – excitement is building for him and Atlético team-mate Thibaut Courtois. "We know which opponents we have at the World Cup [Algeria, Russia and South Korea] and we want to show the world what kind of team Belgium are," he said of a nation that finished nine points clear of nearest rivals Croatia during an unbeaten qualifying run. "It's been a while since Belgium were at the finals so I am really looking forward to it."  

Before that, though, club matters resume after the winter break with important Liga and UEFA Champions League fixtures to come for Los Colchoneros. Simeone's side face European giants AC Milan in the round of 16 with the first leg taking place at the San Siro on 19 February. Alderweireld believes the two-time UEFA Europa League winners can take their excellent group stage form into the knockout phase.

"Towards the end of the group phase, even though we had qualified [as section winners with two games to spare], we wanted to keep on winning to keep that momentum going," he said. "[At this stage] in the UEFA Champions League they are all big teams so we'll see how we go."