Tottenham defender Toby Alderweireld has admitted he was 'honoured' to find about a petition to have his own statue erected in Belgium, but added that he won't be signing the 890-signature strong petition to make it happen.
Local residents started the campaign to erect a likeness of Alderweireld in place of the statue depicting King Leopold II of Belgium, who oversaw atrocities in Africa at the end of the 19th century which led to over 10 million Congolese deaths.
The defacing of Leopold's statue comes amid global protests originally sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the reaction of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Several statues of historic figures have been targeted by anti-racism protesters due to their prevalence in the slave trade or colonialism; most notably Christopher Columbus in many US towns and Edward Colston in Bristol.
Speaking to The Guardian about potentially having his own statue replace King Leopold in his home town of Ekeren, Alderweireld admitted he was shocked that so many people had signed the petition on Change.org.
“I was laughing, I thought it was some kind of joke, that people are actually signing the petition," he said. “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."
The blurb of the online petition for the monument to the Spurs defender reads: "In addition to being a talented and successful footballer, Toby is known to have never forgotten his roots: the stories of homesickness during his Ajax period are widely known, and he has the cathedral tattooed on his arm.
"Therefore, he certainly deserves to be honoured in the central square of his own village. A man who represents our entire nation internationally, puts the village of Ekeren on the map and is welcomed by people of all backgrounds."
The 31-year-old, however, added he won't be signing the petition himself: "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% are my friends.”
Other than being one of the finest centre-halves his country has ever produced, it may be the Spurs man's actions during lockdown which has led to many seeing Alderweireld as a worthy alternative to Leopold.
Alderweireld bought and donated phones and tablets to hospitals and care homes in Belgium and the UK to allow patients to make video calls to their loved ones who they could not see because of the threat of coronavirus.
The tongue-in-cheek petition to replace a colonialist statue with a footballer is not unique, with a similar campaign on the Change platform seeking to take down the statute of slaver Sir Hans Sloane in London and erect one of Chelsea strike duo Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink and Eidur Gudjohnsen.