Cast your minds back to the summer of 2019. If you can, cast your mind to one very specific date – 1 July.
These were very heady days for one member of the 90min editorial team. The world-renowned Glastonbury festival had just ended, and that one aforementioned editor had just got off the train at Paddington in London and was sat outside on his bags, a mere shell of the person he was a week before.
With that week off had come a total detox from the transfer rumour mill. There was information floating around a week prior that the deal to bring the much-coveted Lyon midfielder Tanguy Ndombele to Tottenham was close to completion. The move was completed the next day.
✍️ We are delighted to announce the signing of Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyonnais.
— Tottenham Hotspur (at ?) (@SpursOfficial) July 2, 2019
The aforementioned member of the 90min editorial team was pretty broken at the time he read that news, but with that lack of energy came unbridled joy and an expectation that Spurs’ soon to be confirmed new signing would revolutionise Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
The highlight of one week was watching IDLES scream in a field, the highlight the next was seeing Tottenham Hotspur splash the cash for the first time in years. It was a simpler time, in that you could go outside, buy some bread from a corner shop and not have to worry anxiously over whether you had put your health at risk unnecessarily.
But fast forward to the present day, and we have a totally different situation.
Where there was once Mauricio Pochettino, there is instead Jose Mourinho. And with that, where there was once unabashed support and commitment to the Tottenham players, there is now scepticism and a grey scowl. It wasn’t good for Ndombele before that fateful night in November, and it hasn’t got any better since.
And now Barcelona – who are in a state of turmoil themselves – have been linked with the midfielder. Now, given that one recent story claimed the Catalan club were willing to listen to offers for just about every first team squad member, it seems unlikely they’d be considering a move for a perennially unfit player, especially following their ordeals with Ousmane Dembele.
Ndombele’s lack of fitness throughout the campaign has been a cause for concern – the France international starting just 12 of a possible 29 Premier League games – and Mourinho’s patience had evidently reached the end of its tether when the Spurs boss criticised the club’s record signing for his absent performance in a 1-1 draw at Burnley.
“He’s a player with great talent. He has to know he has to do much better and know I cannot keep giving him opportunities to play because the team is much more important,” Mourinho said after that match in March. And, unfortunately perhaps, he had a point.
Because for all of Ndombele’s natural talent, not at one point has it married up with with defensive steel or work ethic. He’s averaging around 1.2 tackles a game in the Premier League this season, with midfield rivals Harry Winks, Dele Alli, Eric Dier and Giovani Lo Celso all boasting better numbers. His interception stats aren’t too much better either.
We evidently need to see more commitment from the midfielder. Going out to exercise with Mourinho in a park during a lockdown enforced due to a global pandemic wasn’t the right start, but at least there is some enthusiasm.
The hope is that this lockdown period will give Mourinho time to decipher where Ndombele should play and which players need to feature alongside him. Because let’s be real, the 23-year-old is not going to perform exceptionally in a midfield two behind four attackers at this stage of his career.
The dream scenario is for Ndombele to play alongside Lo Celso as part of a midfield three, with a destroyer like Dier or deep-lying playmaker like Winks sitting deeper to accommodate the aforementioned duo’s attacking forays.
But maybe that’s not realistic. After all, Tottenham fans know it’s acceptable to dream, but not to expect any concrete success. A few top four finishes and a good cup run every other season is all we deserve.
Ultimately, Tottenham cannot and should not be looking to ditch their £55m signing. We’ve only seen fleeting moments of genius, but in those moments we’ve seen a midfielder who can drift past players and start attacks, something which has been sorely missed since the departure of Mousa Dembele.
Faith is needed on both sides, but if Tottenham do end up letting him go, in a few years time they’ll be watching him holding the World Cup and Champions League trophies simultaneously while kissing the Barça and France badges. Because that would be classic Spurs.