From Ligue 1 superstar to Mourinho’s scapegoat – the curious case of Tanguy Ndombele
When Tottenham Hotspur signed Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyon for a club-record transfer fee last summer, it was met with a lot of fanfare and deservedly so. Here was a player who had absolutely dominated the French footballing scenes over the 2018/19 campaign and was being chased by the who’s who of Europe.
Indeed, the midfield powerhouse had a stellar season last time out, finishing with two goals and eight assists for the French outfit, helping them to a third-place finish in the Ligue 1 table. So, the elation among Tottenham fans when their club clinched Ndombele’s transfer was not surprising.
And the start he made to life in North London – a thunderous goal on his Premier League debut against Aston Villa, followed by an assist in the next game against champions Manchester City, Tottenham seem to have struck gold with Ndombele’s signing. Tottenham seemed to have finally found a player who could fill the void left in the midfield engine room following Mousa Dembele’s departure.
Fast forward seven months though, things are not looking so rosy for the 23-year-old. Ndombele finds himself warming the bench under new Tottenham manager Jose Mourinho. On the rare occasion he has featured in the team, the Frenchman has drawn serious criticism from his manager and pundits alike.
So, what has gone wrong for the French international at Tottenham?
There’s no denying that Ndombele is a prodigious talent that has all the tools needed to succeed in the game. One just needs to look at his performances for Lyon last season– including two against Manchester City in the Champions League, to recognize the fact that the Frenchman is brimming with unbridled potential.
The way he can glide past opponent players smoothly, or pick a precise pass through a packed area on the field, while at the same time being able to use his physicality to win midfield battles– Ndombele is a complete package.
In many ways, on paper, he should have been a major upgrade on Mousa Dembele at Tottenham - a much-more technically polished version of the Belgian with the ability to impact games going forward.
But, seven months into his debut campaign, Tottenham fans have only gotten to see the shell of a man who dominated midfields in France last year.
One should obviously take into consideration that making the step up to the rigours Premier League for a player from outside will always be difficult in his first year. However, Ndombele had shown last season in his Champions League appearances that he was ready to take that step.
Injuries, on a regular basis, have also hampered the midfielder. Often it has been the case that he is back for a couple of games, and then goes on to miss a stretch of matches. This can have a debilitating effect on any player’s confidence, let alone a player burdened by a club-record price-tag playing in one of the toughest club competitions. More so, considering that he had hardly missed any matches due to injuries during his time at Lyon.
Injuries aside though, Ndombele has just not shown enough when fit to justify Tottenham’s outlay on him. Only 17 of his 27 appearances in all competitions have been from the start and while a return of 2 goals and 4 assists does seem decent enough, it does not tell the entire story.
Often, Ndombele’s attitude and determination have been called into question. During the Premier League match against Wolves, he came on as a substitute with his team losing. And yet, more most of his time on the field, the 23-year-old looked disinterested as he ambled on the pitch without any intent or sense of urgency.
Then, handed a start in the next game against Burnley due to the other players being drained out, Ndombele, who had been relatively fresh to most of his teammates, flattered to deceive again. Failing to make a single tackle or interception, the Frenchman allowed Burnley to run all over him, before Mourinho decided to whisk him off at half-time.
“In the first half we didn't have a midfield. I have to say he [Ndombele] has had enough time to come to a different level. I know the Premier League is difficult, and some players take a long time to adapt to a different league.
“He has to do much better and know I cannot keep giving him opportunities to play because the team is much more important,” Mourinho told the press, not pulling any punches in his criticism of the midfielder.
Football pundit and Liverpool legend Jamie Carragher also joined the bandwagon, branding Ndombele a disgrace. “His performance was nothing short of a disgrace in terms of his effort off the ball. He just seems to walk about and not move until the ball comes near him. He likes to tell other people what to do.”
As mentioned previously, Ndombele is a bundle of talent. But, injuries seem to have crippled his confidence while his lackadaisical attitude on the field is definitely holding him back at the moment.
This is in complete contrast to the Ndombele that was seen playing France not very long ago. “He runs everywhere; he doesn’t stop,” Chelsea midfielder and France international teammate N’Golo Kante had claimed after Ndombele’s debut for Les Bleus against Iceland.
Once compared to former Chelsea and Real Madrid midfielder Michael Essien, Ndombele is now staring at the prospect of being branded the worst signing of the summer. For him to change that perception, the 23-year-old needs to start performing better, which he is very much capable of doing.
Feature image courtesy: AFP/ ANDREJ ISAKOVIC