Moussa Sissoko got a big monkey off his back on Saturday. The French midfielder, much derided since his then-record £30m signing from Newcastle in the summer of 2016, poked home a deflected shot past Huddersfield’s keeper in the waning moments of Tottenham Hotspur’s 4-0 win at John Smith’s Stadium, his first goal as a Spurs player.
He probably deserved it. After a horror-show of a campaign last year, Sissoko has seemed to find new life in a somewhat new position this year. But that first Tottenham goal almost didn’t happen. Sissoko recently admitted to Foot Mercato, a French sporting publication, that he strongly considered leaving Spurs after last season, but was convinced by Mauricio Pochettino to give it another chance.
“I lived without any special pressure [this summer] because I had a discussion with [Pochettino] at the end of last season. It had been clear. I was in my corner, I prepared my holidays quietly. I knew I was going to go back to Tottenham. Afterwards, if a club appeared, we would see and discuss it to make the best decision possible. Finally, we decided to stay in Tottenham. I had discussed it with my relatives, with my uncle who is my agent. The best decision for us was to stay in Tottenham. For the moment, we are very happy with this choice and we will do everything to achieve a great season.
“That small discussion [with Pochettino] took place at the end of last season, during a tour in Hong Kong. I wanted to know more about my future and how this new season would unfold. We had an exchange, and everything was clear for him as for me. From then on, we decided to stay in Tottenham...
With Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembele out with an injury, Sissoko has slotted into the center of midfield and has put in undeniably better performances for Spurs this season. But discussing Sissoko amongst Spurs fans is difficult — opinion on Sissoko remains split, and when discussing his performances it’s often difficult to say whether his improvement has been magnified based on his poor performance last season, or whether he is being underrated based on his high transfer fee and the expectations that came with it.
To his credit, Sissoko is not blind to last season, which he had previously referred to as “the worst in [his] career.” It was apparently for that reason that he considered a fresh start away from London.
“I doubted [if I would stay] at one point. Everyone knows I had a tough season last year. I did not want to relive the same season again. From the moment we had this discussion, we thought that several players in the past had trouble in their first season. That was the case for me last year. This season, we thought it was going to be different, we had to work even more. I had the chance this year to have a pre-season, which was not the case with the previous one. I arrived on the last day of the transfer window. This year, I think having a full pre-season, it would have an effect.”
“As a competitor when we go to another club we want to succeed, we want to play a lot of matches. This has not been the case for me but I am still here today. I'm glad I made the choice to stay in Tottenham.
But while Pochettino may have convinced Sissoko to stay, it doesn’t appear that the two have a particularly close relationship, as Poch has with some of his players.
“My relationship with him is a simple relationship between coach and player. He talks to me to express things on the ground, to explain how to play. At times, there are discussions outside of football. We have a fairly simple exchange, as with most players.”
Sissoko seems to perpetuate the idea that new players seem to catch on and begin to perform to their potential in the second year under Pochettino. We saw something similar happen to Son Heung-Min and to a lesser degree to Erik Lamela before his latest injury. Sissoko’s improvement hasn’t been as dramatic, but it has been an improvement, and these latest performances are to Tottenham’s benefit. If it continues, he just might begin to convince even more defiant Spurs fans that he may deserve another chance.