Sometimes, things happen in soccer/football that are tough to explain. Things happen that beg belief and cause you to sit in silence for a few minutes before you realize your jaw is on the floor. Maybe the unbelievable event makes you turn to a friend and ask “did that really just happen?”
Leicester City winning the title is the most recent example of this phenomenon. It was something that genuinely nobody (save for a few local drunks having the ultimate punt) thought could happen. In 2015, Leicester were almost relegated. In 2016, they won the Premier League.
Gary Lineker tweeted this when it happened:
Leicester City have won the Premier League. The biggest sporting shock of my lifetime, and it's only my team.— Gary Lineker (@GaryLineker) May 2, 2016
The former Spurs and Leicester striker called the Foxes’ victory “the biggest sporting shock” of his lifetime. It’s a bit weird that Gary hasn’t tweeted about it yet, especially because it concerns his other team, but something even less believable is taking place in
North London Northwest London.
Moussa Sissoko has turned his career around at Tottenham Hotspur. He may even be starting to justify his £30 million price tag.
If you’re a Tottenham fan who has been in a coma for the past six months, then you might think I’m playing some sort of mean trick on you, but I’m not. Sissoko has genuinely been one of Mauricio Pochettino’s most important players this season, and he is doing so against some incredible odds.
Sissoko’s career at Tottenham was off to a bad start before it even began. He was signed on deadline day in a move that reeked of desperation. Spurs needed bodies after a relatively quiet summer left the team short of depth, so they jumped for Sissoko despite a late bidding war with Everton that increased the transfer fee. Newcastle fans responded to the transfer by laughing that they had managed to get so much for a player like Sissoko.
Spurs fans were pessimistic about the signing, and they only became more so when Sissoko was retroactively banned that October for an elbow on Bournemouth’s Harry Arter. Moussa was suspended for three games but didn’t end up playing another league game for Spurs until December.
He made only four more Premier League starts for the remainder of the 2016/17 season, and for good reason. The Frenchman seemed like a lost cause. His passing was inaccurate, his decision making was poor, and his touch made it look like he had cinder blocks where his feet should’ve been.
The issues were similar to those that had plagued him in Newcastle. Sissoko took tons of criticism on Tyneside, but he was still never the worst player on some of those struggling teams. He was made to be a scapegoat.
Scapegoating is something the 29-year-old has had to deal with quite a few times during his career. Part of it is because of his clunky style of play on his off-days, but another part undoubtedly has to do with the way he looks. He is not the only French footballer of African descent who has had to overcome similar obstacles.
But Moussa always kept his head down. His attitude never wavered as he played a bench role, and thus he eventually earned the trust of Pochettino.
Last season was better. In a 3-2 victory over West Ham he was solid in midfield and stood tall to laugh in Mark Noble’s face when the little Hammer wanted to scuffle. He started for Spurs away to Real Madrid in the Champions League and shined in the final minutes when it was his turn to kill time near the corner flag.
Sissoko was no longer a liability. Instead, he became a meme thanks to some similarly hilarious heroics.
His step-overs destroyed Swansea City.
He scored a wonder-goal against Huddersfield that those in attendance will remember until their dying days.
The fans began to warm-up to Sissoko. A song was born at the Bernabeu to honor the man and the meme.
“Wake me up, before you go-go. Who needs Bale when you’ve got Sissoko?”
Jokes aside, it started to become apparent that, while not spectacular, Sissoko was a good player to have in the squad. He worked hard and could cover across a few different positions; a midfield-deficient Spurs team desperately needed that.
Pochettino has said as much in the press:
“I think he’s a very honest, professional player. You know what you are going to receive from him ... I am happy that the fans are starting to see him like a player who helps the team and helps the club and recognize his value. Of course we cannot ask him to do different things, or things we can ask of another player, but he will always give you all that he has inside.”
Sissoko’s value has been even more evident this season. Injuries to Harry Winks, Eric Dier, Mousa Dembele, and Victor Wanyama have all taken their toll, and not a single player was signed in the summer to back them up, partially because of Sissoko’s ability to cover in midfield.
Sissoko was probably Spurs’ best player on the pitch in the recent 1-0 win over West Ham. His final ball has been much-maligned in the past, but it was his pinpoint pass that assisted Erik Lamela for the game’s only goal.
Again, he’s mostly unremarkable, but he was also very solid at CM against Cardiff City, Crystal Palace, and Manchester City. The liabilities in this Spurs team are quite clearly the fullbacks, not Sissoko (who by the way can cover at fullback too in a pinch).
So why not enjoy a player who is thriving in his limited role? Spurs’ fan-base has calmed down with the jeers, but there is still negativity towards Sissoko that I don’t understand.
There are those who still recoil upon seeing his name in the starting lineup, despite the fact that he is currently playing better than Dier and Wanyama. And there are those who push back against praise of his play by dismissing him as “still terrible”, or just “still Sissoko.”
Now that he is helping the team in lieu of hurting it, why can’t he just be enjoyed for what he is? If you’re expecting him to ping the ball around the pitch, or beat an opponent with a roulette, then your expectations are the real issue. Isn’t there an intrinsic quality in English football that ugly play can sometimes be beautiful? Why doesn’t that apply to Sissoko?
This is an overused expression, but Moussa Sissoko is the glue that, at the moment, keeps Tottenham sticking together. Without him, Poch would be pulling midfielders from the U18s and Spurs would not be as high in the table as they currently are.
Sissoko has found and embraced an important role with the team...it’s time we embraced him as well.