It’s a done deal. This morning, Tottenham Hotspur officially announced the transfer of midfielder Mousa Dembele to Chinese Super League club Guangzhou R&F for a fee of £11m. pending international clearance.
We have reached agreement with Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F for the transfer of @mousadembele, subject to international clearance.— Tottenham Hotspur (@SpursOfficial) January 17, 2019
It’s hard to overstate what an influence Dembele has had on this Tottenham club. Signed in 2012 by Andre Villas-Boas for £15m, Dembele was originally a striker before being moved back to central midfield at Fulham. It took a while for Spurs to figure out how to use him in their lineups, but eventually he settled in the midfield pivot and became absolutely essential to the way Spurs played under Mauricio Pochettino. He became one of Spurs’ “Belgian bros,” a collection of Belgian internationals that included Jan Vertonghen (his best friend since age 11), Toby Alderweireld, and Nacer Chadli.
Dembele’s skillset in his prime was absolutely unique, and there was no other Premier League player quite like him. He was almost preternaturally good with the ball on his feet, frequently at or near the top of the Premier League in successful dribbles, and seemed to glide through midfield. He was also incredibly resistant to the midfield press, using his strength and guile to bypass opposition midfielders. It was rare to see someone take the ball away from him. Spurs used this skillset to play through the middle of the pitch, with Dembele serving as the conduit between the defense and the creative attacking midfielders. He may not have been the star of the team or scored a lot of goals, but he was most definitely the engine. Pochettino infamously referred to him as a “genius,” and when asked Spurs players almost to a man called Dembele the “best player at the club.” He made a total of 249 appearances for Spurs.
Unfortunately, Father Time caught up with him. He struggled with injuries his last couple of seasons at Tottenham, and Pochettino himself admitted that Dembele was constantly having to manage pain. It was leaked that he was looking for an exit from the frantic Premier League to a league with a slower tempo, and he very nearly left for China last summer. He also had links to clubs in Serie A.
In his farewell interview, Moose referred to Tottenham as “his family.” The feeling is clearly mutual.
At Guangzhou, Dembele will get his wish — a club that needs him (Guangzhou R&F finished mid-table in the Super League last season) and that will pay him massive wages, above what he could get anywhere else, in a league that has a slower tempo and that won’t tax him as much at the end of his career. Dembele seems like he’s finally back from the injury that has kept him out of Spurs’ lineup since November, and it’s safe to say that China has no idea what they’ve got in Moose.
But we do. Farewell, Moose. As far as this Tottenham fan goes, you will always be one of my all-time favorites. You are already missed.