Mousa Dembele left Tottenham Hotspur for the wider world in the January transfer window. The Belgian midfielder, a longstanding member of Spurs and a fan favorite, moved to China to join Guangzhou R&F in the Chinese Super League for a fee that was around £11m.
Now, in an interview with Sky, Dembele has opened up on the move for the first time, talking about the reasons why he left the Premier League for China and his first impressions of life and football in the far East.
“I like to see myself as open-minded. That is one of the reasons I wanted to come to China. I wanted to see something different.
”I wanted to have a different experience in life. I heard already there is good food in Guangzhou. I will try this a lot. I think my family will enjoy it as well here.
“I feel good - everybody is very welcoming. This is a very important thing if you are new in a club, people try to make you feel very comfortable from the start. I think everybody is doing this and it’s a good feeling for me and it will make it easier to adapt and to feel at home as quickly as possible.”
Moose was a presence in Tottenham’s midfield under Mauricio Pochettino, using his strength on the ball and dribbling ability to dominate Premier League midfields. His skill set was unique to virtually any other midfielder in the league, such that Spurs have been unable to replace him, but have tried to find ways to play differently in midfield in his absence.
Dembele was also frequently injured the past couple of seasons, capped by his missing most of the first half of the league this year. As he aged and his body stopped doing the kinds of things it used to do, Moose was open about the idea of leaving the Premier League for football that was a little slower-paced, and that might extend his career a bit towards the end. Italy was mooted as a possible location, as was China.
But while Dembele reportedly had offers in both locations, he turned down deals this summer that would’ve taken him away from Spurs. It wasn’t until January that the Guangzhou offer came in, and he decided to relocate himself and his family. While he implies there’s a transition, he compared the atmosphere at Guangzhou R&F to something similar to what he experienced in North London.
“I have a small application on my phone that I look into and try to understand some words. Hopefully in six months I will know some words already. I think I know already some words. There is ‘ni hao’, ‘ni hao’ is okay.
”I like the fact there are a lot of jokes on the pitch but when it has to be serious, they are serious, everyone is serious. Between everything, the exercises, the people, the jokes, it’s what I like as well. The jokes and everything is similar to Tottenham. The group atmosphere is very comparable with Tottenham. I like this because in Tottenham it was a good group, everyone was very good together.
”I feel as though here that all the players have a good mentality I think.”
Moose is one of only four international players on the R&F roster along with 34-year old Serbian defender Duško Tošić and Israeli midfielders Eran Sahabi and Dia Saba. The team is managed by former Yugoslavian captain and World Cup 1990 hero Dragan Stojkovic. Guangzhou R&F’s season kicks off on March 2 as R&F travel to Chongqing Lifan.