Tottenham Hotspur fans erupted with glee and anticipation after Spurs signed Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon last week. The Lyon midfielder is 22, one of the best and most coveted young midfielders in the game right now, and somehow ended up at Spurs, where he will waltz into the starting lineup and help fix Tottenham’s biggest problem from last season.
Spurs’ midfield was a major issue and changed the way the Champions League finalists played due to a combination of injury and attrition, especially after Spurs sold Mousa Dembele to Chinese Super League side Guangzou R&F in January. Ndombele’s skill-set is not the same as Dembele’s — no other midfielder possesses that unicorn-like combination of talents — but his passing, press resistance, and dribbling ability should make Spurs able to play through the middle again like they used to.
Now, for the first time, Ndombele has opened up to the media in his first interview since signing for Tottenham. Speaking in the print edition of L’Equipe, Ndombele said that the move to Spurs to work with Mauricio Pochettino was the correct one for him at this stage in his career. He comes across as a very grounded person, a man who knows what he wants, but also knows he still has a long way to go.
“I think it’s a great choice. What guided me was the Premier League, the Top 4 in England, a very good coach who’ll help me reach another level. I’m at a crossroads. You weigh up the pros and cons and you choose. As a man it’s good to move to London. It will allow me to discover a new country, a new football culture. I’m leaving my cocoon.
“[Spurs] have a quite young team, with very good players. You can’t not look at the project of a Champions League finalist. Investing €70m [in me] is a strong statement. When I see Spurs I see a big European club, another dimension. It’s the best choice to reach the next level.”
Most Spurs fans are still pinching themselves over the fact that Ndombele, one of the best young midfielders in Europe, actually ended up at Tottenham. We’ve already talked on this site about what all needed to happen for this move to take place, including rich clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus, and Manchester United looking elsewhere. But even so, Ndombele wouldn’t not have signed with Spurs if he had not wanted to come, and the decision to leave for north London was not taken lightly. Ndombele said that he was convinced by Mauricio Pochettino, who told him he could improve his game.
“It’s a carefully thought-out decision. Tottenham have one of the best coaches in the world. The fact that he wants you really makes you want to work with him. It’s he who tipped the balance in my decision.
“It’s hard to describe but he knows how to touch, to mark people. He looked me in the eye and said ‘come with me and I’m sure I’ll help you progress.’ That kind of thing made me want to sign. I saw that he really wanted and liked me.”
One of the (few) criticisms of Ndombele’s game at Lyon was that he rarely scored from open play. While he was very involved in the buildup to Lyon’s attack, he had just three goals in all competitions last season. But that aspect of his game is something that he says is a challenge that he wants to improve, and thinks Pochettino is the manager who can help him develop that part of his game.
“It’s an objective to work on. A box-to-box midfielder needs to score and I don’t have that yet. I’m missing the determination to score goals. I prefer making the play. I need to change that.
“I have qualities that are different to others’. But I’m joining an established group. I need to add my part. When you’re a Champions League finalist... they didn’t say it to me but as I’m a competitor, I think the club wants to win the Champions League.”
Young players, especially ones who explode onto the scene in big-money moves like Ndombele (or Paul Pogba before him) are frequently compared to the players that came before them. Ndombele has been compared to Pogba, and has also been called the “new Michael Essien” and “new Ngolo Kante.” But that doesn’t faze Tanguy. He says he’s not here to live in the shadows of past greats — he’s here to make his own mark in the game, and Spurs are the place he wants to make it.
“I’ve heard it all. I’m here to walk my own path. Paul [Pogba] took his in England. I’m Tanguy, not the new Essien, not the new Pogba.
“Me. I want to be me, to become what I should be. I’m here to work. I’m 22, I don’t think I’m yet at my best. I hope not anyway.”
Music to Tottenham Hotspur fans’ ears.