Tanguy Ndombele made his first significant contribution to Tottenham Hotspur in several weeks during last Sunday’s 2-0 win over Manchester City. A second half substitute, Tanguy off the bench and immediately putting a through ball to Son Heung-Min for Spurs’ second goal and also displayed some delightful moves while taking on City midfielder Rodri. It was a positive shift for Tanguy who has been in and out of the side all season, and has raised hopes that he’s finally set for increased minutes in Spurs’ midfield going forward, starting perhaps with today’s FA Cup replay against Southampton.
Spurs manager Jose Mourinho was asked about Ndombele’s situation in a press conference ahead of today’s match and the Spurs manager addressed his unfortunate injury situation this year and the steps the club has taken to help his continued integration into the team.
“He didn’t have a proper pre-season, then he had injuries in Mauricio’s time and then I arrived and he has had injuries again. Not big things but small things which stop him and break his evolution. He played with me the first match against Norwich and it was the only match where he played for 90 [with me]. Then he breaks again.
“We are trying to give him the best possible condition to not have another stop. We are taking care of him at every level. We did a ‘global programme’ with him to try to take care of him. We are talking about his work with the group, his individual work, his sports science, his nutrition, everything. It’s like a full package to try to give him the best condition.
”He played well when he came on [against City]. He is not with [injury] problems now, he is training normally and now it is time, instead of playing 15 or 20 minutes, to play more. So, yes [it is time for him to step up].
”He is a player with amazing quality. I don’t think he can play 90 minutes. Can he start, and we take him [off] later? Can we see how Dele Alli is? Let’s see.”
It’s not clear (yet) exactly what the question posed to Mourinho was that prompted this answer, but by the context we can assume it was something along the lines of “Is it time Tanguy Ndombele steps up for Spurs?” And in that context I hate the framing of Mourinho’s answer. There’s already a pervasive thread concerning Ndombele in the media this season that subtly implies that he’s lazy, undisciplined, unfit, uncaring. You have to go back to his days as a teenager at Amiens to get there, but those allegations have dogged him in the English media and on social media this entire season, and his various injury setbacks haven’t helped him at all. Asking “does Tanguy need to step up” is framing the issue that the problem with Ndombele is less an unfortunate series of injuries and more that he just isn’t being enough of a try-hard. I think that’s kind of crummy way of looking at it.
But that’s not really what Mourinho is saying here. I don’t get anything in Mou’s comments that suggests he’s frustrated with Tanguy’s effort. If there’s frustration, it’s that Tanguy has had some horrific injury luck that has severely curtailed his integration into English football, and has required a complete and comprehensive training regimen to turn things around.
More, the implication from Mou is that Spurs fans have only gotten a small taste of what Ndombele can bring to this Tottenham side. Giovani Lo Celso is a player who, once allowed to settle and adapt, has quickly evolved in public opinion from disappointing expensive foreign signing to key player. My sense is that the challenges are greater for Ndombele but that the club recognizes his ability and are slowly trying to mold him into a player less prone to small injuries and more able to quickly bounce back from setbacks.
At any rate, I don’t get the sense that Mourinho is frustrated at Tanguy, but at the situation he’s in now. That bodes well for Ndombele’s future. Maybe we won’t see exactly what he can do for Spurs even this season, but hopefully everything the club is doing for him off the pitch will pay dividends going forward.