The January transfer window is now in the rear view mirror, and Tottenham Hotspur attacking midfielder Dele didn’t get the move to PSG and the reunion with Mauricio Pochettino that he wanted. According to reports, Spurs chairman Daniel Levy blocked the deal when he was unable to secure a replacement for Dele in the transfer window.
So now that Dele is remaining at Spurs at least until summer, it’s in Mourinho’s and the club’s best interest to make the best out of what has been a (really) bad situation. That appears to be what is happening now — Jose has made public statements to the media today acknowledging positive talks with Dele about his future at Spurs, and apparently offering him an olive branch.
“[Dele] needs to recover from his injury, return to training and have a fresh start. Because last week he couldn’t even train – so that’s the most important thing.
“I had a good conversation with him yesterday, we spoke about this question you asked me and we found very common ground, let’s say. “It’s an important period of the season for the team and him, also. We need him. We need a good Dele Alli and we’re just waiting for him to be back to normality and training with the team.”
Without reservation, this is good news. Mourinho’s decision to freeze Dele out of the first team has felt baffling to a lot of Spurs fans, even considering Dele’s poor form at the start of the season. No one doubts Dele’s quality as a footballer, though there have been questions about the way Dele fits into Mourinho’s prefered tactics.
Even so, Spurs have been hit with a few critical injuries lately, and Dele could absolutely help mitigate those, if he were to be given a chance. Mourinho’s comments seem to suggest he might be given that chance, finally.
We’ve also seen this before. Mourinho’s treatment of Dele has in some ways mirrored the situation with Tanguy Ndombele last season. The rift between Mourinho and Ndombele didn’t begin to heal until Daniel Levy stepped in and basically told them to work it out. Now Ndombele is one of the most important players in Tottenham’s first XI. By refusing to let Dele leave, Levy has sent a similar message about Dele and his importance to Spurs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that Dele could follow a similar path back to the first team.
Mourinho even talked about Ndombele’s development in the same press comments.
“Tanguy was at the beginning of the season when we were trying to make him a player with a capital P. We had to start with him being the No. 10.
“He didn’t have discipline, strength and stamina to be a midfielder and we could say Dele or Tanguy or Gio. Now Tanguy is complete, he lasts 90 minutes with a problem.
“Last season even in short periods he was struggling to keep that intensity but now he’s a midfield player. So it’s not just about Tanguy or Gio or Dele. It can be Tanguy AND Gio. Or Tanguy AND Dele. So now is a very good opportunity for them. Gio is further to be back because his injury will take a month or something. Dele is closer to being back. Of course we need these players.”
The change of tone in Mourinho’s comments about Dele are striking, though he was careful to say that it’s not JUST about Dele.
“It’s not just Dele. It’s Dele, [Harry] Kane, Gio Lo Celso. And without all three we miss a little bit of creation and magic in the attacking areas. So we need him back and I made that sure to him. A conversation doesn’t make miracles, put a player in great form without limitations on fitness. But I believe the conversation was the extra motivation he needed to be back asap and be available for the team.
“We play Europa League very soon and playing a couple of Premier League matches a week. We have the FA Cup – I don’t believe he’ll be on time for that one. So we need a good Dele back and when he’s physically ready he’ll be in a good place mentally to go for it.”
I won’t hide my exasperation with the way Mourinho has marginalized two very good players on this Tottenham team since his appointment. I also have my doubts about Mourinho’s sincerity with all of these comments considering his priors. But if this is what allows Dele to return to, and hopefully thrive in, the Spurs first XI, then I’m willing to accept it as a positive result. Ndombele set the path, hopefully Dele can walk a similar one, because Tottenham Hotspur desperately need him.