Moussa Sissoko is considering the situation of Tanguy Ndombele. “Maybe because I am like his big brother, I am a good example because nothing was easy for me at the beginning,” the Tottenham midfielder says of his teammate.
Sissoko is close to Ndombele, for whom Spurs paid a club record fee to Lyon last July. It was widely reported at £55m but is now believed to have been closer to £60m. Sissoko had previously played with Ndombele for France and he was always going to look out for him in north London. But it is easy to see that the parallels in their personal stories have helped to deepen the connection.
Sissoko knows what it is like to arrive at Spurs with a heavy price tag, having signed from Newcastle in August 2016 for a then club record-equalling £30m – and he knows what it is like to struggle, to be doubted. He was a laughing stock during his first season, a scapegoat, and, when he played well at times in 2017-18, his achievements were celebrated a little ironically.
The turnaround last season was spectacular and these days Sissoko is the first-choice selection in the centre of the pitch. It is a status to which Ndombele aspires but one that feels a little way off. The 23-year-old’s first season at Spurs has not been the disaster Sissoko endured, largely because the fans can see his towering potential. It has been glimpsed only in fits and starts but it is there.
It should be pointed out that Ndombele has won the respect of his teammates through his ability in training and if José Mourinho has criticised him in public, mainly about his poor fitness record, the theory is that it is only because he cares about him; the manager knows what he could bring. When Mourinho stops caring, that is when players ought to worry.
Ndombele’s problems with injuries have held him back, but he has been fully fit since the return to action after shutdown and Mourinho has left him as an unused substitute against Manchester United and West Ham before giving him 19 minutes in Thursday’s dismal 3-1 defeat at Sheffield United.
Spurs repeatedly ran into brick walls at Bramall Lane and so frustrating was the performance in creative terms that it is possible Mourinho could consider reintroducing Ndombele against Everton at home on Monday night. Or maybe not. Since taking over from Mauricio Pochettino last November, Mourinho has had Ndombele available for 20 matches in all competitions and has started him six times.
Sissoko is preaching patience. “Tanguy’s first season has not been easy for a lot of reasons,” he says. “But I speak with him nearly every day. I play with him in the national team, so I know him very well. I told him just to stay calm, keep working every day and his time will come. I just worked very hard at training [when times were tough at Spurs] and things changed.
“We all believe in Tanguy’s quality. He has come to another country, another culture, another style of football, another league, he doesn’t speak the language – so there are a lot of things. I am sure he will be a success at the club.
“It’s very helpful to have someone with whom you can speak every day and who speaks the same language. Even outside of training – at the moment it is difficult because of social distancing – but I am trying to be with him and do some stuff together. It is important to have someone next to you and trying to show you the city.”
There was a moment of quintessential Mourinho after the United game – Spurs’s first after the restart, which finished 1-1. Mourinho was complaining, not about United’s penalty – he had already done that – but about how his opponents could change the match by bringing on attack-minded substitutes – Paul Pogba, Mason Greenwood and Odion Ighalo – whereas, in the absence of the suspended Dele Alli and the injured Lucas Moura, he could not.
Yet on the bench Mourinho had Ndombele, Giovani Lo Celso and Ryan Sessegnon – a trio Spurs had spent about £140m on last summer. He did introduce Lo Celso and Gedson Fernandes, a January loanee, in the 70th minute but a penny for Ndombele’s thoughts would have been worthwhile.
Sissoko has enjoyed a lighter man-management touch from Mourinho. When he started the United game, it was his first action since 1 January, when he damaged knee ligaments at Southampton – the first big injury of his career, which needed surgery. Mourinho would talk about how he missed Sissoko and two other long-term injury casualties, Son Heung-min and Harry Kane, and the sentiment registered.
“It is a good situation when a manager is talking like that about you, especially a manager like Mourinho,” Sissoko says. “He was close to me, asking me a lot of things each day, even if I wasn’t on the pitch. That gives you a good push to recover as soon as possible because it means the manager cares about you. I will not say with me, Sonny and H the results would be better, but we couldn’t fight with the team to do better altogether.”
The trio are back and Ndombele wants to join them. Mourinho has questioned why it is always a drama when he omits a big-name player but, in Ndombele’s case, the cold truth is that Spurs cannot spend such riches on a substitute. His signing has to work. Sissoko has no doubt that it will.
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