How it all went wrong for Tottenham and Tanguy Ndombele, their record £54m signing… from THAT ‘tracking back’ video to bizarre lockdown breach with boss Jose Mourinho, but who is to blame for the midfielder’s nightmare first year?
- Tanguy Ndombele was Tottenham’s landmark signing in the summer of 2019
- But the midfielder has struggled to adapt to the Premier League in his first year
- Fitness and injury issues have hampered his form while in north London
- But the 23-year-old has also come under criticism for laboured performances
- Throughout last season he clashed with manager Jose Mourinho
It should have been the transfer coup that at the very least cemented Tottenham Hotspur’s place inside the top four for another season.
But the north London side’s record signing of Tanguy Ndombele from Lyon for an initial £54million has caused huge headaches for the club and the midfielder.
Just 14 months on from joining under Mauricio Pochettino’s reign, the 23-year-old now finds himself unwanted under the new management of Jose Mourinho.
Tanguy Ndombele’s first season at Tottenham Hotspur has been a huge disappointment
The midfielder was all smiles after arriving at White Hart Lane in the summer of 2019
Fans hoped for big things from the France star following his club record £54million arrival
It was a signing that left fans excited about the upcoming season for the then Champions League finalists.
But how has the relationship between Ndombele and Spurs gone sour so quickly?
Tottenham did not look settled throughout last season, and that was evident as early as the opening day of the season where they laboured to a 3-1 victory over Aston Villa.
Spurs trailed against the Premier League new boys for much of the game until Ndombele rifled home on his debut for an equaliser with just 17 minutes to play before two late Harry Kane goals secured victory.
Ndombele got off to a good start by scoring on his debut against Aston Villa in a 3-1 victory
Ndombele had not played particularly badly, and his goal at least ensured he played a vital role in Tottenham’s comeback. However, more was expected overall in his performance in terms of his impact from midfield.
Throughout the early season, the France international remained part of Pochettino’s first team.
In bursts he looked confident on the ball, being able to charge past defenders and play intelligent passes to team-mates in attacking areas.
But alarm bells were soon sounding over his inability to complete 90 minutes. Only in a 2-2 draw at Manchester City in August did he complete a full Premier League match under Pochettino before the Argentine was sacked shortly after a 1-1 stalemate with Sheffield United in November.
But he struggled to finish 90 minutes even when playing regularly under Mauricio Pochettino
Even in the last few weeks of Pochettino’s reign there had been concerns over Ndombele’s fitness and his struggles to cope with the physical demands expected of him.
He was was not about to get a reprieve under new manager Mourinho.
For the rest of the campaign he only started six games, none of them coming following lockdown, as slight concerns turned into huge doubts over his first-team place.
Boxing Day was the first public sign that all was not well with his standing at the club when Mourinho admitted the midfielder had ruled himself out of a clash against Brighton due to fears over aggravating a muscular injury.
The midfielder has since failed to gel with Pochettino’s replacement, Jose Mourinho
The midfielder has quickly fallen out of favour at White Hart Lane under the Portuguese boss
‘I cannot say that he’s injured. I can say that yesterday he told me he was not feeling in conditions to play the game’, Mourinho said.
‘Not based on injury, based on fears of the previous injuries that he’s had since the beginning of the season. Two or three or four muscular injuries.’
The relationship between the pair would only worsen over the next couple of months and was thrust back into the public realm when footage emerged showing Ndombele appearing to struggle in tracking back an opponent in Tottenham’s 3-2 defeat by Wolves at White Hart Lane at the start of March.
Having only brought on Ndombele with 17 minutes to play, Mourinho’s response upon seeing the midfielder’s gentle jog to try and chase down Pedro Neto left him near to laughter as he claimed: ‘Neto is very fast. It was impossible for Tanguy to get to him.’
Ndombele’s next Premier League outing a week later was his last start to date for Tottenham, where he was substituted at half-time in a 1-1 draw with Burnley.
Spurs were 1-0 down at the break following a dreadful first half performance and Mourinho was less than jovial with his criticisms of the midfielder’s application, hinting that the midfielder was running out of chances to impress.
‘He’s a player with a great talent, and he has to know he has to do much better, and I cannot keep giving him opportunities to play because the team is more important than the players, and they must be on the pitch as a consequence of their work and performance.’
Even in lockdown amid the height of the coronavirus pandemic the pair could not reconcile, and were soon back in the headlines when they broke government protocol to go for a jog at the manager’s request.
Ndombele has not started for Spurs since being hauled off at half-time at Burnley in March
Despite being fit for the post-lockdown run in, Ndombele was largely ignored by Mourinho
Having played little more than an hour post-lockdown, the relationship between Ndombele and Mourinho continued to deteriorate to the point that reports in France indicated that the pair were no longer on speaking terms and were only communicating through other Spurs first-team stars.
Ndombele has reportedly told Mourinho he no longer wants to play under him, and it leaves Spurs in a tricky position of how they handle their record signing’s future this summer, with his relationship with Mourinho seemingly beyond repair.
It’s a messy state of affairs at the Lane but who is most at fault for what has been the downward spiral of Ndombele’s time in north London?
Tottenham’s recruitment structure leaves much to be desired for a start. Ndombele was a long term target, so to purchase a player who was unable to maintain 90 minutes under two different managers leaves question marks in the scouting department over failing to spot possible red flags over his fitness and on-pitch application.
Pictured in a rare outing at Bournemouth, he has only played just over an hour since lockdown
Ndombele’s relationship with Mourinho has become fraught and he is keen to leave Spurs
But more could have been expected from the midfielder’s efforts around the pitch. In flashes he has shown his talent and ability on the ball but they can’t hide his poor tracking off it – highlighted in the Wolves defeat.
This goes against Mourinho’s demands of ‘needing more than 100 per cent’ from his players but the Portuguese may also have been too harsh on his treatment of the club’s record signing.
Arriving at a new club and country and struggling with his muscles issues could easily bleed into his on-field struggles and Ndombele may feel justified in feeling he is not getting the support he needs.
Mourinho’s falling outs with Ndombele’s French compatriot’s Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial while at Manchester United have shown that the Tottenham manager can quickly lose support of some of his players, and the duo have since gone on to become key players under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Old Trafford.
Unfortunately for Tottenham, whoever is to blame for Ndombele’s first season struggles, it does not change the notion that with manager and player seemingly having a relationship beyond the point of repair, the only end to the saga could be his sale this summer.
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