What's The Deal With Mousa Dembélé?

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“Some may say they want Eden or De Bruyne, but Mousa has the most qualities – it’s not normal how strong he is on the ball. I’ve seen him during training turn Kompany into a fool.”

No that’s not Dembélé’s mother talking, but former Ajax and Belgian international, Wesley Sonck.

It was widely agreed that Spurs had done a ‘good thing’ when they shelled out £15m for Mousa Dembélé in August 2012. A highly reasonable outlay for a man who’d single-handedly bulldozed Man United at Old Trafford only a few days earlier; a man, whom, many believed could’ve been the answer to United’s own midfield deficiencies. As it turned out, on that front, everyone needn’t have worried as Alex Ferguson galloped to another League title with an unorthodox line-up of Robin Van Persie.

Simple, when you think about it.

Despite Ferguson’s own reservations, Dembélé was a wanted man at the time and it’s easy to understand why. He possessed that rare combination of qualities as a player; exquisite technical ability- which allowed him to waft breezily past an opponent as if they were kitted-out compost bins- and oxen-like strength. The type which would make you rethink your life insurance policy in the few seconds before going into a shoulder challenge with him.

Indeed, the early signs in a Tottenham shirt were promising. After scoring on his debut against Norwich, Dembélé began to cultivate a frankly terrifying central midfield partnership with fellow man/potential cage fighter, Sandro. Two more unappetising competitors you couldn’t hope to encounter. Many wise heads in the media were dubbing them the most complete duo in the League; while there might plausibly be weaknesses within their game - facial hair not among them- between them they offered almost everything. Including, in Sandro’s case, a fondness for bringing a pet dog into training, which should never be underestimated.

Perhaps Dembélé’s most encouraging performance for Tottenham was during their unlikely 3-2 victory at Old Trafford in January 2013. With memories of his previous visit with Fulham still fresh and ready to pick in their mind’s garden, once again United’s midfield was terrorized by the Belgian. To the extent that Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes inquired whether their retirements could be pushed forward to half-time.

With all his obvious talent, then, it’s a shame that Dembélé is now seen as the archetypal Spursy player. The half-baked approximation of a good footballer that many believe the club has a history of collecting every once in a while. First-rate aesthetics but very little in the way of end product. Someone with every conceivable attribute at his disposal but never one to fully engage with them.

Watch Dembélé ghost past an opponent, looking for all the world incapable of being dispossessed. But then run into a dead-end before retracing his steps back to his original position. He’ll feint a defender into a different time-zone but then pass it two yards sideways. He’ll slalom into a dangerous shooting position like a Swiss alpine skier but then cut-inside instead of chancing a whack. He’s often the most frustrating player you could hope to watch. Primarily because he could be so good.

And it’s not like he can’t shoot, either. Or play that incisive final-ball. The goals he has managed- away against Lyon, for example- have been genuine humdingers. Instinctive snapshots that belie his criminally anaemic return of 5 in 118 appearances for Spurs.

At 28 and first-team duties stripped to a minimum, it looks as though the light is starting to fade on his career at Tottenham. His outwardly languid style just doesn’t seem suited to Pochettino’s high-energy, pro-active system. That’s not to imply that he couldn’t find a team or League in which his talents would be appreciated, of course, but you get the feeling this high-pressing malarkey just isn’t his bag. He’d rather take his time over things. Maybe have a croissant.

Serie A. Now there’s a place where he could thrive. Napoli are rumoured to be interested in taking Dembélé off our hands in January, with a £10m-odd fee having reportedly been agreed. If that’s the case then fare-thee-well, Mousa Dembélé. Let it never be said that we didn’t try to warm to you. You just didn’t seem too bothered.