Spurs can no longer escape their Tanguy Ndombele problems


From Tottenham Hotspur Stadium – Ever since Tanguy Ndombele’s club record move to Spurs at £ 62m in the aftermath of the 2019 Champions League final, few others on the team have attracted as much attention as he has.

Through the eras of Mauricio Pochettino, Jose Mourinho, Ryan Mason, Nuno Espirito Santo and Antonio Conte, a press conference has rarely passed without a question about the Frenchman.

Whoever occupies Spurs’ head office is asked about Ndombele’s status as much as Fat Tony’s wife asks Springfield’s top mob boss about the money.

‘Where is Ndombele? Why do not you play Ndombele? What else can Ndombele do to join the team? And so on.’

Conte’s dead response to what the Frenchman’s role in the squad was a couple of weeks ago was the perfect prelude to his latest start: “He’s a midfielder.”

After a decent – not good, not terrible – show against Premier League title challengers Liverpool in mid-December, Spurs fans were amazed when Conte overlooked Ndombele during the hectic party period. But after an ugly performance against League One team Morecambe in the FA Cup on Sunday, it is obvious why he has never had full confidence from any coach in England.

Ndombele lived up to every derogatory tropical thought of him – he was lazy, he was sour and he was net negative in midfield. It is as if someone tried to play FIFA 22 with a broken hand control, except that the disc had broken and the hand control was smashed against a wall.

But it’s ok (well, not ok, but players can have bad matches, as Conte emphasized after the match). Ndombele have had bad matches before. Terrible, smelly game. He has walked around and strapped and moped a lot too. But he has never combined the two to the audible anger of Spurs fans.

With just over 20 minutes left and Tottenham still one goal below, Conte turned to his bench to throw at Harry Kane, Lucas Moura and Oliver Skipp – Dele Alli and Bryan Gil were connected, while Ndombele’s number was the first to go up.

And that was where his Spurs career was shattered. History can dictate that this is where it ended, period. On the far side of the pitch, Ndombele slowly began to walk towards the opposite sideline without haste, as if Tottenham wasting time on stoppage time in a cup final.

Then the bonding began. The loud, inseparable curse. Ndombele had stuck two fingers up against Spurs and the paying supporters stuck two up against him.

Kane and Japhet Tanganga asked him to move on. Gil and Dele threw him off the field and could just bring in a little warmer applause for their efforts out of position (and because they switched gears to leave the field).

It was reminiscent of when Nuno made his infamous decision to put Lucas in for Steven Bergwijn in his last match as manager. Going back a little further, it was like Hossam Ghaly throwing off his Spurs shirt and storming down the tunnel after being caught by Martin Jol.

The ground was already down for Ndombele and with his Tottenham career at stake, he chose instead to double his misery. And let’s not get it twisted; a player with Ndombele’s quality could easily – easily – be a starter for Spurs if he really wanted to.

The only precedent for a Premier League player returning from this kind of mutiny comes at the other end of Seven Sisters Road, where Arsenal welcome Granit Xhaka back as a boomerang every few months. But do not bet on a similar redemption arc in the N17 even after Spurs had put their house on Ndombele and turned on his story and rejected Europe’s elite progress.

During his two and a half years at Spurs, Ndombele has performed well for about three months, with his best performances at the start of the 2020/21 season under Mourinho. Perhaps a proclaimed reunion in Roma would be best for all parties as his future is almost certainly not in north London.

For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

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