By 90Min
October 23, 2019

In the 2010s, there have only been two midfielders who graced the turf at White Hart Lane (old ground and new) clad in lilywhite that brought people to their feet, where you could hear the clank of seats in expectancy, even though the opposition was in no danger of immediately conceding. Fans were just there to enjoy the show run by Luka Modric or Mousa Dembele.

Two very different styles, two very different midfielders. Modric is arguably the finest playmaker of his generation, dictating from deep, making everything tick, unlocking defences, all from a distance, not necessarily afar but at an arms length of the visitors. Not that it would matter, of course, he'd still find a way through.

If Modric is a magician then Dembele was dancer. An 88kg dancer at that, but nonetheless, a graceful dancer. You couldn't get near him without the risk of him making you look silly, or him volleying you into next week - just ask Sergio Ramos.

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These two defined two different yet enjoyable periods of modern Tottenham history, with Modric the architect behind the Harry Redknapp days, and Dembele the symbol of Pochettino's first Spurs, aggressive and bullish, yet elegant and fleet-footed. You never know what you have until it's gone, as the club have never had a true playmaker since the Croatian left, or a ball carrier as great as the Belgian. Until now.

Tottenham's midfield sorely lacked quality last season, with Harry Winks and a revived Moussa Sissoko filling in to keep the pieces from completely falling apart - they showed that they're good players, but not at the level for a side who reached the Champions League final.

Mauricio Pochettino needed an option to not only compliment the options in the squad he had, but to improve upon them, and if there was one midfielder on Earth to be the perfect fit for Spurs (whose name isn't Kevin De Bruyne), it was Lyon's Tanguy Ndombele.


The dribbling of Dembele, the creativity of Modric, the physicality at the halfway house which combines the former's bullishness and the latter's agility - the complete number eight, one with big Champions League performances against Manchester City and Barcelona already under his belt.

A £55m price tag made him Tottenham's record signing (which will be shared with teammate Giovani Lo Celso once his move is made permanent), and while the world now knows the club as Champions League finalists, they've been struggling so far this season. Though he's been and out of the side because of Pochettino's rotation, he's always managed to show why Spurs splashed the cash on him.

His debut against Aston Villa was marked with a stunning equaliser from 25 yards, helping Spurs overturn a 1-0 deficit, and followed this up with a professional performance away at Man City. Injury ruled him out until mid-September, but has showed since hat he's capable of being the playmaker, the ball carrier, and maybe unlike any of his predecessors since Paul Gascoigne, the goal scorer.

Their game against Southampton a huge one for showing his tactical flexibility. When it was 11v11, Spurs were running everything through Ndombele, requiring him to thread through balls, lobbed balls, run into the final third, arrive in the final third - things no Spurs midfielder has had in their locker at the same time before, and certainly not of his current teammates. After Serge Aurier's sending off, he retreated a little and put in the hard yards to help his side over the line.

Even during Tottenham's hammering by Bayern Munich, Ndombele was the player showing the most promise, picking apart the Bavarians' defence time after time in the first half you'd have thought you were watching a compilation of his best moments on YouTube. He was hooked early in the second half, Pochettino keeping him from panting and wheezing until he gets up to speed with his training methods, but the signs are there that he will be a leading midfielder.

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Ndombele's raw abilities show why Daniel Levy broke the bank to sign him, clearly looking like the perfect Pochettino midfielder, the vital vertebrae in Tottenham's new spine. Rumblings this season may make it seem like the Argentine could leave in the near future, but does a project manager want to leave behind his brightest piece since polishing Harry Kane?

Fans and pundits seemed baffled that Tottenham were given a free run at Ndombele - Real Madrid needed a midfielder, Barcelona needed a midfielder, Liverpool probably needed a midfielder - and he's starting to repay Spurs' faith in him.

Tottenham's new chapter can easily be a successful one with Ndombele at the heart of it, and once they emerge from this dark spell in their modern history, that'll be clear for people to see.

For more from Sean Walsh, follow him on Twitter!

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