If Tanguy Ndombele was a noughties TV series he’d be Lost.
When asked how Lost inexplicably rumbled on for six series, writers reportedly admitted to ‘thinking of the weirdest and most f****d up thing’ and essentially making it up as they went along.
And so to Ndombele, currently co-starring with Adama Traore in an equally unpredictable series of The Premier League’s Most Watchable Player.
Accusing Ndombele of making it up as he goes is ever so slightly underselling the Frenchman.
After all, Spurs valued Ndombele’s technical ability at €60million when signing the midfielder from Lyon, while the notoriously stingy Didier Deschamps has already seen enough to hand the 23-year-old six caps for a gloriously stacked France.
But, like the Lost writers, at times it seems like Ndombele’s approach when presented with the challenge of progression is to think of ‘the weirdest and most f****d up thing’ and execute it, wherever he finds himself on the pitch.
Ndombele’s display as a ‘defensive midfielder’ against Norwich provided a perfect insight into just how unconventional the Frenchman is. Ndombele completed twice the amount of successful dribbles of anyone else on the pitch, yet was also dispossessed more than any other player.
The man selected by Jose Mourinho to shield Spurs’ defence didn’t make a single tackle, but did complete every one of his 21 passes in the final third. The pièce de résistance came when the former Lyon man dropped Todd Cantwell with a chop before sending a rabona cross into Norwich’s box.
Like all great mavericks, the essence of Ndombele can’t be expressed using simple numbers. His allure is the way in which he always commits to the exact opposite of what we’ve come to expect from a Premier League footballer.
When a five-yard pass is on to the full-back, Ndombele drops his hips, swivels and finds himself driving at the heart of the defence. When the ball is there to be headed clear, Ndombele plucks it out of the sky, executing a preposterous mid-air stepover on the way down.
It’s clear that Ndombele isn’t a defensive midfielder, especially under Mourinho. Mourinho’s no.6 tends to be the most tactically disciplined midfielder at the club, whether Costinha at Porto, Claude Makelele at Chelsea, Esteban Cambiasso at Inter Milan or Xabi Alonso at Real Madrid.
So what is he? Ndombele’s record in France, where he scored three goals in 99 Ligue 1 appearances, doesn’t instantly scream goalscoring midfielder. Seven hundred and seventy-nine minutes of Premier League football have yielded just one assist, which won’t be keeping Ryan Giggs up at night.
But Spurs have been crying out for a midfielder who does the unquantifiable since Mousa Dembele left for Guangzhou R&F in January.
Demebele arrived in England as a striker, moved to winger, shifted inside to no.10 before dropping back and finding a home in the centre of midfield, where he repeatedly put in dominant performances that defied categorisation.
Ndombele won’t have to undertake quite such a daunting journey of discovery but, if his first 19 appearances for Spurs are anything to go by, his own path of self-discovery will be equally unorthodox.
Watch closely, because you never quite know what’s coming next.
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