On August 29, the Premier League elite were limbering up for another enthralling transfer deadline day, when Tottenham Hotspur somewhat jumped the gun and swooped to sign Moussa Dembele. The club activated the £15m release clause in his contract at Fulham, forcing their way past the more desirable outfits of Real Madrid and Manchester United to secure the Belgian international’s signature.
Despite Dembele’s obvious potential, his reputation in mainstream circles was rather subdued, as if the platform at Craven Cottage didn’t do justice to his excellent skill set. His arrival at White Hart Lane drew the same concerned looks and surprised expressions akin to when Brendan Rodgers spent a similar fee acquiring Joe Allen.
However, the 25-year-old has spent the past two seasons gradually transforming into one of the most desirable deep-lying playmakers in modern football. He has slowly been shuffled from his natural position as a striker, deeper into the heart of midfield, where he flourished alongside Danny Murphy last season. The transition has been remarkable and has allowed Dembele to have a greater impact on games, despite the fact he is now further away from goal.
In a Tottenham midfield that has been depleted by the departures of influential duo Luka Modric and Rafael van der Vaart, Dembele has thrived along the spine of his new team. While he has been keen to distance himself from comparisons with the creative Croatian, there are certain traits that suggest the club have obtained a superior replacement.
Although Modric now plies his trade in La Liga – in surroundings far removed from the intensity of the Premier League – it’s still worth analysing their statistics this season. In a similar number of league appearances, both players have clocked up over 400 passes with Modric averaging 41.3 per game and Dembele 46.2. The accuracy rates are also particularly impressive with Dembele boasting a completion rate off 88.9% compared to Modric’s 86.6%.
The parallels continue when you notice that Modric has made 17 interceptions compared to Dembele’s 15, but the stark contrast occurs in the tackling department. Whereas Modric has made 16 successful tackles, Dembele has instigated nearly double, 30, which suggests the new man in North London is a better fit for the typically more combative midfields that epitomise English football.
This season has hailed the rise of the dominant box-to-box midfielder, with the likes of Marouane Fellani and Yaya Toure hauling their respective clubs up the table. In Dembele, Spurs have their very own midfield general, blessed with the energy levels of Chelsea’s Ramires and the composure of Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere.
Without wanting to commit the crime of sensationalised reporting, Andre Villas-Boas now has the complete package at his disposal, a prized asset that every club in the league will rue not taking a gamble on. He is Mikel Arteta on steroids, Gareth Barry with pace and the player that Anderson should and may well one day become. The only real task for Spurs is to keep him away from the treatment table or he risks becoming just another unfulfilled talent in the club’s recent history.
Daniel Levy has come under fire for failing to provide better support for his new manager, most notably in the pursuit of Joao Moutinho in the summer. However, few can argue with his track record in the transfer market, with Moussa Dembele the latest name to be etched into his profitable portfolio of purchases. If he can repeat the same feats in January, a place in the top four looks even more likely than this time last season.
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