The departure of Mousa Dembele has left a void which Mauricio Pochettino will be acutely aware of the need to fill in 2019, has a tailor-made replacement already slipped through the net at Tottenham?
Dembele established himself as a mainstay in the heart of Tottenham’s midfield during his six-and-a-half-year spell with the club. Whether he was dictating tempo from deep, dropping his shoulder before powering beyond his opposite number in trademark fashion or threading the ball into dangerous positions, Dembele carried a near untouchable aura on the field of play.
His style was verging on irreplaceable and genuinely unique. Discussion over a handful of candidates to replace the brilliant Belgian has been rife within the media, but Spurs predictably drew a blank in January.
Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko have established a positive, somewhat make-shift partnership at the heart of midfield in recent months, easing the impact of Dembele’s mid-season departure in the process.
However, the long-term future could look bleak for Pochettino if he and Daniel Levy fail to identify and secure a replacement in the summer window, particularly given Winks is the only natural ball playing midfielder residing within the squad.
Winks has provided the next chapter in the tale of Pochettino’s successful organic endeavour to promote from within, but the Argentine’s commendable policy didn’t extend to Nabil Bentaleb when he was pushing for a first-team breakthrough.
A product of Tottenham’s fruitful academy, Bentaleb had the makings of a future midfield lynchpin when he was introduced by Tim Sherwood as a teenager.
The formative years of his development exposed a left-footed midfield technician who, despite his lightweight build, appeared tailor-made to slot into Dembele’s shoes.
He may well have lacked the power which Dembele possesses in abundance but there was substantial evidence in his early career to suggest his raw, untapped talent could be translated into an accomplished, top level one.
But the expectation regarding his development failed to translate into a glowing Spurs career and he was eventually sold to Schalke in a deal worth £17.1 million after enjoying an excellent season-long loan spell in Germany.
Bentaleb has gone on to establish himself at the heart of Schalke’s midfield, scoring a handful of thumping goals and impressing with his aggression in a box-to-box midfield role.
There is no player quite like Dembele, but Bentaleb’s early promise at Spurs and his subsequent form in Germany hint that Pochettino and Levy should have placed more faith in the rough diamond.
They succumbed to the prospect of making a healthy profit on the academy product when they would have been wise to keep him for the future, and they may pay the ultimate financial price for that decision when they fork out for a new midfield enforcer.