A star from nowhere: Why Spurs are chasing Ndombele

Tanguy Ndombele is one of Tottenham Hotspur’s mooted summer targets with recent reports claiming they have tabled a club-record £60m bid and, on the surface, it looks like a mouthwatering signing.

A full France international with a major pedigree in Ligue 1, the central midfielder has developed into one of the most sought-after players in world football.

Both Manchester United and Manchester City have been linked with big-money moves and it appears almost certain that he will depart the French club this summer; Jean-Michel Aulas, the club’s president, has confirmed he is in negotiations with clubs to sell him.

That was said last summer, too, with Spurs and City both reported, per RMC via TalkSport, to have failed with bids to entice him away.

But how good is he, really, and how has he grown as a player since making his first-team breakthrough at Lyon?

In terms of attributes, Ndombele belies the usual “pace and power” stereotype that is so often associated with young, black footballers.

While he is quick, he has a deftness of touch that takes him past defenders and is also a thoughtful distributor of the ball. He moves it well and is always looking to take up positions in which he can affect the game, be it defensively or offensively.

He is, at his base, a hybrid midfielder, one who is equally adept at breaking up play and recycling possession as he is at taking the ball on the run and quickly picking a pass or unleashing a shot.

He is exceptional at picking the ball up on the turn, too, and spinning away from his man, a la Mousa Dembele in his prime.

And yet, in 2015/16, he was playing for Amiens’ reserve team, in France’s fifth division.

It has been a meteoric rise and along that journey, he has been a model of consistency.

Indeed, in 2016/17, he made his breakthrough into the club’s first-team and laid on seven assists in 30 games in Ligue 2. He also scored twice.

These performances came about at a time when the club did not really know how to use him; throughout the campaign he played in central midfield, attacking midfield, on the right of midfield and at right-back.

He was first loaned to Lyon in 2017/18, with the club securing an option to sign him on a permanent basis should they so wish. In 35 Ligue 1 games, he took to top-flight French football like a duck to water and again laid on seven assists, while nailing down a place in the club’s starting XI.

The following season, the deal having been made permanent, he made one less appearance but still registered seven league assists.

This is not a goalscoring midfielder by any means, as he has scored just one Ligue 1 goal for Lyon in his two seasons at the club.

But he is perhaps exactly what Mauricio Pochettino needs in the centre of midfield.

This is a player who is yet to be burned out by the pressure of a lengthy career at a young age; he is 22 and has played just 130 first-team games at club level. Dele Alli, by comparison, is a year older and has played 272 first-team matches.

Ndombele is fresh as a daisy, then, and all the signs point to a career marked by longevity, such is his playing style.

He is not a full-throttle midfielder, instead choosing to make his bursts forward only when he sees a gap, in a manner not too dissimilar to Moussa Sissoko.

There is more poise and elegance to the way Ndombele plays, however, and it is not hard to see why major clubs are fawning over him.

He has emerged as perhaps the best young central midfielder in Europe in recent years.

Spurs should pull out all the stops to get this deal over the line.

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