It would’ve been a hard decision to make at the time, but Tottenham Hotspur chairman Daniel Levy played a blinder in selling Mousa Dembele when he did.
The Belgian midfield enforcer joined Spurs from Fulham in 2012 after the north Londoners activated his £15m release clause, and it’s fair to suggest that they got plenty of value for their money.
Levy would go onto cash in on Dembele six-and-a-half seasons later, managing to secure a whopping £11m, meaning that Spurs only lost out on £4m.
It can be argued that the 33-year-old was one of Spurs’ greatest-ever midfielders of the Premier League era, as he was a colossal presence in the middle and came on leaps and bounds under Mauricio Pochettino.
Plenty of managers have lavished high praise on him in the past. Martin Jol, the ex-Spurs boss who managed him at the Cottagers, claimed he was among the finest players he’s ever coached. He said back in 2012:
“We’ve had a few players over the last few years who are a class above. Dembele is probably the best player on the ball I’ve ever seen.”
These words echo comments from Pochettino several years later, who wrote in his book that the Belgian was one of the “genius” players he has been lucky enough to meet, as he said [via talkSPORT]:
“I always tell him, ‘Mousa, when I write a book, you’ll be one of my genius players I have been lucky to meet,” before adding: “One was [Diego] Maradona, then Ronaldinho, [Jay-Jay] Okocha and [Ivan] De La Pena. He is a genius too, Mousa Dembele. We always told him, ‘If we had taken you at 18 or 19 years old, you would have become one of the best players in the world.’ I would have loved to have taken him on at 18.”
Across those six-and-a-bit seasons, Dembele regularly ranked amongst Spurs’ best-performing players. The only two occasions he dipped below a 6.9 WhoScored rating were in 2014/15 – a season riddled by injury – and 2018/19 – his final six months in the capital.
That’s when Levy delivered a masterstroke once again. He knew exactly when it was time to move on from the long-serving Hotspur favourite. Once averaging over 2.5 tackles and dribbles per game across multiple seasons, his final season saw him regress to just 1.3 tackles and 0.7 dribbles per match, via WhoScored.
Perhaps injuries took a toll, perhaps it was an age thing, but either way, the box-to-box beast hadn’t been the same player that year and, aged just 31, he was moved on.
It would have been far too easy to let Dembele see out his career in N17, where he was simply adored by the Tottenham faithful.
That decision is looking more and more justified by the day, even if it did take until this summer to finally replace him (Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg). Still in the money-laden Chinese Super League, Dembele is now worth just £1.35m, as per Transfermarkt.