Opinion: Why Mousa Dembele is the most talented footballer I’ve ever seen at Spurs

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium
Dom Le Roy

Tottenham have now officially confirmed that Mousa Dembele has completed his transfer to Chinese Super League side Guangzhou R&F.

While it is certainly sad to see the Belgian leave, Spurs fans will certainly look back on his six and half years at the club with fondness.

I feel the time is right to finally come out and say something that I have believed for quite a while now – Dembele is the most talented player I’ve ever seen at the club. Before people jump on this statement, it is important that I mention the fact that I have only been supporting the club from the early 2000s, and thus haven’t seen the likes of Paul Gascoigne, Glenn Hoddle, Jurgen Klinsmann or David Ginola in action, let alone the greats of yesteryear like Jimmy Greaves, Steve Perryman and Pat Jennings.

However, I have witnessed the likes of Ledley King, Micheal Carrick, Robbie Keane, Dimitar Berbatov, Luka Modric, Rafael Van Der Vaart, Gareth Bale, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane in their pomp, and in terms of pure talent, Dembele towers over all these players.

Why then wasn’t Dembele coveted by the world’s biggest clubs? Why wasn’t he ever talked about among the world’s best? The answer is quite simple – The Belgian never found an appropriate position on the football pitch until late in his career. He started his career as a number 9, then became a wide forward, before Martin Jol decided to play him as an attacking midfielder in a central position.

After his move to Spurs, Andre Villas-Boas decided to play Dembele as a defensive midfielder. Even Pochettino struggled to find a position for him in his first season at the Club as he used Dembele sparingly and played him as one of the 3 behind the lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, before finally giving him a box to box role.

Although the Belgian’s outrageous talent was there for all to see, he wasn’t ideally suited to any one position on the football pitch. He was too good on the ball to play as a striker, too good at winning the ball back to be wasted in an offensive midfield position, too good at beating, dribbling past players to be played as a defensive midfielder, and hung on to the ball for far too long for a box to box/central midfielder.

That in effect was the paradox of Dembele – his skill set was a complete anomaly for a modern-day footballer, and was always a mismatch for any one position. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that he was an absolute genius on the football pitch.

If you think I’m exaggerating just check out how the players who have played with and against him as well as the managers who have worked with him, talk about the Belgian. From the current squad, Eric Dier, Danny Rose, Harry Kane, Harry Winks, Victor Wanyama, Son Heung-Min, and Dele Alli have all said that Dembele is by far the best player in the team, a sentiment that I suspect will be echoed by the other players as well.

Pochettino described Dembele as one of the ‘geniuses’ he has been lucky to meet in his footballing career along with the likes of Maradona and Ronaldinho. Among the players who played against him Ross Barkley, Danny Murphy, Scott Parker, N’Golo Kante, and James McArthur have all said Dembele is the toughest opponent they have ever faced. Martin Jol has labelled Dembele the best player on the ball he has ever seen.

The complements don’t end there. Among his Belgian teammates, Kevin De Bryune has said that Dembele is the best five a side player in the world while Wesley Sonck while speaking about Belgian’s golden generation said, “I insist: the greatest talent is Mousa Dembele. Some may say they want Eden [Hazard] or De Bruyne, but Mousa has the most qualities — it’s not normal how strong he is on the ball. I’ve seen him during training turn [Vincent] Kompany into a fool.”

So there isn’t a shadow of a doubt in my mind that, at least when it comes to the fans of the game, Dembele has been one of the most underrated players in Premier League history. As a Spurs fan, I will certainly miss the feeling of going into games knowing we will dominate the midfield battle when I saw Dembele’s name on the team sheet.

We as fans have certainly been lucky to witness him in action and I would suggest that despite a lack of goals, assists or a failure to win a trophy with the club, he deserves to go down as a modern-day Spurs legend.

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  1. Berbatov was more naturally gifted than Dembele.

    Taarabt had more natural raw talent than Dembele, but unfortunately didn’t adapt to the modern game.

    After those two players Dembele is the most gifted player in the time you mention. But before that, Hoddle was on a different planet.

    It is a shame that Spurs now don’t have any real gifted players.

  2. Dembele was all style and no substance – near as dammit no goals or assists, and didn’t turn-up when it mattered, as Pogba showed in brushing him aside in United’s FA Cup win last year. Football is a team game, and individual skill without a proper role within that team is totally pointless, as the likes of Duncan Mackenzie or Stan Bowles showed in the ’70s, or any number of ‘whatever happened to’ boy wonders have more recently. Dembele could have been a good or even great player, but his refusal to push himself meant that he not only failed to improve in seven years at Spurs, he never came close to living up to the promise he showed at Fulham, and he’ll be remembered as a wasted talent, nothing more.


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