When Tottenham Hotspur boss Antonio Conte was asked about the role of Tanguy Ndombele at the club, all he could muster was: “He is a midfielder. He is a midfielder”. That’s it.
Conte’s succinct, charades-inspired response means the writing is all but on the wall for Ndombele in north London. The Frenchman has polarised opinion ever since Spurs made him their record signing back in 2019 and following almost two-and-a-half years of phantom fitness issues, mythological attitude problems and unforgivable mismanagement, it seems that Ndombele’s rather tumultuous Spurs career is drawing to a close.
The enigmatic midfielder struggled to acclimatise during a torrid 2019/20 season for Spurs amid Mauricio Pochettino’s dismissal. He was regarded as one of the key building blocks in the Argentine’s second cycle at the club, but the dysfunction that surrounded Spurs following their Champions League fairytale combined with his own introverted nature – despite his distinct extroversion with the ball at his feet – meant he was never going to evolve into the protagonist that Poch initially signed him to become.
Still, while consistency has been an issue, Ndombele has displayed in glimpses his enormous talent. His highlight-reel is Oscar-worthy.
Antonio Conte’s arrival hasn’t changed Tanguy Ndombele’s situation at Spurs
But, by the time Conte arrived in November, the maverick Frenchman still hadn’t settled. He had tried to leave after his first season at the club and once again after his second following Ryan Mason’s spell as interim boss. No solutions were found.
The arrival of Conte sparked yet another make or break scenario for Ndombele following yet more fleeting moments of brilliance under Nuno Espirito Santo. However, the Frenchman’s free-spirited, instinctive and spectacular inherence is the antithesis of the Italian’s desire to control as many moving parts as he possibly can. It’s not the ideal marriage, and Ndombele certainly hasn’t garnered Conte’s trust compared to several of his midfield counterparts. Harry Winks, for example, is a man reborn under the Godfather’s tutelage, while Oliver Skipp is a favourite of the new boss.
"“I made the evaluations after two months of work with my players,” Conte said. “For sure, now the situation is more clear than before. I made evaluations to understand which players I could count on, and which players I cannot.”"
For Ndombele, the hood-donning, slow-walking, Gucci-loving enigma, the signs are ominous, but this is where Juventus come in.
Juventus should use Dejan Kulusevski to sign Ndombele this January
So, I’m sure you’ve seen the rumours surrounding Dejan Kulusevski’s potential exit, right? Juventus will let him go for €35m in January and Spurs are one of a few teams interested in picking the dynamic young Swede up.
Isn’t this just the perfect opportunity for Juve, who are desperate to refresh their midfield this winter, to take advantage of Ndombele’s situation in north London? Currently, their search for a striker is the priority following the latest Alvaro Morata developments. Midfield links have dried up considerably.
Impending free agent Denis Zakaria is the only concrete link as we approach the start of the January window and while the all-action Swiss midfielder is a fine player, he’s no Tanguy Ndombele.
Ndombele is a flawed genius
In short, Ndombele is everything Juventus need in midfield and some. The Frenchman has combined his ballerina feet with his Batista-esque upper body strength to create a press-resistant, progressive juggernaut. He’s an innovator, an entertainer, a player you pay your hard-earned money to watch. Sure, he’s flawed, but aren’t all geniuses [insert wink emoji].
And I mean that. Ndombele is a genius. He can play at any angle, deliver every pass, dribble out of the tightest of spaces and befuddle the stoutest of defenders with sequences of skill that perhaps only he could produce. Just ask N’Golo Kanté, Thiago Silva and Rodri about Ndombele’s supersonic feet.
Okay, back to reality. Ndombele has stuttered pretty drastically during his time at Spurs, and for all his virtuosity in possession, he does struggle without it. However, the Frenchman doesn’t lack bite in a tackle, that’s for sure, nor will he shirk away from an aerial duel if the ball’s there to be won. Where he does leave plenty to be desired is in his recovery running. He’s poor at tracking runners into the box, and that’s primarily why Jose Mourinho opted to play him further upfield during his spell at Spurs.
Then there’s his chronic fitness issue. Yeah, right.
While his first season at Spurs was a chastening one from a fitness perspective, his development in this regard in year two was obvious. In 2020/21, Ndombele racked up 34 stars in all competitions and amassed 2,697 minutes – the eighth-most in the Spurs squad. The Frenchman isn’t blessed with the lung capacity of Bernardo Silva, but he’s far from being chronically unfit.
So, in summation, Spurs’ interest in Kulusevski combined with Conte’s ambiguity towards Ndombele has presented Juventus with a golden opportunity. The Frenchman is as enigmatic as they come, but there’s a hidden superstar that deserves to manifest.
Juventus took a punt on Paul Pogba all those years ago and that turned out okay. History may well repeat itself in 2022 with Pogba’s protégé.
Oh, and if a deal for Ndombele proves to be impossible, Giovani Lo Celso would be a great alternative.