José Mourinho claims to have seen signs of progress in Tanguy Ndombele after Tottenham’s record signing came through 90 minutes for the first time in 2020 during Thursday’s 3-1 Europa League qualifying win over Shkendija in North Macedonia.
Mourinho does not doubt the midfielder’s quality on the ball but he has been desperate to see him work harder without it, which is a prerequisite for anybody who plays for him. The manager made headlines the previous Thursday after the 2-1 win at Lokomotiv Plovdiv in the competition’s previous round when he said he had doubted Ndombele’s “motivation and commitment and professional attitude in some moments”.
Ndombele, who had not played a full game since December, had more touches and made more passes than any other player in the Shkendija tie but what pleased Mourinho was how he recovered possession and worked on the defensive transitions. The statistics showed Ndombele won five tackles and three aerial duels.
These are small steps but after the problems Ndombele has endured since his arrival from Lyon last summer in a deal that was worth close to £60m – many linked to injuries and fitness – Mourinho was happy to consider a basis on which to build.
“I’m very happy,” Mourinho said. “He brought a very good dynamic to the team. He has gone in a good direction. I don’t want players to moan, I don’t want players to feel frustrated, I don’t want players to feel that I have something against them when I don’t pick them up. I want players to fight for the minutes they want on the pitch.”
Spurs have been open to offers for Ndombele, who played the first half at Southampton last Sunday, but there is the acceptance that they would struggle to recoup their outlay on him and Mourinho is seemingly now ready to count on him.
“Can he play on Sunday against Newcastle?” Mourinho said. “I’m not sure. It’s the first time he played 90 minutes. Premier League matches are much more difficult than this one against Shkendija. But against Southampton, even for 45 minutes, Tanguy had positive things.”