Football Features

Is Ndombele’s time at Tottenham up? The decisions Spurs must make with fringe players

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 18:41, 11 January 2022


Tottenham Hotspur’s season, and especially that of Tanguy Ndombele, is at a crossroads in January.

The London club have had a mostly positive start to life under Antonio Conte, but it hasn’t all been smooth sailing as the squad adapt to his ways. No player has felt these struggles more than Tanguy Ndombele, the gifted playmaker who has yet to truly shine for Spurs.

Ndombele played consistently under Nuno Espirito Santo but since Conte took over at the start of November Ndombele has played just three times in the Premier League, with just one start for a grand total of 80 minutes.

His record in other competitions hasn’t been great either. He played 76 minutes of Spurs’ Europa Conference League humiliation away to NS Mura. He then came off the bench at half-time to try and turn around their EFL Cup semi-final first leg against Chelsea but couldn’t make an impact. And although he started the FA Cup third round tie against Morecambe, Spurs were losing 1-0 when he was hauled off and it was only in his absence that they rallied to win the game.

Ndombele’s struggles are clear and the club must be wondering if he has a future at the club. And he’s far from the only Spurs player with an uncertain place in the squad. There could definitely be some departures in January as Conte targets the likes of Adama Traoré as new additions for the second half of the campaign.

With that in mind we’ve had a look at the players potentially on the fringes of the first-team picture at Spurs and decided whether they should be kept, loaned out or sold.

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Tanguy Ndombele

Age: 25
Position: Midfielder
Minutes this season: 886

Ndombele’s woes at Spurs are obvious. He looks a shadow of the dynamic midfielder he was at Lyon. Whatever the reason, three coaches have now failed to get anything meaningful out of him with Conte almost disinterested in developing him.

His last possible saving grace is the EFL Cup semi-final second leg against Chelsea. Spurs are trailing 2-0 from the first leg and so bringing in creative midfielders like Ndombele could be exactly what they need to do to turn things around dramatically.

Trusting someone as expansive and creative as Ndombele may seem alien for Conte, but when he did just that against Liverpool back in December, the Frenchman set up Harry Kane’s opening goal with a sublime through ball assist.

Such penetrative passes will be essential for Conte’s men if they are to turn around the deficit, so what better time than to unleash Ndombele? Spurs are almost in a no-win situation, so why not give it a go? A big performance in a big game could be just what Ndombele needs to kick-start his Spurs career.

However, that would certainly be a long shot. Ndombele’s body language when being subbed off against Morecambe (walking off while the other subs ran off) was intensely negative. And although Conte refused to criticise his player in public, what the Italian did say still felt damning.

I don’t like to speak about a player in front of the media. This is not fair,” said the Italian. “If I have to tell him something or do something to him, I’ll do this in a private way.”

Given everything, however, Ndombele will be best suited by leaving Spurs on loan for the second half of the season. Sure, they could sell, but he’s such a magical talent and the club invested so much into him that it would be savvier allowing him to temporarily play for a club where he feels comfortable expressing his best self and showing his true level, restoring his value back to something sensible. Then he returns to Spurs in the summer, where he can either have one last crack at North London or leave for a reasonable fee.

VERDICT: LOAN

Dele Alli

Age: 25
Position: Midfielder
Minutes this season: 1,042

If it feels like forever ago when Dele Alli burst onto the scene at Spurs, that’s because it was. Alli’s first season with Spurs was 2015/16, when Mauricio Pochettino’s men really ought to have won the Premier League only to fall to Leicester.

In his second season Alli got even better, scoring 18 Premier League goals and 22 across all competitions. He was a vibrant young attacker whose movement, intelligence and goalscoring prowess looked set to turn him into a legend. But he never got close to his 2016/17 goalscoring again. Nowadays he cuts a frustrated figure, moping around the field generally looking useless.

Like Ndombele, he was also hauled off against Morecambe to facilitate Spurs’ comeback. Just the latest in so many sad stories. And the sad fact is that Alli has had chances to re-find his form under four different managers and none of them seemed capable of driving him forward.

It’s time for Alli to leave. He’s still got immense talent, but it’s clear he’s not going to reach his full potential at Spurs. He’s had so many chances and something is just off. Time for him to find a new place to call home, a place where he can get his groove on.

VERDICT: SELL

Harry Winks

Age: 25
Position: Midfielder
Minutes this season: 876

At times, Harry Winks has looked like the next great English midfielder, but he has mostly just been kind of alright during his years with Spurs. However, according to Winks himself, he’s not been given enough chances to show what he can do.

Winks recently said of Conte: “[He] has given me opportunities which I didn’t get before, and I want to repay that faith because beforehand I wasn’t given that.”

So instantly you can see the value of Winks as a rotational option either next to, or starting in place of, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

He may not be a superstar, but he has a lot to offer Spurs.

VERDICT: KEEP

Steven Bergwijn

Age: 24
Position: Winger
Minutes this season: 574

Steven Bergwijn scored a stunning goal on his Spurs debut, firing his side to a big win over Manchester United. Later that season he also scored a huge goal as Spurs beat Manchester City 2-0. He looked like he was going to really develop into a big deal, but then he didn’t.

He’s obviously a player of great talent, but given he’s not going to dislodge Harry Kane or Son Heung-min, it comes down to him against Giovani Lo Celso and Lucas Moura, and both men offer more than he does.

Moreover, there is a market for Bergwijn, with Ajax leading the race to get the Dutch winger out of North London (even after their first bid was rejected). Given the way Ajax have rehabilitated previous Premier League duds like Sebastien Haller and Dusan Tadic, letting Bergwijn leave to live his best life in the Netherlands may be the best thing for all involved here.

VERDICT: SELL

Matt Doherty

Age: 29
Position: Wing-back
Minutes this season: 729

When Matt Doherty joined Spurs, it seemed like a smart way to beef up their depth at full-back. And when the Irish international didn’t really settle in during his debut season, but his second saw his old boss Nuno Espirito Santo take charge? Things appeared to be on the up.

But things were not, in fact, on the up. Doherty has cut a frustrated figure under both Espirito Santo and Conte, left on the bench for most of the Premier League games with Emerson Royal locking down the starting berth at right wing-back. And now with the news that Spurs are looking to sign a right wing-back in January, Doherty appears to have no future at Tottenham. Time to go.

VERDICT: SELL

Bryan Gil

Age: 20
Position: Winger
Minutes this season: 736

Nuno Espirito Santo is a manager who likes to give young players a chance, so when Spurs swapped Erik Lamela for Bryan Gil late in the transfer window, it made sense. Gil is an explosive and creative young talent who, with the right nurturing, could fly.

However, Conte infamously has little-to-no patience for flighty young attackers, and it will surprise no one that Gil has not started a single Premier League game under Conte and was the final member of “The Morecambe Three” along with Ndombele and Alli that was subbed off to enable Spurs’ comeback in the FA Cup.

But, unlike Alli and even Ndombele, Bryan Gil is 20. To that end, a loan is the right move. Ideally a move to another Premier League club so he can really get settled into life in England and then return to Spurs in the summer a changed man, ready and willing to make the grade under Conte.

VERDICT: LOAN

Joe Rodon

Age: 24
Position: Defender
Minutes this season: 493

Joe Rodon is not one of Antonio Conte’s first choice defenders, that much is for sure. However, he is a solid centre-back and when you’re playing a three man defence the more solid centre-backs you have, the better. He may not start regularly, but when Spurs need him they’ll be very glad that he’s there.

VERDICT: KEEP

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