Mendes' blend of steel and style can be missing spur

Capital quest for the Portuguese player Mourinho didn't sign
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The Independent Football

In the post-match euphoria of the Champions' League final, the Porto players joked among themselves about who Jose Mourinho would take with him to Chelsea. From the midfield, Pedro Mendes was the only one not linked with a move to Stamford Bridge. In the event, the 25-year-old was the only one who did move to London - but it was north and not west. Tottenham Hotspur was his destination.

It's easy to forget - amid the plaudits offered to Deco, Costinha and Maniche, who all also starred in Euro 2004 for Portugal - that Mendes played the full 90 minutes that heady night in Gelsen-kirchen. Indeed, it's easy to forget his presence at all. Mendes is a midfield harrier, something Spurs have been crying out for, but also one with an assured touch. Indeed, of the 14 new players at White Hart Lane, more than two-thirds are defensive. It's a total that serves to highlight the imbalance last term and the summer's intense activity.

Back to that May evening, and Monaco - 27 goals on the way to the final - did not score. Neither did Deportivo La Coruña in the semi-finals. Again Mendes provided the difference. A similar robustness has been installed at his new club. Two wins, two draws - and just two goals conceded. "We hoped for this start, even though we knew we had tough games," says Mendes, reflecting on his frenzied initiation into the Premiership, ahead of today's meeting with Norwich City who, he admits, he has only heard of because former team-mate Gary Doherty moved there. "I'm going to watch videos and prepare," insists Mendes. "By Sunday I will know." Rapid familiarity is a theme. After all, he was one of seven debutants on the first day of the season against Liverpool.

Such cohesion was elusive in pre-season. "That was terrible," admits Mendes. So terrible that it led to stories of disaffection and problems with communication. Two wins from a punishing schedule of 13 games were a poor return. "It seemed like every two or three days, another game, and that was very hard," he says. "But because there were a lot, that has helped the players get used to each other. Things are running normally. It was tough but now we have the results."

They had to get them. Both the new coach, Jacques Santini, and, more pertinently, the chairman, Daniel Levy, have spoken of the need for a strong opening after seasons of frustration. "Dynamic élan," Santini called it. "We must start well," was Levy's more direct response. "That work that we did," says Mendes, "is starting to show."

With impressively fluent English - "learnt at school, holidays and when I go somewhere where English is the main language" - he has adapted well to life on and off the pitch. His only complaint is his inability to find a satellite dish big enough to catch his favourite Portuguese programmes. His wife and nine-month-old baby daughter are coping. "It was not hard at the beginning," says Mendes. "We had friends here but they've gone home. So it's quite a bit more difficult, but we live in a nice place and I think it will be OK." The only real concern is the weather. "It goes from rain to sun to snow in one day," he says ruefully.

Adjusting to the football has been a necessity. "Here the games are quicker, more aggressive," he says. "But there are teams who play like this in Portugal. The main difference is the speed, and no stops. I enjoy that. I have to if I'm to be happy."

Mendes moved as part of the deal which took misfit striker Helder Postiga back to Portugal. The two have spoken. Although Postiga's time at Spurs was unhappy, Mendes insists: "He only said great things and they have been confirmed. He did not talk about the past. Just the present." In truth, Postiga was simply too young.

Given that Mendes's Porto team-mates Paulo Ferreira and Ricardo Carvalho joined Chelsea for combined fees of £33m, the £2m paid for him appears obscenely modest. As does the £7m Spurs had to part with for Jermain Defoe. Indeed, as Mendes speaks, England's striking sensation - who has also scored three of Spurs' four goals - passes by.

"He was one of the footballers I knew," says Mendes. "I watched Tottenham on one of the sports channels before I came here. Now I have the chance to play with him and it confirms everything. He is a fantastic player, a joy to play with. He always offers a solution for the midfield. For us to have a player like him well, what can I say." Indeed. Is he then one of Europe's best? "Yes, I think so," is the immediate reply. "And one of his best qualities is that he is a great player but he is also a great human."

Such things matter. It's why Mendes can appreciate the diverse qualities of Mourinho - who congratulated him on his move to Spurs - and Santini. "Each manager has his style," he says. "They are different coaches, but two wonderful coaches. I'm pleased to work with Santini this year and was pleased to work with Mourinho last year."

Diplomacy may, also, be one of his skills. But that goes out of the window when it is suggested that Mendes has gone backwards - apart from wages - in joining Spurs. "I don't think it is climbing down," is his affronted reply. "It's a step above. I was playing in the Portuguese championship and now I'm playing Premier League. I'm pleased to be here. But I sincerely hope that Tottenham can get into the Uefa Cup in the near future. That's why I'm here, to help to get one of those places."

It may not happen this season. "But Tottenham deserve to be there," Mendes says. Such a limited showcase will, surely, do little for his international ambitions. Again, forcefully, Mendes is having none of it. "I was at Vitoria Guimares and I was an international," states the midfielder, who has two caps. "I moved to Porto and won the Champions' League, I was a champion, but I didn't play any internationals. I'm here now and I know that the chances are going to come again."

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