Tanguy Ndombele: Why Tottenham's record signing is the most important transfer in years

Spurs have signed a player who simultaneously solves their biggest problem, answers questions about their financial power, takes them to another level on the pitch and proves their new status away from it

Jack Pitt-Brooke
Wednesday 03 July 2019 11:06 BST
Transfer deadline day summer 2019: The deals done so far

If this is the most crucial transfer window in Tottenham's modern history, on Tuesday it had the perfect start. The £55million arrival of Tanguy Ndombele from Olympique Lyonnais is not just the most important football signing of the summer, but the loudest statement about the direction of any club for years.

Because as soon as Ndombele becomes a Tottenham player and poses with the shirt, he becomes an emphatic answer to years of questions about the financial muscle of the club, a living symbol of their new status.

Everyone knows about Spurs in the last few years: the £1billion new stadium, a net debt of almost £600m, no signings for the last two windows, a playing squad looking increasingly stale, even though they performed miracles to reach the Champions League final. But no top team has looked more in need of reinforcements, or a refresh, than Spurs did over the final months of last season. Their declining Premier League points tallies over the last three years - 86, 77, 71 - is proof of that.

Through all of this there has been a worry among some fans that the costs of the stadium were so much, that they were would constrain Pochettino so far, that there would never be enough money to refresh to the team. And Pochettino’s barely-coded warnings that Spurs would have to be brave and take risks or else things might fall apart spoke to those fears too.

Well, most of those fears have been washed away by today’s events. Daniel Levy always knew that Pochettino had to be backed this summer, that they could not afford another year of stasis, and that they would have to bring players in. He knew that they would have to spend the money to keep the whole enterprise afloat. He did not meet Lyon’s initial asking price for Ndombele of more than £70m, but he spent more than he has ever done on a player before.

And this does not mean it will be start of a spree, and Spurs will still have to keep their belts tight. They will still need to sell players in order to keep buying, and the futures of Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld and Kieran Trippier are key to all of that. Do not expect Spurs to be well into the red for the summer by the time the window shuts.

But there is an even more important point here than simply one player coming through the door. Because they were always going to sign someone this summer. In fact, they signed Jack Clarke from Leeds United earlier on Tuesday.

The real point with Ndombele is just how good he is. He has been the star of the most exciting young team in France in recent years. He helped take four points from Manchester City in the Champions League group stage last season. He is clever and powerful and fast and precise, the player they have desperately needed since Mousa Dembele and Victor Wanyama got old at the same time. He is comfortably the best available player in his position this summer, and he is going to Spurs, who did a deal with Lyon before Manchester United could. And this, more than anything else, is the true break with the past here.

Because when did Tottenham last sign an elite player? One who the other top teams were all monitoring? Certainly not during the Pochettino era. Yes, they beat Liverpool to sign Dele Alli but he was still a teenager playing for MK Dons at the time. You have to go all the way back to 2013, when they spent some of the Gareth Bale money to get Christian Eriksen from Ajax. And that was a very different era in the history of the club.

Ndombele joins Tottenham for a club-record fee
Ndombele joins Tottenham for a club-record fee (Getty)

Ever since then Spurs have been steadily progressing: twice finishing third in the league, once finishing second, opening a new stadium, reaching the Champions League. But they have never had the clout to go and buy a £55m player before, from underneath the noses of their rivals. They have never had the clout, the money or the prestige. Which is why they ended up taking punts on squad players rather than buying from the top of the range. But now they can.

When Spurs lost the Champions League final one month ago they were told that they would have to pursue the Liverpool strategy of last year: buying the best available players in key positions, the only players who could truly improve the team. It felt like a stretch for a team who had never shopped at that end of the market before. And yet here Spurs are, unveiling a player who solves their biggest problem, who answers questions about their financial power, who takes them to another level on the pitch and who proves their new status away from it. Now they just need another one like him.

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