When Tanguy Ndombele was substituted during the March game against Burnley and then publicly criticised by his manager Jose Mourinho, it seemed that the midfielder’s time at Tottenham was coming to an end.

The 24-year-old, signed at Lyon in July 2019 for a record £54million, seemed destined to go down in history as an expensive flop as he became a small but successful role at Spurs in his first season under Mourinho.

But barely a year later, he made an impressive and rapid turnaround, turning into a key Spurs player with an eye for brilliant passing and capable of sublime moments of magic – underlined by his dazzling goal in Sunday’s 3-1 win at Sheffield United.

As the Blades narrowed the gap to 2-1 and an unlikely comeback loomed on the horizon, Ndombele’s brilliant impromptu lob on Aaron Ramsdale completed the Spurs victory and put the battle for the top four back on track.

He is incredible, Mourinho said after the game. For me, sometimes you can score a big goal without considering your work – in this case, the goal validated your work very well.

How did Ndombele go from an outcast from the Spurs to a major player?

Change of opinion

The main mistake frustrates Mourinho in Spurs’ excellent performance.

When Ndombele arrived at Spurs two summers ago, he first impressed by scoring in his debut in a 3-1 win over Aston Villa.

Ndombele impressed with his strength and eye, but was soon on the sidelines, struggling with injuries and poor physical condition.

Since then he has had little game time and after the defeat at the hands of Burnley and Mourinho’s pathetic comments that Ndombela’s performance in that match was some sort of midfield failure, it was easy for the French international to give up hope of ever making a career for Spurs.

However, in the Amazon All or Nothing series last summer, Ndombele had a meeting with Tottenham president Daniel Levy. Levy told the Frenchman that the club wanted to keep him, but that he had to prove himself.

This seemed to bring about a change in mentality in Ndombela, who tried to prove his critics wrong – an attitude that Mourinho believes fully benefited him.

It’s the player’s mindset, the player’s desire to be a coach, the player’s desire to be available to the team, the player’s desire to win, to win/work his place on the team. And the most responsible actor, he said.

The door is always open, but the player can’t expect me to let him in. It’s up to the player to walk through that door and go in the direction the team needs.

More freedom of speech or change of position?

Ndombele came to Tottenham as a midfielder – someone who can help turn defence into attack – and that role has not changed from his difficult first season to his – so far – remarkable second.

A direct comparison of the 2019-20 statistics with the current campaign doesn’t show much improvement.

Season 2019-20 2020-21
Games 21 16
Minutes played 1,007 982
Objectives 2 3
She’s helping… 2 1
Opportunities created (including grants) 12 12
Minsk/Target 504 327
Minsk/Target or aid 252 246
Tasks 24 23
Success in solving problems 66.7% 43.5%
Passport 632 510
Accuracy of transmission 85.6% 82%
Dribble on. 38 32

But a key factor in his progress this season has been having an attacking midfielder on standby alongside Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

This has allowed Ndombele to move on and flourish in areas where he feels more comfortable, using his pace to get the ball up the pitch quickly.

Ndombele and his teammates are now enjoying the freedom at his disposal.

This guy, he always hits the ball and something happens, Serge Aurier said.

I am happy for him, he played well and scored a great goal.

Ndombele has already been described as one of the best midfielders in the world. It now appears to be on track to realize that potential.

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