Tottenham Hotspur’s summer transfer window was dominated by rumours linking a whole host of high-profile players away from the club, including Mousa Dembele.
Such is the nature of the modern game that a player turning 31 is now a signal for alarm bells to start ringing in Premier League boardrooms and multi-million pound cheques to be prepared. Well, that seemed to be the case for Tottenham’s Dembele during the summer as he turned 31-years-old on July 16th.
Dembele has consistently been regarded as a vital cog in Mauricio Pochettino’s Spurs machine, but his performance against Juventus at the Allianz Stadium during the last-sixteen phase of the Champions League catapulted his wider reputation into the footballing stratosphere last season. With Spurs 2-0 down, Dembele single-handedly gave his side a foothold in proceedings: his willingness to collect the ball in midfield and drive Tottenham forward with incisive forward passing, intricate one-twos and direct dribbling were central to their dramatic comeback.
Tottenham drew level at 2-2, Dembele returned to north London a hero and supporters of Premier League clubs began to beg their respective clubs for his signature. But as soon as the 2017/18 drew to a close and he entered the final year of his contract it seemed he was destined for a move abroad: a report from FootballFanCast in June claimed he was in ‘serious talks’ with Beijing Guoan and a recent report from The Sun suggested that the Chinese club remain in the hunt for his signature.
Reports in recent months have aroused a feeling of inevitability regarding Dembele’s departure by the time his contract expires next summer, so it’s no surprise that Spurs have been linked with a player who would provide an upgrade on their Belgian lynchpin, namely Frenkie de Jong.
According to a recent report from Spanish media outlet Mundo Deportivo, Tottenham have had a bid worth 50 million euros (£45 million) rejected for Ajax’s emerging prodigy as the Dutch giants are unwilling to sell. The same report claims that Barcelona are interested in signing the 21-year-old, but their transfer proposal falling somewhere in the region of 25-30 million euros was also rebuked by Ajax.
If Tottenham supporters are to take one thing away from the report then it’s this: de Jong will not arrive in north London for anything less than an extortionate price. Naturally, that notion will concern an owner of Daniel Levy’s reputation who typically prefers to sanction cut-price bargains over eye-watering splurges.
But if Levy wants to enable Pochettino to take Tottenham to the next level and arrive in the promised land of a trophy winning campaign, he must change his ways and target players of de Jong’s calibre. Not only would Ajax’s latest rising superstar to emerge from their internationally renowned academy system be a fantastic replacement for Dembele, he would represent a long-term upgrade.
For all of Dembele’s talent there is no doubt he is missing one key aspect which separates the good from the great central midfielders: a decisive end-product. In 240 appearances for Tottenham, Dembele has managed to score just 10 goals and provide 11 assists from midfield, whereas de Jong managed to provide 7 assists in the 2017/18 Eredivisie season alone.
Of course, the Dutch top-flight does not compare to the Premier League in terms of standard and intensity, but de Jong is a young playmaker finding his feet in the game whereas Dembele should really ought to have added assists to his near-complete game by now.
After showcasing his marvellous technical ability throughout his development at Ajax, de Jong was handed his debut for the Dutch national side last week against Peru as he replaced Georginio Wijnaldum at half-time, and he made an instant impact by providing Memphis Depay with Holland’s second-half equaliser.
De Jong’s classy showing in midfield convinced Ronald Koeman to hand him his full debut against the World champions on Sunday where he continued to enhance his growing reputation with a confident ball-playing performance.
With the ability to drive at opponents with the ball tightly glued to his feet, carefully chose his passes and harass the opposition in a bid to recover possession, de Jong possesses the fundamental skill set to thrive in Pochettino’s midfield.
Perhaps the only concern relating to de Jong’s credentials relates to his supposed lack of physical presence, but a quick-look at the hugely success Premier League careers of Fernandinho and N’Golo Kante can quickly dispel the myth that physical strength is a prerequisite for a successful career in England’s top-flight.
Besides, the presence of Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier at Tottenham proves Pochettino’s squad is stacked with the relevant muscle on the bones of his more lightweight creative players, so de Jong’s slight frame should be considered an advantage rather than a disadvantage in the free-roaming role he plays.
A reasonable sceptic would be well within their rights to write off Tottenham’s chances of landing the 21-year-old old on the basis of Barcelona’s interest alone, but Levy’s prudence may actually work in their favour on this occasion: whilst he is famed for his stingy approach, a mega money deal for a young player of de Jong’s potential actually represents a wise long-term investment, so there’s no doubt he should be entertaining the possibility of breaking Tottenham’s transfer record to secure his services.
One of Europe’s most exciting talents has the potential to make Spurs supporters forgot all about Dembele, so Levy should do everything in his power to hand de Jong to Pochettino before a European rival swoops in to seal a game-changing acquisition.
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