Dembele expects a bright future at Spurs - and he’s enjoying his No10 role
PUBLISHED: 12:01 09 February 2015 | UPDATED: 12:01 09 February 2015
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Mousa Dembele believes Tottenham’s desire to keep their young players for the long-term shows a commitment to continuity which will help the club to maintain their rapid progress under Mauricio Pochettino.
Harry Kane, Ryan Mason and Danny Rose have all been given new deals this season, for five years or longer, and the trio all started in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal in the north London derby.
With the likes of Nabil Bentaleb, Christian Eriksen, Ben Davies and Eric Dier all under 23 years of age, Pochettino is developing a talented, youthful squad – and Dembele believes the future is bright.
“You see how the club works now, the feeling that they want to keep a lot of players here,” he said. “It is a very positive thing because the players who have now extended their contracts are very good players - young players who will make massive progression in the future.
“It is a very good think for everyone. Everybody knows if the team is together for a long time, it gets easier and easier.”
Dembele will hope to be heavily involved in Spurs’ future himself, and a recent tactical change has helped the 27-year-old to have a greater influence on the team.
The Belgian midfielder has been an enigmatic figure for much of his time at the club, seemingly possessing all of the qualities to seize control of a match and make a decisive contribution, but rarely delivering.
Despite incredible strength and skill, the shot-shy Dembele – who used to play as a forward at Dutch club AZ Alkmaar - has only scored four goals for Spurs since his £15million move from Fulham in the summer of 2012.
That has generally limited his opportunities to hold down a position in the attacking midfield spots, and Dembele has largely been used as a deeper-lying midfielder, using his strength and effortless ability to beat a man to win the ball and launch counter-attacks.
However, he is ill-suited to Pochettino’s high-tempo pressing game without the ball and, in possession, his tendency to run with the ball or dwell on it rather than passing quickly – and then passing sideways instead of forward – has undermined his ability to play that role effectively under the current head coach too.
With Pochettino settling on Mason and Bentaleb as his favoured central midfield duo, and summer signing Benjamin Stambouli finding his feet in the Premier League, it seemed Dembele might struggle to play a part in Spurs’ strongest XI.
However, he was moved forward into the No10 role behind the striker in the second leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Sheffield United at the end of January, and he immediately thrived in the role. Keeping his place at West Brom, he set up two goals inside the opening 15 minutes – and Dembele was also a key figure in Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Arsenal.
“At the moment I like the position, to be honest,” he said. “You can see we have a lot of good players in the midfield as well, so I think a lot of players can play in that position.
“Now the manager has given me a chance there and at the moment I like it. I like playing close to Harry Kane - everybody can see he is an unbelievable player, so it is nice to play there. But I like the position behind as well.
“In the other position, more as a No6, you have to do more defensive tasks. I think I can do both as well, but in an attacking way I can do something as well. I like both positions.”
Asked if the trip to Sheffield United was a turning point in his Tottenham career, Dembele replied: “No. It was a very good game but, to be honest, a few games before that I thought I started playing better as well. I don’t see that as a turning point.”
Les Ferdinand, who was part of Tim Sherwood’s coaching team which took over first-team affairs for the second half of the last campaign, provided an insight into working with Dembele in December.
“We used to say to him [Dembele]: ‘You’re the next guy to go to Real Madrid from this club’,” said Ferdinand. “He’s got great ability, yet you just don’t see enough of it. He leaves you frustrated because you know he’s got more and you want to see it.”
Dembele responded: “As a player, I don’t think about that. Of course it is a big compliment [that I could play for Real Madrid] and I think everybody in this team wants to be at the top of their game - me as well, but I am not thinking about other things.
“Every day I focus on being as sharp as possible and, with this manager as well, training is different than we’re used to, it’s much harder. I think it’s a good thing for us and I think it’s easier to develop then to become a better player. I know I can do better.
“We played well against Arsenal but I think the team can do even better as well because we know we have a lot of talent, a lot of experience. We have everything here. You could see that at the weekend, that we have a very good team.
“We won against a very good team and we played very well so it was the total package.”
Dembele feels the positive atmosphere that Pochettino has engendered has also been a key factor in Tottenham’s improvement this season.
“You can feel a positive energy, 100 per cent. You can feel a big difference,” he said. “I think it is a thing that the manager has aimed for. They are very sharp on that point - that everybody keeps positive.
“That’s a good thing and you can also feel that everybody knows that almost no-one is sure of their spot in the team. Every game you need to be positive and try to do everything. That’s a certain manner of thinking and it is working with us at the moment, so it is very good.
“I think, even in the past, we always played very well against these kind of teams [like Arsenal] but we missed a little bit of something - maybe aggression or the will to win.
“If you saw in the dressing room after the game on Saturday, everybody was very happy and still very sharp, like they were so happy to win. It’s a good thing, a good mentality.”
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