Promising younger footballers are repeatedly in contrast to a present or former nice and it is normally based mostly upon a few attributes: the brand new Thierry Henry, the brand new Lionel Messi, the brand new Ronaldo. They not often dwell up to the billing, nevertheless it’s a helpful shortcut for describing their model. It is troublesome, although, to think about anybody being an correct “new Mousa Dembele” not as a result of the Belgian was so magnificent that no-one may probably come shut, however as a result of Dembele is not like anybody else earlier than or since.
Set to depart for China this week after eight-and-a-half years at Fulham and Tottenham, Dembele won’t bow out as a Premier League nice. He ought to, nonetheless, be remembered the division’s most unique player.
Rewind to summer time 2010, when Dembele joined Fulham. They’d simply been defeated within the Europa League closing, had misplaced Roy Hodgson to Liverpool and appointed Mark Hughes as their new supervisor. Dembele was a promising signing, having won the Eredivisie with Louis van Gaal’s AZ, however he was considered a ahead. The Guardian’s report described him as “the Belgium striker” whereas noting that “he can even play on the wing.” Hughes mentioned he was “sturdy and fast, and will add one other dimension to our attacking choices.”
Dembele got here off the bench in opposition to Manchester United after which made his full debut at Blackpool, the place he performed simply off Bobby Zamora and assisted each objectives in a 2-2 draw. The subsequent weekend he was once more Zamora’s strike companion in a house conflict with Wolves. Zamora suffered a damaged leg within the first half however Dembele got here to Fulham’s rescue with two objectives, securing a dramatic 2-1 win.
“We hope Moussa can get the objectives — there is a huge onus on him now that Bobby’s out,” mentioned Hughes. That made sense: he’d managed two objectives in two begins. But regardless of taking part in the rest of the season up entrance, Dembele did not handle one other aim till his closing sport of the season, in a 5-2 house defeat to Liverpool. In reality, he was so missing in goalscoring menace that his place modified totally.
The essential change got here in a house contest in opposition to Stoke the next February. When one journalist dared to tweet (presumably having been tipped off by a dressing room supply) that Dembele could be beginning alongside Danny Murphy within the engine room, he was broadly mocked. This was a ahead and a relentless dribbler; Fulham performed two aggressive wingers. How would Martin Jol, who had changed Hughes, be courageous sufficient to use him in a midfield duo? However, certain sufficient, that is what occurred. With new signing Pavel Pogrebnyak taking part in up entrance and scoring on debut, Dembele was now a deep central midfielder.
“Dembele was taking part in in a deeper position than traditional and the Belgian was clearly having fun with having the ability to dictate the play,” learn the match report on Fulham’s web site.
“Dembele was impressing for the hosts regardless of taking part in in an uncommon position alongside Danny Murphy in central midfield,” learn the Every day Specific. “The Belgium worldwide was main the Stoke defenders a merry dance.”
That set the tone for the remainder of Dembele’s Premier League profession: opponents discovered themselves unable to get shut. This was 2012, a interval when Barcelona nonetheless dominated European soccer and Spain had been about to full their hat-trick of worldwide successes, a interval when midfielders had been primarily all about passing. However Dembele, whereas very dependable in possession, was largely about dribbling. It is troublesome to consider one other central midfielder so adept at turning away from stress, at slaloming previous opponents to launch a fast break.
It maybe hinted at Dembele’s previous place however then, for a transformed attacker, Dembele barely supplied any menace within the closing third. Having recorded two objectives and two assists in his first three Premier League appearances, he then recorded 12 objectives and 12 assists in his subsequent 239.
Dembele was totally conditioned by his childhood video games. In a 2012 interview, the Belgian defined that he used to play soccer on a “pitch” with out objectives.
“I all the time performed on the road with two lamp posts that had been like a basketball pitch and we couldn’t shoot. You had to dribble and contact the ball on the posts to rating: we by no means shot,” he mentioned. “I do know now it is essential to shoot and have the mix, not solely to dribble however to shoot quite a bit as nicely.” It is an ideal rationalization of Dembele’s totally uncommon model.
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Upon shifting to Tottenham in 2012, Dembele turned a everlasting central midfielder. He helped to usher within the new period underneath Andre Villas-Boas, who wished a direct model of attacking, and Dembele was notably spectacular in a momentous Three-2 win at Previous Trafford, the place he turned defence into assault by dribbling ahead relentlessly.
Since becoming a member of Spurs, Dembele has a greater dribble success charge than another Premier League player, and solely seven gamers have a greater go completion charge. Now the English prime flight relies round urgent — epitomized by the strategy of Dembele’s boss, Mauricio Pochettino — and he was among the many most efficient central midfielders at each dribbling and passing round stress.
One among his most memorable Spurs shows got here in an extremely intense 2-2 house draw with Arsenal late in 2015-16, when each golf equipment had been nonetheless battling Leicester Metropolis for the title. The velocity of the sport was exceptional but Dembele was magnificent, ending the sport as its most constant passer, its most prolific dribbler and his most profitable tackler.
Maybe solely Arsenal’s Santi Cazorla, one other dribbler who moved right into a deep position halfway by his Premier League profession, was at expert in such a fast-paced midfield battle. However whereas Cazorla has returned to his former membership Villarreal, Dembele is choosing a much less romantic, extra profitable switch to China. It suits along with his considerably dispassionate strategy in direction of soccer: he says he by no means had ambitions to be knowledgeable, by no means supported a membership at a boy and has no intention of remaining within the sport after his retirement; he’ll as an alternative go into enterprise along with his cousin.
That brings one other issue into play when it comes to Dembele’s lack of objectives: his lack of killer intuition. Was he actually bothered about successful, or did he simply need to exit on the pitch and luxuriate in himself by showcasing the abilities he discovered on the basketball court docket again in Antwerp? It appears like Dembele had spent the previous eight years excelling at a very completely different sport to soccer.
So who’s the following Mousa Dembele? A fast search reveals that the 2 gamers burdened with that tag are presently each taking part in for Lyon and the comparability seemingly originated from their identify, greater than anything: one is Moussa Dembele, the opposite Tanguy Ndombele.
The double comparability does not actually make sense as a result of these two Lyon gamers are utterly completely different: one is a speedy ahead able to taking part in up entrance or out extensive, the opposite is a massively proficient box-to-box midfielder. And but that is good: one represents the primary iteration of Dembele, the opposite the second.
Discovering somebody who adequately replicates all Dembele’s strengths and weaknesses, nonetheless, will in all probability show inconceivable.