TANGUY NDOMBELE is certain Jose Mourinho’s criticism created “a war” in his head.
But it is a war that Tottenham’s record signing appears to have won.
Tanguy Ndombele has opened up on his chats with Jose MourinhoCredit: PA:Press Association
Less than a year after Spurs manager Mourinho hooked Ndombele at half-time against Burnley and laid into him after the game, the French midfielder is a key part of the team.
At the time, though, Ndombele admits he was in turmoil.
The French have a phrase “qui j’aime bien chatie bien”, which is the rough equivalent of “spare the rod, spoil the child”, or plain old “tough love”.
Did it apply in that situation?
Ndombele smiled but said: “Well, yeah, that French expression stands — we do say that about the way people are with each other.
“But sometimes the words can be too hard or too harsh when you speak that way.
“When you speak that way it is obviously going to have an effect — and it created for me a war in my head. It was difficult to take.”
But over time, Ndombele, 24, found the right response to Mourinho’s straight-talking.
He said: “It was not enjoyable of course, but it was not unmerited criticism.
“It depends how you take the message, I would say.
“Obviously the coach can be quite hard on people but I think that’s understandable if you concede a sloppy goal or things don’t go your way.
“But it’s important that you take that message on board and try to find in it the positives and not be floored by the hardness of the message.
“You have to get up again. You can either try to blame others for any slips or errors, or try to laugh about it or brush it off.
“But you will always go on to reflect properly on what has been said and to take criticism on board.
“Now it’s safe to say that things are going very well, communication is open and we are all happy with that.
“It is all good, we can talk openly, have a laugh together, sit down for a meal, no problems.”
Ndombele has made big strides since he landed in North LondonCredit: AFP
Both former Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino and Mourinho expressed concern about the injury problems that hampered the start of Ndombele’s Spurs career following his £60million move from Lyon in 2019.
Mourinho even had to apologise after taking the French international out for an impromptu training session during the first lockdown.
Ndombele’s Spurs future still seemed in doubt when he played just 64 minutes in the Premier League after the 2019-20 season resumed.
But on September 20, he made his first start since that March game at Burnley — and has not looked back.
Ndombele said: “I think the coach’s management of me was good — in the sense that he brought me back slowly with appearances for 60, 65, 70 minutes.
“That helped me get into a rhythm and now I’m in great shape. I think I am doing better this season on several fronts — primarily no injury.
“I’m also understanding my team-mates better.
“I’ve got a strong grasp of what the coach wants from me and that has contributed to this positive frame of mind.”
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My intention was to lob it in [vs Sheff Utd] and I was just lucky it came off better than I expected.
The signing of Danish midfielder Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg seems to have given Ndombele in particular more freedom to play to his strengths.
After speaking through a translator, he even tried out a bit of English when asked what his preferred role was.
He said: “My best position? I dunno. Between a six and ten.”
Which sounds like a No 8, a box-to-box midfielder. But it is hard to pigeonhole Ndombele, so it is no surprise it has taken Spurs and Mourinho a while to get the best out of him.
In the outrageous goal he scored against Sheffield United last month, you could even see something of the audacity of his childhood hero, Ronaldinho.
Because it was no fluke — Ndombele meant it.
He said: “Yes I did, but my intention was to lob it in and I was just lucky it came off better than I expected.”
And that goal, the cherry on top of his strong performances so far this season, showed that Ndombele was in a good place.
He said: “I am certainly playing a very positive game and I have my confidence up.”
The war in Ndombele’s head is over — and now he is leading Spurs’ fight for a Champions League place.