José Mourinho has praised Tanguy Ndombele for going through a “big evolution” at Tottenham but said the midfielder still has some way to go before he can be trusted to complete 90 minutes for the team.
Ndombele endured a difficult debut season at Spurs after joining from Lyon for a club-record fee of €62m (£55.45m) in July 2019, and particularly so when Mourinho arrived as Mauricio Pochettino’s replacement four months later. The Portuguese was clearly unimpressed with the player’s fitness levels, with the nadir in their relationship reached in March when, following the 1-1 draw with Burnley, Mourinho singled out Ndombele for criticism, saying: “I know adapting to the Premier League is difficult but he has had enough time and has to give us more than he is giving us.”
The Frenchman appeared destined to leave in the summer but instead he has not only remained but thrived, featuring 20 times in all competitions, with his most recent appearance his best. Ndombele was outstanding in the 1-1 draw with Wolves on Sunday, causing Nuno Espírito Santo’s side all sorts of problems from an advanced free role and opening the scoring with a long-range strike in the opening minute.
“We are happy, apart from a couple of matches where his performances were not good. Overall there was a big evolution,” said Mourinho. “He’s a player who is playing very well and is giving some good things to the team.”
As well as Ndombele is doing, it is striking he has played an entire game only twice this season, and not once in the Premier League. The 24-year-old has admitted to finding the intensity of English football difficult to adjust to but insisted he has, and is, working on getting up to speed. Mourinho clearly believes he can do more.
“In his case, he’s adapting to a league that is not new, new, new for him but let’s forget last season where he didn’t play much and had lots of injuries,” said Mourinho. “This season I believe to play at this intensity and to give the team what it needs with and without the ball, it’s not easy for him to last 90 minutes. To play at this intensity – Premier League intensity – and to last for 90 minutes is another step in the direction of his fitness.”
Ndombele will get a fresh opportunity to feature from start to finish for Spurs when they host Fulham on Wednesday. Gareth Bale, however, will be out for “a few weeks” with a calf injury, while Lucas Moura and Carlos Vinícius are also unlikely to play – a blow for Mourinho as he looks to guide his team to a first league win in five games.
“Independent of results it’s always tough and Fulham now, they’re playing in a different way, they forgot some of the principles they believed in,” he said. “They have new principles of play, they are getting very positive results. It’s going to be difficult.”