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When Tottenham Hotspur signed Moussa Sissoko from Newcastle United last year, a few eyebrows were raised. The France international enjoyed a stellar final season at St James' Park, and while nobody questioned his value to the Magpies, there were questions over how he would fit in at Spurs.
There was the matter of the price, too. Sissoko became Spurs' record signing at a hefty £30million.
With that price tag weighing heavily on his shoulders, Sissoko faded into obscurity on the fringes of the Spurs squad. He made fleeting appearances in his first season but failed to find the net in 34 appearances in all competitions.
Tellingly, Sissoko only started 12 games and completed 90 minutes just once last season.
Having been a major influence in the dressing room at St James' Park and a standout performer for France at Euro 2016, Sissoko suddenly found himself bang out of favour under Mauricio Pochettino.
At one point, Sissoko failed to even make the bench for a defeat to Chelsea. When Pochettino was asked about it, his response was damning.
“He needs to work hard and show in the future he deserves to be involved in the team,” said Pochettino.
That Pochettino, always thoughtful and measured in his analysis of a player's contribution, offered such a withering assessment of his most expensive player told a great deal about just how short of expectations Sissoko had fallen.
In the summer, there was talk of a move to Inter Milan, then Trabzonspor. Marseille were also mentioned. While his eventual destination remained unclear, it seemed a foregone conclusion that Sissoko was history in North London.
Even the player himself did not shy away from the crushing disappointment that was his first year at Spurs, saying:. “I fell from high. Even though I never thought I would play all the games, I was not expecting such a low playing time. It was the worst season of my career when collectively it was certainly the best – it’s weird.
However, after Pochettino informed him that he remained a part of his plans, Sissoko remained at the club.
As Spurs set off on their pre-season tour of the United States, Sissoko remained in London. Having been unwell, the decision was made that he would recuperate and undergo his preparations for the new season at the club's Enfield Training Centre.
The Benefits of Form and Fortune
Ultimately, it came down to getting his head down and working hard, not to mention a bit of luck.
That luck came in the shape of injuries to his teammates, namely Victor Wanyama and Mousa Dembélé. With the aforementioned duo sidelined, Sissoko stepped up to turn their misfortune into his fortune and, as Spurs get ready to travel to the John Smith's Stadium to face Huddersfield Town on Saturday, Sissoko looks a safe bet to be in the starting line-up.
Having started in Tottenham's 0-0 stalemate at home to Swansea City, Sissoko was handed another chance to impress away to West Ham United last weekend. The 3-2 win at the London Stadium ended up feeling like a significant chapter in Sissoko's redemptive story at Spurs.
Playing alongside Eric Dier in central midfield, Sissoko ran himself into the ground. He wasn't perfect – he was dispossessed twice and misplaced eight passes – but his display of enterprise, heart, and aggression, particularly in squaring up to Mark Noble, did not go unnoticed by the Spurs support, or indeed Pochettino.
“I think Sissoko was fantastic today,” the Argentine tactician said afterward. He has come a long way in the space of a year.
Sissoko, riding the crest of this wave of resurgence, can offer Spurs a different dimension in the middle. Often deployed out wide at Newcastle, Sissoko has enjoyed some of his finest games at the heart of midfield, his lung-busting surges into space an effective instrument in dragging defenders out of position.
Impressive Recent Performances
The 28-year-old demonstrated as much against the Hammers. Sitting deep alongside Dier, Sissoko had no qualms about getting stuck in, winning two tackles, making one interception and winning one aerial duel. While they are not astonishing statistics by any stretch, they are still an illustration of how Sissoko is trying to work his way into Pochettino's good books.
Against APOEL Nicosia in the Champions League, Sissoko enjoyed another good game. It was his purposeful burst and cut-back which set up Kane for his second goal of the night. Sissoko produced the kind of buccaneering quality that can be a real asset for Pochettino, travelling at pace with the ball and distribute to the likes of Kane, Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli.
It's important to approach the Sissoko narrative judiciously. Ultimately, it is a series of promising performances rather than a complete transformation of his fortunes. However, he is making the necessary strides and, if he continues in the same manner over the next lot of weeks, picking Dembélé and Wanyama ahead of the Frenchman won't as simple as it once was for Pochettino.