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Despite being part of Newcastle United’s second relegation season in eight, Moussa Sissoko was a standout player at Euro 2016 with France, and stole the headlines on transfer deadline day in August 2016.
Everton were rampant favourites to acquire his services, but as the final evening of last summer wore on, the silence from Goodison Park became deafening.
With minutes to go until the transfer window slammed shut, news broke that Sissoko had signed for Tottenham. Sissoko had, in fact, never been anywhere near Merseyside at any point in the day.
In becoming Tottenham’s record signing, the Frenchman found himself firmly under the spotlight. However, it quickly became apparent that he was not the midfield general that so exquisitely shone for France at Euro 2016.
By the end of 2016/17, Sissoko was reflecting on a dismal record of just two assists in eight league starts – and no goals. With Sissoko’s positional rivals (Victor Wanyama and Eric Dier) outperforming him in every department, a majority of Tottenham fans now see the club’s record signing as a redundant force. Indeed, the brutal fact remains that Tottenham, largely without Sissoko, still had the meanest defence and the deadliest attack last season.
Those with the propensity to bet on football will also know that Tottenham are fourth-favourites to lift the Premier League trophy in May 2018. With another Champions League campaign looming, Tottenham must remain competitive in the transfer market, and further add to squad depth if the club is to have any chance of lifting its third European trophy. However, aside from a replacement right-back for the departed Kyle Walker, it is difficult (assuming no long-term injuries) to see exactly who could immediately break into a first team filled with exemplary talents.
Given this situation, the best that Sissoko can now possibly expect is to be part of a squad rotation system for European games. Yet, even this has the potential to cause Pochettino some impossible dilemmas. As poor a signing as he has proven, Sissoko showed promise against the tougher teams he played against last season – performing particularly well in a 2-0 home win against Manchester City. However, when faced with the likes of Wycombe, he was a near non-entity. This issue, if unresolved, could have a disastrous impact on Tottenham’s European campaign, and in-turn, negatively affect the team’s psyche in league games.
As a side projected to be drawn from pot three, Tottenham are guaranteed to face two colossi of Europe in the Champions League group stage. Given how poor Sissoko’s form has been over the past year, Pochettino cannot offer him a starting berth against such teams in good conscience. Yet, when Sissoko is faced with a team from pot 4, there is a real danger that his apparent lack of motivation will resurface once more. Ultimately, Sissoko must learn to treat every opponent as exactly that: an opponent. Whether a trophy-laden luminary of the game, or a humble battler from the depths of the Latvian second division, every visitor to Wembley in 2017/18 will be hungry and eager to prove himself.
For all his skills in possession, Sissoko has often been found wanting against lesser lights, and unlike those accustomed to a hard slog, is often unwilling to tackle or press until it is too late.
Sissoko’s one saving grace, in addition to his status as one of Tottenham’s highest paid players, is now the general belief that a lot can change in one summer. Undeniably, there are many instances of teams improving drastically after a poor season, but players change for the better far less often.
Given how much of a step up the Tottenham of 2016/17 was to the Newcastle of 2015/16, Sissoko perhaps deserves a few more games to prove his credentials. However, should there be no improvement by the hectic Christmas period, he must leave. In doing so, he will have the chance to gain more vital game time ahead of the 2018 World Cup, and put himself in a prime position for inclusion in a strong France squad.