Making a Case for Sissoko to Tottenham

Moussa Sissoko of France, Adrien Silva of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2016 final match between Portugal and France on July 10, 2016 at the Stade de France in Paris, France.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)
Moussa Sissoko of France, Adrien Silva of Portugal during the UEFA EURO 2016 final match between Portugal and France on July 10, 2016 at the Stade de France in Paris, France.(Photo by VI Images via Getty Images) /

While Tottenham busy themselves with completing the deal to bring Vincent Janssen to the club and turn their eye to their next target, at the forefront of their vision should be Newcastle’s Moussa Sissoko.

There have been some rumors about Tottenham’s interest in the Frenchman, but far more about the possibility of bringing in his teammate Georgio Wijnaldum or Bayern Munich’s Mario Götze.

Those latter two players are flashier, more consistent and clearly congruent to Mauricio Pochettino’s vision at Tottenham. They are the expected targets of a club in a somewhat transitional summer.

Sissoko’s prospects, meanwhile, seem less glamorous. Though not content to stay on with Newcastle as they descend into the Championship, it wasn’t at all clear before this summer’s European Championship that Sissoko warranted any interest from the bigger sides in Europe.

Though his debut at Newcastle in 2013 was spectacular — he scored two goals in a 3-2 win over Chelsea — his vitality seemed to fade as time wore on. He faded in and out of games, sometimes operating entirely on the periphery for weeks at a time. In three seasons with the club he never participated in more than nine goals and assists — a far cry from the buccaneering player he appeared to be against Chelsea.

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His performances were good enough to warrant the club holding onto him all the same, and indeed he earned call ups to the French international team for both 2014’s World Cup and this summer’s European Championship. Even if he wasn’t brought to bear all the time, Sissoko’s peak ability was hard to ignore. His physicality, willingness to contribute to multiple phases of play and knack of dive-bombing forward with the ball at his feet made him one of Newcastle’s primary threats in any given match — at least in theory.

Sissoko seemed destined to sit on France’s bench for this summer’s tournament, with players like N’Golo Kanté and Kingsley Coman much more likely to fill in the roles he typically would expect to play in.

By the knockout rounds however, France coach Didier Deschamps turned to the Newcastle man and his particularly direct style of play. While the likes of Dimitri Payet and Kanté offered set piece ability and constant running, what France really needed was someone to penetrate particularly obdurate defenses, someone who was willing and able to charge shoulder first into backlines instead of attempting to pass around or above them.

Sissoko was that player. Though he failed to score or set up any assists, against Iceland, Germany and Portugal he was functionally France’s battering ram, pulling defenses out of shape and forcing the ball into positions that passes simply couldn’t reach.

Those performances will garner more interest for Sissoko’s services now that the summer transfer window is well and truly open. Tottenham can — and should — position themselves to be first in line for the 26-year-old’s signature.

Why? How would a player like Sissoko help Pochettino’s set-up? Who would he have to drop to accommodate this new addition?

It seems unlikely that, should Sissoko make this hypothetical switch, he would be an automatic starter. Tottenham’s starting XI is simply too strong for that. Rather, Sissoko’s role would be as a Plan B. In those moments — however rare — that Pochettino’s first choice team can’t break down a stubborn opponent, Sissoko could be the blunt tool to get the job done.

Add to his ability to force the ball forward Sissoko’s defensive talents — his tackles and interceptions for France in the last three matches were exceptional given his nominal place as part of the attacking front four — and Pochettino would have a potentially pivotal option waiting for him on the bench.

Consider Tottenham’s 1-0 win over Sunderland in September of last season. Sam Allardyce’s team sat deep and cut off the avenues Tottenham typically thrive in. Combined with Jermain Defoe’s runs on the counter it seemed possible that the Black Cats might come out with a win.

It took Ryan Mason’s direct, supposedly less sophisticated brand of direct play to break the deadlock. His slaloming run from midfield caught Sunderland’s backline offguard and cleared the way for the winning goal. Sissoko would add that additional gear to Tottenham’s play while sparing the team Mason’s defensive liabilities.

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Would Sissoko be content with a spot on Tottenham’s bench? Considering that the club can offer him Champions League play as well as a chance to impress Pochettino enough to earn some starts, it doesn’t seem impossible. It would certainly be an upgrade to staying with Newcastle in the Championship.

The bigger question is whether Pochettino and Tottenham can overlook Sissoko’s tendency to drop in and out of games. Motivation has not been on short supply at Tottenham during Pochettino’s reign, and it seems reasonable to think that Sissoko would not be immune.