Lazarus, thy name is Sissoko
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Jesus Christ, Jon Snow, Gandalf and Superman. All four returned from the dead in unbelievable circumstances. Moussa Sissoko is nowhere near that level but it's a shock he's figuring so prominently in Mauricio Pochettino's Tottenham squad nevertheless.
The Frenchman raised eyebrows when he joined Tottenham Hotspur for a record £30 million in 2016. It was a masterstroke for Newcastle United. The Magpies received twenty times what they'd originally made when transferring the player to Toulouse three years earlier.
The reverse was the case in North London. Spurs paid through the nose in five instalments. Sissoko was an odd signing; a deviation from the club's recent template. At a staggering bargain, Mauricio Pochettino had assembled an astute squad. The energetic midfielder appeared a botched attempt at adding premium stardust.
As forecast, Sissoko struggled in Pochettino's brave, progressive team. In his first campaign, he made just eight starts and did not score. Unfazed, Pochettino offered further opportunities in Sissoko's second season without much return. The criticism rose to an untenable volume. One outlet 'honoured' Sissoko as the Premier League's most ridiculed player. In a league that included Jordan Henderson, Phil Jones and Heurelho Gomes, that was an achievement.
Nothing worked for the Frenchman. On the flanks, through the middle, up front, supporting the attack, starting, coming off the bench, the outcome never varied. His touch was poor, passes misplaced. Guilty of far too many sloppy giveaways, his direct running, energy and work rate all dissipated.
It took a World Cup summer rather than three days and no Lily-White Walkers appeared at Wembley, but Sissoko's form unexpectedly revived this season. The switch to a more central role aided His resurgence. Injuries to Moussa Dembele, Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama left him to turn over Spurs engine alone. With a relentless work rate and determined attitude, he’s left no place for the trio in the middle of the park. At last, Sissoko is showing he was worth the hefty investment, shutting up the naysayers.
“I have always said I feel better in the centre. My strength is my power. I use it a lot. I’m a player who can do box-to-box, who can defend and go with the ball and at the same time go forward, behind the defenders. I don’t try to be someone else, I just try to be myself and play how I can. That’s why I’m successful right now.”
The 29-year-old has also benefited from Pochettino’s faith, albeit it took a while for that to translate into first-team starts. Despite stern criticism from all and sundry, the Argentine kept believing. He's been rewarded with a well-rounded midfielder who provides balance to his team.
Sissoko is growing in importance, starting a dozen league matches, completing 90 minutes nine times, including against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Spurs are blessed with perhaps the best-attacking quartet in England. While Sissoko lacks his teammates' silky touch, his hard graft and ability to steal possession in dangerous areas, together with his powerful runs, offer the Lilywhites another useful weapon. It’s the balance Pochettino craved in the past. Sissoko's forward bursts offer legs to a side that looked short on fuel at times this season. He's also key to winning the ball and protecting the defence.
Spurs are competing on all fronts. Sissoko's revival and all-new confidence can only be crucial in the coming weeks.