Speaking in an exclusive interview with L’Équipe, French international midfielder Tanguy Ndombele discussed an array of topics including his time at Lyon, his rapid rise, his decision to move to Tottenham Hotspur & much more. Below.
How does it feel to be worth €70m?
(smiles) I don’t realise it yet. My life hasn’t changed.
Your life, in very few years, has changed a lot. In 2015, you left Guingamp for Amiens. What does your journey mean to you?
It is wonderful what has happened for me. Four years ago, I was with Amiens in CFA 2 (French 5th division), I could never have imagined I would be here today.
Where did you imagine yourself to be?
I did not imagine anything to be honest, I just wanted to climb the slope (laughs). When you are 18 and you play in the National (3rd division), when you play in CFA 2 (5th division) and you look at people your age who are already in Ligue 1 or in the Champions’ League, at that moment, you cannot reach very high (laughs). You tell yourself that what is going to make your career is what you already have. Consistency pays in this job.
In November, you told us: “What guides me is the fear that everything stops.” Are you still scared of that?
I will never not be. Things can change quickly. Today, I am at Tottenham, things are going good, but maybe in 5 years, I will be in Ligue 2. You must always keep your head on your shoulders and work.
You are a French international and a Tottenham player, and you still harbour this fear?
Yes, some will say that I am unconscious maybe. But my reality of having started from the lowest point makes me think in this type of way.
Your transfer has created a lot of buzz. Would you have considered it a failure to stay for another year at Lyon?
No, not at all. I said to myself, if I leave, ok great, if I don’t leave, no worries at all. I would have continued to do what I know how to do.
Jean Michel Aulas, the Lyon President, made a lot of phone calls to clubs for your transfer in recent months. Did you get the feeling that you were being pushed out?
No (laughs). There were moments where it was even funny. I took it well. Maybe it was to inflate the price, I am not at all vexed by it.
What do you think you have improved upon during your two years at Lyon?
I believe in myself more. I am better. I am worried less about making mistakes on the pitch. The paradox is that I also tell myself that I am less reckless on the pitch than I was before. There are maybe a few less risks taken in my style of play now. But I am a better player, a different player. I defend more, I run more too.
Do you have any regrets about this period?
I am leaving with a small feeling of unfinished business. Collectively, we could have done better in the last two seasons, certainly in the last one. It was our responsibility as players. A lot of people said: “the coach, the coach, the coach,” but it was us. With our team, we had the ability to do something. Lille had a very good season. Aside from that, on paper, we had a better team. From a personal perspective, I could have been more efficient. A lot of people said: “He is only there in the big matches,” but no, not at all. I tried to give my maximum each time. The coach (Bruno Genesio) allowed me to grow. He knocked me down a peg when he needed to. He played his role very well.
Take us through your decision-making. From the outside, we said to ourselves: he could sign for Liverpool, Manchester United, Juventus, PSG. And in the end, you joined Tottenham. Do you understand why people might be surprised?
Yes, I do. But when you look closely, I think that it is a very good choice. What guided me was the Premier League, the top 4 in England, with a very good manager, who is going to help me to take steps forward. I had come to a turning point in my life. You weigh up the pros and cons. And then you decide.
PSG positioned themselves. Your friend Kylian Mbappé would have liked you to join him. Is there project something that you could have enjoyed?
Yes, PSG are a great club, in the city in which I grew up. Today, I am not disappointed. Not at all. Aside from football, as a man, it is better for me to go to London, it will allow me to discover a new country, a new culture of football. I am going to come out of my cocoon.
What was the project proposed to you by Tottenham?
They have quite a young team. With very good players. When a club was a Champions’ League finalist this season, you have to look at their project. To put €70m on the table for me, it was a strong signal. When I look at Tottenham, I see a big European club. It is another dimension. To go to the next level, it was the best choice.
So it was not a default choice?
Not at all. It was deeply thought through. Tottenham have one of the best managers in the world. The fact that he wants you, it makes you want to come work with him. He was the one who shifted my decision.
How did he convince you?
It is difficult to describe but he knows how to touch people, to leave a mark on people. He looked at me in the eyes and said: “come with me, I am sure that you will progress.” It is these types of little things that made me want to sign over there. I could see that he really, genuinely wanted me, that he genuinely liked me.
You have two seasons in Ligue 1 and 8 Champions’ League games under your belt. Are you ready for the top level?
In my head I am ready yes. However, it is only the on-pitch stuff that does the talking. Let’s wait for the matches to come and see if I am ready or not.
Are you scared of not being ready?
No. I do not have a lot of fears. However, it is football, how many people have been good and then the year after, they struggle. We are going to make it so that things go well.
What do you know about this team?
I am someone who watches a lot of football, so I know it. At the time I used to watch Robbie Keane, Berbatov.
One thing that all scouts agree about you is your technical talent, your first touch. However, questions have been asked of your ability to show intensity at the top level. Are you ready for the level of work that will be expected?
Yes, otherwise I would not have made this choice. I have seen how Tottenham play. I am a young player, I am going to Tottenham to learn.
But Moussa Sissoko, who is a physical phenomenon, does not stop going on about the intensity of the training sessions at Spurs.
I am ready for that. I have never suffered in a training session but if I have to, then it is good for me.
It will also require an element of moulting mental strength.
I am ready to change. I am not going to turn up thinking: “The training sessions, they need to be less intense.” No, that does not exist (in my thinking). People talk a lot about my so-called nonchalance, I am who I am, I am working on it. And I try to make it so that it is not seen that much (smiles).
Before these types of sessions, do you feel pressure?
Maybe in the first training sessions, I will have that feeling, maybe it will weigh heavily on me. You are forced to ask yourself if you are going to have the required level. We will see in the moment. In any case, whichever decision I had taken, it would have been a risk.
What can you bring to a Champions’ League finalist?
I think that I have quite different qualities to the others. Admittedly, I am joining a squad that is already quite solidified. I want to bring my block to the building. When you are a Champions’ League finalist, the aim has to be the next time to as a minimum repeat that feat. Nobody has talked to me about it (there) but as I am a competitor, I think that the club wants to win the Champions’ League.
What player would you like to become at Tottenham?
Myself. I want to be myself. I want to become the person I am supposed to become. I am here to work, I am 22, I am not at my maximum I don’t think, I hope in any case.
Some posts from Tottenham fans have you down on social media as the “next Pogba” – what do you think about that?
I have heard it all (laughs). I am here to make my own path. Paul has made his own in England. I am Tanguy, not the new Essien, not the new Pogba.
Could this change of club also change your position within the French national team?
It is true that the majority of other players (with the national team) play in big clubs, but I have not thought about it like this before. I looked instead at where I could progress. I want to give myself the biggest possible chance of being at the Euros.
Do you aim to be a starter for the national team in 2019/20?
I do not have this aim, no. Aside from that, we are all competitors, we all want to play. I hope to be in the 23 selected for the Euros. Each thing comes in its own time.
Where are you in the hierarchy?
I am there but still far behind the others.
Are you far from Pogba, Kanté?
I am not going to say that I am far away, but they are ahead of me. There is work to do, I need to continue to hustle. They became world champions, so automatically they are ahead of me. They have more experience than me too. I see it in training during sequences. These little details, movements, turns. I am eternally unsatisfied, so I will continue to learn.