On Tuesday morning, at his home, Tanguy Ndombele had finished his morning fitness training for the day. Moments after completing the session, someone rings his intercom at home. It is José Mourinho, who simply says: “Come down, we are going for a run.”
L’Équipe understand that this request was viewed as “surprising” by Ndombele, not least because the United Kingdom is currently in a state of lockdown that does not permit exercise outside of your household with individuals who are not members of your household.
Following this request from his coach out of nowhere, Ndombele, who has rarely ventured from his home during quarantine, does not mask his surprise but obeys the order. They are understood to have started jogging, but did not have much of a conversation, before Davinson Sanchez and Ryan Sessegnon quickly joined up with them.
A weird scenario that did not escape the British press, with the “Special One” forced to apologise via official statement some hours later for not conforming to government protocol.
This scene would have been anecdotally funny, were it not for the bumpy nature of the relationship between José Mourinho and Tanguy Ndombele in recent months. The French newspaper speculates that the Portuguese wanted to show off being with the French international, and that this incident is probably not by chance. To try to rekindle his relationship with the player, but also in the eyes of thee media, to demonstrate some form of making up between the duo.
In reality, their relationship became complicated soon after the arrival of Mourinho as coach of Tottenham in November. After managing to take on what was a very intense physical preparation on the part of Spurs upon his arrival, Ndombele was held back this winter by muscle pains.
First criticism from Mourinho came in early February in the form of: “Ndombele? He is injured all the time. He is injured, not injured, he plays a match, the following week he is injured.”
This was an outburst that was understandably not appreciated by the player, who had also been suffering from dental problems that Tottenham had failed to detect, which he is incidentally now also rid of.
The second public attack came from Mourinho on March 7th. Without doubt one of the least mediocre players on the pitch that day for Spurs, the Frenchman was substituted at half-time vs Burnley. Whilst Pochettino engaged in a style of constructive private dialogue with Ndombele when he put in a subpar shift, Mourinho had decided to take a different tact:
“I’m not going to run away and I have to say that Tanguy had enough time to come to a different level. I know that the Premier League is very difficult and some players, it takes time. Some players, it takes a long time to adapt to a different league but a player with this potential and responsibility has to give us more than he is giving us.”
Another criticism that Ndombele did not take kindly to. A man of few words, not one to want to initiate discussions, the ex-Amiens man did not react, neither publicly or privately to Mourinho.
But the often sensitive Ndombele, already skeptical about the very defensive role he has been requested to play in Mourinho’s 5-4-1, now appears genuinely affected by this up and down management style, where his coach oscillates between praising him during training sessions and berating him in the media. His performances are being negatively affected by the situation.
In private, the Frenchman does not hide the fact that he does not see himself doing a second year like this if things don’t calm down. However, given the global health crisis, there is little possibility or appetite for big money moves on the market.
Having said this, today several major European clubs have already expressed their interest. Including, as the Catalan press recently indicated, FC Barcelona. Real Madrid, interested last summer, are a little further behind their Spanish rivals.
But Italian and English clubs are on the lookout for opportunities it what will be a highly unique summer window. One to watch…