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Moussa Sissoko

Tottenham’s £30m flop Sissoko set to star for France again

1:39 PM IST 09/06/17
Moussa Sissoko William Carvalho Portugal France UEFA Euro 10072016
The midfielder has proven to be an expensive flop at White Hart Lane, but he has never let his country down when called upon


Tottenham and Newcastle fans are likely to be left rubbing their eyes when the France teamsheet for their World Cup qualifying match against Sweden is unveiled on Friday evening, for on it is likely to be the name of a player who has been a persistent disappointment at club level.

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What is even more remarkable is that head coach Didier Deschamps has no shortage of options. Even so, £30 million flop Moussa Sissoko is set to be picked ahead of Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembele to start for Les Bleus.

Spurs were tempted – although their fans may argue conned – into signing the 27-year-old midfielder off the back of his performances for France at Euro 2016, where he looked a dynamic, skilful player more than capable of making some kind of positive impression for them.

Paris-born Sissoko had shown only occasional glimpses in the Premier League since arriving in Newcastle from Toulouse in 2013 for a fee of around £1.8 million, yet he persisted in telling the St James’ Park faithful that his ambitions could never be satisfied there. 

In three years he went from being a player Alan Pardew described as “a force of football” to a figure of hate, despite captaining the club for a brief period towards the end of his stay.

On transfer deadline day in August 2016, Spurs made their move. At £30m, Sissoko did not come cheap, yet the player who had turned out for France earlier that summer looked worth every penny. What they got, however, was not that player.

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Nearly a year on, Sissoko has yet to score his first goal for Mauricio Pochettino’s side, and though he might have turned out 34 times, the vast majority of these have been as a substitute. Indeed, he averaged less than 40 minutes per appearance. 

Pochettino gave him a fair crack, too. The Frenchman started four of the first six league matches he was eligible for, yet things quickly turned sour. An elbow on Bournemouth’s Harry Arter led to video evidence being used to slap him with a three-game suspension, while his manager offered a very clear rebuke of the summer signing at the end of November.

“Football is not about money,” he said. “You need to show on the training ground you are better than another team-mate and you deserve to be involved.

“Of course he needs to work hard and show in the future he deserves to be involved in the team.”

Thereafter, Sissoko has not done enough to win over either his manager or the support, having endured what he described to L'Equipe as "the worst season in my career".

It must be all the more galling, then, for Pochettino to watch the player that he might be when he turns out for the national side. Motivation does not seem to be an issue for Les Bleus, with whom he made his debut in a 5-0 win over the Faroe Islands in 2009.

Under Deschamps, he has been close to an ever present, missing out on the squad only in the spring when he was reduced to literally a handful of minutes at a time with his club. Recalled for the post-season internationals, he wasted little time in making an impression, coming off the bench to score a fourth in a 5-0 win against Paraguay by showing the kind of dynamic midfield presence that has been completely absent with Spurs.

Sissoko has never let down Deschamps on the big stage – he was one of France’s best performers in the Euro 2016 final against Portugal, for example – while the coach believes that his capacity to break powerfully forward with regularity is of great value to his side. But equally, his defensive play offers freedom to Paul Pogba to wander further forward, which is why he is set to be preferred to Dembele in Sweden.

Spurs fans who tune in probably won’t be able to believe he is the same player.