The Mystery of Moussa Sissoko: What can Poch see that we can’t?

by Alex Milne

Players often divide opinion but does Sissoko even do that anymore? Apart from our manager, I think most are as confused as Alex Milne are with what he brings to the team.

Sometimes, on rare occasions, a transfer signing can be so exciting that it brings a complete new ‘buzz’ to a stadium. I was 13 years old when Edgar Davids arrived at Spurs, and remember being positively thrilled about the prospect of seeing the Dutch legend in a Tottenham shirt (and the glee I felt when one of the first things he did was put Ray Parlour on his arse just minutes into his debut against Middlesbrough).

Other times a signing may not be so glamorous as an ex-Barcelona and Juventus goggle-wearing superstar, but you know it is just something that the team needs. Take the likes of Ben Davies and Kieran Trippier. Neither of these signings exactly got my heart racing, but they started as solid, dependable back ups for Danny Rose and Kyle Walker, and now feature regularly in the first team. Whilst you are unlikely to race out to get their names on the back of your shirt, you can still see and appreciate their value to the team as they perform solid, if not spectacular, work.

Finally, your team sometimes signs a player where your immediate reaction is simply one of… What? Why? Enter Moussa Sissoko.

Sissoko was signed on transfer deadline day in August 2016, for a then-club record fee of £30M. For the notoriously money careful Daniel Levy this was a lot to spend, and yet Sissoko’s arrival was met with a distinctly ‘meh’ reaction from the Spurs faithful, coupled even more worryingly with Newcastle fans who, far from bemoaning his loss, seemed positively delighted that they could get so much money for the Frenchman. The rumours that he was a big Woolwich fan also did not exactly endear him straight away to Spurs fans.

Sissoko’s arrival was met with a distinctly ‘meh’ reaction from the Spurs faithful

Nevertheless, after all that Pochettino has done for Spurs we had to have faith in him, and Sissoko made his debut away against Stoke with big things expected.

Since then, he has made 45 appearances in total for the club. Now genuinely, hand on heart, can anyone tell me one really good performance he has put in? I’m not talking about ‘putting a shift in’, or those times when he has come on for the last 10 minutes to help grind out a narrow win, but a match where he has really taken a game by the scruff of the neck and shone for 90 minutes? Because I genuinely can’t think of one.

Now I actually don’t think his attitude has been a problem, something which Newcastle fans were quick to warn us about. His serious, permanently-pissed-off-looking face always seems to be focused throughout games, and he appears, while not exactly the life and soul of the party, at least a pretty popular figure in the dressing room. From what I’ve seen, however, I just can’t find any sign whatsoever of the player who has supposedly put in world class performances for the French national team.

I think part of the problem is that even a year and a half after his signing, I still don’t understand what is supposed to be his best position. Fans like to have a clear idea what a player contributes to the team; we all know Kane is the goalscorer, Eriksen the creator, Vertonghen the ball-playing rock at the back etc etc. Wikipedia states: ‘Sissoko plays as a box-to-box midfielder, and is capable of playing in either a holding midfield role, or even as an attacking midfielder or right winger.’ Jack of all trades, master of bugger all if you ask me.

Even a year and a half after his signing, I still don’t understand what is supposed to be his best position

I know that there are some fans that will disagree with my opinion. Some will say I don’t know what I’m talking about, that he brings something to the team that I can’t understand, that he is a cog in the machine for us. But all I see is a player who has scored once and assisted once in the Premier League this season, and appears to have the dribbling ability of a new-born baby foal with the ball at his feet.

A moment which sums up Sissoko for me came against Southampton recently. At 1-1 we were pushing for an equalizer when late in the game he received the ball wide in the box and cut inside. I was urging him to shoot, but instead he played it square to Lamela, who was crowded out by defenders and whose shot was blocked. Why didn’t Sissoko have the confidence to have a go himself? It may have been a wide angle, but the shot could at the very least have been deflected back out for one of our players to put in. It was as thought he just couldn’t wait to get rid of the ball at the earliest opportunity, something which is a common sight in his game.

And yet, somehow, something baffling to me, is that Pochettino still seems to rate him very highly. This is the manager who, as far as I’m concerned, is like a God to the club, someone who has constantly got the best out of players and made the team a real force both domestically and in Europe. Who am I to argue with the man? And yet this is the one topic where I just cannot fathom what our cuddly Argentinean is doing. Sissoko has featured in all but one Premier League game all season, and was even recently called one of our most important players by Poch. Some argue that the only reason he has been playing is because he cost so much money, but I don’t agree. Pochettino is a ruthless man, and if someone isn’t good enough they will be gone soon enough, regardless of status or money. No, it seems to me that Poch genuinely just really likes Sissoko as a player… And I don’t get it.

And yet, somehow, something baffling to me, is that Pochettino still seems to rate him very highly.

Maybe great Sissoko performances are just around the corner, and if he goes on to score the winner in the North London Derby before bossing Juventus in Turin then I will happily admit defeat and go out and buy a brand new ‘Sissoko 17’ shirt which I will wear to every game. But I can’t see it.

I guess that’s all part of football. Sometimes no matter how great the manager is, there are things they do which you simply can’t understand. I sincerely doubt Sissoko will ever be remembered as a Spurs great, nor will he be a hero to kids growing up in the same way that Kane and Alli are. Nevertheless, he is here, he is playing on a regular basis, and I guess all we can do is support him. “Whooooa Mou-ssa Siss-” no, I just can’t.


Alex Milne


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