Arriving in the summer for a hefty £30million price tag – making him Spurs’ most expensive signing of the whole summer despite a disappointing season for a relegated Newcastle side – questions were already being asked as to whether Sissoko could, in any way, justify the enormous price tag. Those questions then gained significance after manager Mauricio Pochettino spoke of how he ‘expected more’ from the Frenchman, but how could Sissoko go some way to answering them?
First and foremost, he has to prove his worth to the team. Sissoko’s footballing ability alone is probably not valued by any club in the world at £30m – not his consistent club form, anyway. His international performances have been sublime; he was an integral part of the France squad that reached the final of Euro 2016 in the summer.
Unfortunately, such performances have been few and far between at club level, but it remains possible that Sissoko’s presence as an experienced, physical midfielder provides £30m of value to Spurs as a club. Allowing the likes of Christian Eriksen, Dele Alli and Heung Min-Son to miss games without the team losing a substantial amount of quality could well be vital, especially if Spurs are condemned to Europa League football next week.
Sissoko is, physically, a monster, and rivals Mousa Dembele as the most monstrous player at the club. It’s down to Mauricio Pochettino to find positions for Sissoko to thrive in; this may even mean having the Frenchman drop into central midfield so that he can terrorise opposition from the centre.
There’s little doubt that Sissoko could play the defensive side of the standard holding midfield role with some effectiveness – such is his physicality and brute strength – but the same role at Spurs requires something more: a touch of elegance, a ferocity in the tackle and occasionally a killer pass that have come to define the respective games of Eric Dier and Victor Wanyama. Of course, with Toby Alderweireld seemingly about to return to the fold (meaning Dier resumes his midfield role), game time here seems increasingly unlikely in big games – but added depth to the strongest XI can only be a good thing.
Naturally, a convincing argument can be made that Spurs should be promoting youth players to fill exactly the same role. Harry Winks’ impressive performance against West Ham could easily have seen him step up in the following league games, for example, and there can be no doubting the outrageous talents that Spurs have in their current set-up. The likes of Marcus Edwards and Josh Onomah will soon be ready to step up to the first team – easily within the first two years of Sissoko’s five-year contract, as a minimum – and so the Frenchman may find himself a bit of an outcast at White Hart Lane. This is due mainly to the mentality instilled under Pochettino, who has faith in his younger players and trusts them to do a job.
Therefore, it’s imperative that Sissoko be able to demonstrate his professionalism, experience and ability to not just provide something different to what Spurs already have on the pitch, but also to provide a model that the youngsters can learn from. This seems a tall order, especially for such a divisive player, but there surely can’t be a better environment for the Frenchman to do just that than at White Hart Lane.
The other option for Spurs is, of course, to cut their losses and to sell Sissoko while his value remains high. TalkSPORT reported last week that Juventus and Inter Milan are interested in the midfielder, and it seems fairly likely that if an acceptable offer came in early, Spurs would pounce at the chance to offload a player who has completely contravened their previous transfer policy of buying young players as projects, and avoiding the mercantile footballers like Emmanuel Adebayor. Perhaps this in itself is no insult to Sissoko, but a reflection of his huge relative cost – Spurs could have secured stardust early in the summer for the £30m fee that Sissoko cost, and instead ended up with a midfielder who did very little for a relegated side last season.
This isn’t to say that Pochettino – or the Spurs fanbase, for that matter – should give up on the enigmatic Frenchman, but if Sissoko fails to justify his worth at White Hart Lane, then it seems to be the only option.