Jose Mourinho praised Tanguy Ndombele’s desire to turn his Tottenham career around after the Frenchman’s “genius” goal sealed a 3-1 win at Sheffield United.
Spurs’ record signing seemed set for the exit door when Mourinho arrived at the club after struggling to adapt to the Premier League, with the Portuguese regularly criticising the midfielder’s hunger and fitness.
But this season has seen the 24-year-old come to the fore as a key player in Mourinho’s side and his strike at Bramall Lane will be long remembered as he produced an audacious flick over the goalkeeper’s head when running away from goal.
It came at a vital moment, restoring the visitors’ two-goal lead after David McGoldrick headed home following first-half goals from Serge Aurier and Harry Kane.
Mourinho gave Ndombele all the credit for his revival at the north London club.
He said: “I coach for so many years, had so many players and I have enough experience to say and to feel that when a player is not playing very well, it’s his responsibility, and when a player turns things around and brings his performance level to a very high level, it’s also his responsibility.
“It’s a great example that with me the door is always open. The door of the team is always open, and when a player is not playing he has to try to understand why and he has to try to understand how can he walk through that door. He understood, he understood.
“The goal is amazing, but I don’t care about the goal, I care about the performance and the performance was magnificent and I’m really pleased that he’s come to this level. He’s playing very, very well.”
Ndombele’s position at the club looked hopeless until a meeting with chairman Daniel Levy last summer, which was shown in the Amazon ‘All or Nothing’ series.
Levy was shown telling the Frenchman that Spurs wanted to keep him but he had to prove himself in a considered pep talk, and Mourinho stressed the credit for the turnaround belongs to Ndombele.
“It’s the player’s mentality, the player’s will to train hard, the player’s will to be available for the team, the player’s desire to win, to earn/work a place in the team. And the player is the most responsible,” he added.
“Mr Levy’s responsibility, in my opinion, is some, but is minimal compared with the player. But it’s true, Mr Levy believed in the player and pushed the player in some conversations they had, that the door was open for him.
“And to me it’s always the same: the door is always open, but the player cannot expect for me to go and bring him. It has to be for the player to walk through that door, and come in the direction of what the team needs from him. So total credit for Tanguy, and I think also Mr Levy deserves some.”
Asked what he made of the visitors’ display as a whole, Mourinho replied: “The performance was good. The team was very dominant, created enough chances to kill game in the first half.
“In the second half, the intention was the same. A very basic mistake gave them the goal with the only chance they had, but then we had a genius action to bring us again to a two-goal advantage.”
For Sheffield United it was the familiar tale of defeat – their 16th in the Premier League – having finally won for the first time on Tuesday.
Boss Chris Wilder knew his side would have to start well, so was left pulling his hair out when they conceded within five minutes.
“The timing and manner of the goals really all afternoon hurt us,” he said.
“I really fancied us and we did as a football club. We got paid a compliment with the way they set up and you could see, led by the manager, that they thought this was going to be a tough afternoon.
“Apart from the last 10 minutes, it wasn’t a foregone conclusion. The goals really, at any level… after Tuesday night, the first thing we needed was to have a bright start and get a foothold in the game and we didn’t.
“You could see the attitude of their players when they got the first goal. It gave them a huge boost and it deflated us.”