Beyond Comparisons – Respect the Name
Kante, Touré, Pogba…These are just some of the names to whom Tanguy Ndombélé is compared, which helps people with limited knowledge about him to have a sense of who this next starlet from France is and could be in the future. But to all Olympique Lyonnais supporters and Ligue 1 followers who have had the pleasure of watching him tear through midfields for the past year, it comes as no surprise to see this midfield monster being linked to almost every top side in Europe, as well as receiving his first national team selection.
Regardless of the injury to Corentin Tolisso, it was only a matter of time until Deschamps could no longer ignore Ndombélé’s all conquering performances for OL. As the trend typically goes, people outside of France don’t bat an eyelid at Ligue 1 unless their clubs are linked to the “next *insert cliché name here” star from France. It’s a shame because unlike so many French midfielders before him, Ndombélé is a completely different entity, a player that deserves more credit than merely being linked to a big money move abroad. Ignore the comparisons in the upcoming months and years because soon, we are not going to be talking about the next somebody but the first of a new wave of all action French midfielder.
A Beast Lying Dormant
Somewhat of an unknown, there is little information about his simple beginnings as a footballer. He joined EA Guingamp at the age of 14 after moving from ESA Linas-Montlhéry, his first club. He spent 3 seasons in the youth ranks at EAG, and after failing to make an impact on the club’s staff, he was refused a pro contract at the end of his training. It is believed that fitness and weight issues at the time caused concern among Guingamp’s trainers and staff for Ndombélé’s longevity and progression as a footballer at a higher level.
Along came Amiens SC to the rescue in June 2014. Unfortunately, they were stripped of their professional status, which forced Ndombélé to go on trial at numerous professional clubs without success. Retained by Amiens, he continued his development in Championnat National (France’s 3rd tier) with their reserves until his first team call up in a Coupe de la Ligue match, where he played at right back. Amiens were promoted to Ligue 2 in 2016, and during that season, Ndombélé signed his first pro contract. It quickly became known among Amiens players and staff that Ndombélé had turned a corner and that they had a very special player in their squad.
Last season, in an interview for the Ligue 1 show, Amiens defender Oualid El-Hajjam said: “When he arrived at the academy, I told him I really rated him. Now with the hard work he’s putting in and the qualities he has, I’m hoping to see him at the World Cup!” In the same interview, Thomas Monconduit stated that “In training, it wouldn’t matter what state the pitch was in, greasy or frozen, he’d dribble past everyone. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever seen.” Ndombele’s performances in the 16-17 Ligue 2 season were the driving force in Amiens’ promotion to Ligue 1. Their coach Christophe Pélissier confessed, “I’ve always said he is the best player I’ve worked with.”
In Florian Maurice We Trust
These performances still went under the radar of many Ligue 1 clubs, but after stellar performances in Ligue 1, notably against OL’s bitter rivals ASSE, one man did take notice… expert Lyon recruiter Florian Maurice. The name Ndombélé was circled early on in the 17/18 summer transfer window, but without much notice, as OL’s mercato resembled an international airport, with the speed of its departures and arrivals coming at a frantic yet organized pace.
After 3 matches in the 17/18 season, it was apparent that there was a missing link in OL’s starting 11. On deadline day, the news of Sergi Darder’s departure was cutting into the souls of many OL fans. However, the gaping wound left by Darder was quickly healed with the crafty signing of Ndombélé. Signed on a 2M€ loan with an 8M€ option to buy clause, it was canny business by Flo, Aulas, and Genesio for a player with a very light CV.
Ahead of a huge away match against Ligue 1 giants
QSG *PSG, it was announced that Ndombélé would be making his Ligue 1 debut alongside stalwart defensive midfielder Lucas Tousart in a new 4231 formation. With many unanswered questions, pains over the loss of Darder, and a new look side missing many household names, the match away to PSG was to be a learning match at best.
But apparently, no one told Ndombélé that this was just a learning opportunity. For the 72 minutes that Ndombele was on the field, every spectator and player was in complete shock and awe at his performance. He completely bossed the midfield areas, breaking the lines with ease, his passes and dribbles showing the confidence of a player with seasons of top tier league experience under his belt. His performance defied all logic for a player who was dumped as a youth and then worked his way through a team earning consecutive double promotions – and now was destroying the midfield of Ligue 1 champions PSG, which left Thiago Motta wishing for an early retirement.
A wrongly refused penalty in the PSG box and a long range missile in the second half which hit the bar (which is still shaking!) were the highlights of his first OL performance, not only in possession but also off the ball, as his strong physique and high work rate derailed many of PSG’s attacks. It was no surprise that as he was subbed off at the 72’, OL was finally exposed and lost the match 2-0, with many experts and pundits praising the performance of OL and most notably Ndombélé for his domination.
Belligerence – Style of Play
Throughout the entire 17/18 season, we saw this same level of midfield belligerence, not in his attitude or character, but in his ability. Ndombélé continued to dominate midfields in Ligue 1 and the Europa League as a powerful and dynamic box-to-box midfielder. His vision of the game allows him to pick out long passes and switch play from one side of the field to another with great accuracy, with a completed pass success rate of 88.6%, according to whoscored.com.
Another great weapon of Ndombélé is his dribbling. According to the CIES Index, as of 26/02/18, he was one of top 5 of the best dribblers in the Big 5 European leagues. These are incredible stats for a strong box-to-box midfielder, especially considering he was only surpassed by Eden Hazard, Lionel Messi and Neymar Jr, all of whom are the pinnacle of elite attackers in this current generation of footballers.
With these two key weapons, he combines speed, acceleration, strength, and control, not only on the ball but also off it, which completes his repertoire as an effective box-to-box midfielder. Boasting respectable stats of 11 assists and 1 goal in his 52 matches for OL, there is still room for improvement. His regularity and involvement in the final third is the next area of progression that’s needed for him to place in the category of world class midfielders.
Maybe we were spoilt by Tolisso during his time at OL because he was a midfielder who knew how to make a difference inside and on the edge of the penalty box. Unlike Tolisso, Ndombélé has not yet managed to excel in this area. Despite possessing similar physical attributes to Tolisso and an equally powerful shot, he lacks the confidence to attempt or execute the goal scoring heroics that we became accustomed to with Tolisso.
He often chooses to find a teammate with a through ball or a cross instead of shooting himself, which is not a bad thing when he has 4 individuals in front who can take advantage of Ndombélé’s unselfishness. However, he sometimes chooses this route when he has a perfect shooting opportunity, which leaves fans believing that if he were to add this ingredient to his already loaded recipe of midfield gourmet, he would already be confirmed as world class midfielder in OL’s ranks. His young age ensures that there is still plenty of time to progress for a player in only his second season of top division football.
France Call Up
This past Thursday, Didier Deschamps announced that he would be counting on Ndombélé in the French National Team for the upcoming friendly against Iceland and the League of Nations match against Germany. All this comes as confirmation of the exceptional talent that is Ndombélé.
True to style and as laid back as ever, he stated on the OL website, “It’s a pride but it’s not an end in itself. I came to OL to pass levels. I am very happy to arrive in the French team to represent the country. I was with the Espoirs [U21] and going to A is something else. I did not expect it so soon. The injuries accelerated this first convocation. I am very happy to be part of this list. We will take what is to be done and do what we can do without putting pressure on ourselves. I only know Nabil (Fekir) in this group. I do not know yet what I’m going to sing for my hazing”.
His recent performance against Manchester City and his double assist vs Marseille may have forced Deschamps’ hand, but Ndombélé surpasses a long list of talented French midfielders that are missing out on National team selection. With or without the injury to Tolisso, as well as the aging of Blaise Matuidi and Steve Nzonzi, Ndombélé was the likely choice to step in and fill the vacant position. More than just a replacement, some can argue that Ndombélé could be an upgrade to some of the big names already in the French National squad.
Time will tell, but things are quickly moving forward for Ndombélé. Still only 21, he has now confirmed his name as the next superstar to come out of France and will no doubt be making global headlines as he continues his career for Olympique Lyonnais and Equipe de France.