Friday 23 March 2018

How Moussa Sissoko, the self-proclaimed 10/10 player, became one of the league's most ridiculed players

Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham during the Tottenham Hotspur training session at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre on August 22, 2017 in Enfield, England. (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)
Moussa Sissoko of Tottenham during the Tottenham Hotspur training session at Tottenham Hotspur Training Centre on August 22, 2017 in Enfield, England. (Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images)

Martin Hardy

“I would give myself a 10 out of 10.” Thus begins - or perhaps ends even - the Moussa Sissoko story.

From being the outstanding player in the 2016 final of the European Championships - hence a 10 out of 10 - to being hawked around Europe 12 months later.

A standout in a major final one summer, to a standout tweet on Twitter the next.

“30 million for Jordan Pickford doesn't seem so bad when you remember it’s what Spurs paid for Moussa Sissoko, and Pickford is a better midfielder,” wrote Jonny Sharples.

If a retweet or a like is your bag then Jonny struck gold. 13,442 of the former, a staggering 26,904 of the latter.

Certain players are advised to steer clear of Twitter. Sissoko would not feel quite a 10 if he were to dabble in the crocodile-infested waters of that particular part of social media.

Twitter is the bronx for Moussa Sissoko. It was not supposed to be thus.

There is a moment in the recent history of Newcastle United (February 2013) where, with night falling at St James’ Park and the stadium rocking, a player making his home debut against Chelsea appears propelled by the ferocity of the support.

Sissoko, a huge man, powered past Ashley Cole (then the best left back in England and still rapid) as he charged towards the Leazes End. It was a genuinely thrilling moment. Tyneside roared its approval. He was 23 then and wearing the number 7 shirt and he scored twice, his second an injury-time winner.

Sissoko had cost Newcastle United £2m (they had planned to sign the player for nothing in the summer but were weary of competition). Graham Carr, in his pomp then as the all-powerful chief scout at St James’ Park was no doubt lighting cigars. It felt one of those occasions.

“It is up there with my best moments of my career,” said Sissoko.

“I’m not sure if it is quite the best yet. To score on my home debut and get a brace against the European champions Chelsea and come away with three points is absolutely fantastic. Even in my wildest dreams I couldn’t have imagined that!”

Now he is loathed.

It should have been something so different. He became the alpha male in the home dressing room at St James’ Park, taking over the captaincy from Yohan Cabaye, but it did not take much to turn his head. The first date was magical but from then it always felt like Sissoko was biding his time for something better.

He took his eye off Newcastle United and now those supporters will never forget. He was linked endlessly with the glitterati of English football. Arsenal were first, then Chelsea, then Manchester United.

Sissoko, we were told, wanted Champions League football, but the interest was never stood up. Sissoko was powerful, but there was a question mark over his technique.

Later it would be over his heart. He played 37 times as Newcastle were relegated in 2016.

Newcastle desperately needed leaders and their own captain had gone missing. A huge, imposing man, Sissoko should have commanded people to follow him over the top. He didn’t. The dressing room instead imploded.

Only when Rafa Benitez came with 10 games remaining did he get the France international moving and only on the final day of the season did he score, against Spurs, in a powerhouse display. It helped, in the embers of relegation, to finally get him his move.

Everton showed interest first and then, as the window closed, the north-east did a collective intake of breath when it was confirmed that Tottenham Hotspur were prepared to pay £30m. There was a feeling it might just be best to say nothing until the deal was concluded. You know, just in case.

There was a stunning comment from the Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino, within the first three months of his move to the club, when Sissoko did not even make the bench for the loss at Chelsea.

“He needs to work hard and show in the future he deserves to be involved in the team,” said Pochettino.

“If you sign a player and you expect something and you do not find what you expect and if another deserves to be involved, like N’Koudou or Janssen - why? Because we paid money we need to put the player to play? I need to take a decision and I believe the players that start on the bench deserve to be involved."

Sissoko started just eight Premier League games for Tottenham last season. To call him peripheral would be flattering.

At the start of the month, after mention of Inter Milan, he was linked to a move to Trabzonspor, who finished sixth in Turkey last season. The move appears to have stalled because the offer was for a loan deal.

Spurs want some money back, and any sale would be hugely beneficial for Newcastle and Rafa Benitez too. Newcastle receive £5m each year of the £30m fee they agreed with Spurs, unless the player leaves White Hart Lane, in which case they get everything they are owed.

Payback might take a while.

Sissoko was fairly unequivocal on his Instagram page two days ago. “I’m not leaving (Spurs) if you unhappy just unfollow me,” he posted.

On intentional duty last month, Hugo Lloris, his team-mate for both club and country, said: “It’s true that last season was a bit frustrating for him and he’s got a lot to prove.”

That is putting it mildly.

Independent News Service

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