Dembele off to Spurs

Usually when I find an episode of Inspector Morse on television it’s about halfway through.  I don’t mind though – I quite like to just see what they’re all doing, John Thaw’s character being particularly intriguing to me.  Hade doesn’t like this – if we’ve missed the start we won’t know what’s happened, will we? – but that’s not really what I’m watching for.  I don’t really care about plot in this sort of thing.  The same applies to a degree to the films of Humphrey Bogart.  You can just get involved for 10 minutes in a vacuum and come away perfectly happy.  When you walk along the South Bank in London and see the kids skateboarding, you stop and watch for a bit. It doesn’t matter who’s who or what they’re doing it for, you just enjoy the spectacle. There’s a busker in Waterloo Station who does one evening a week. Sets up with a guitar, one effects pedal and a PA system. He just stands there, er, shredding. Again, you watch, you admire, you enjoy. With some people it’s just like that. It’s just good to see them do their thing.

Which is why I was never that bothered by Mousa Dembele’s supposed lack of what we now call ‘end product’.  That upright body position, arms thrown around for balance and perhaps deception, still, still, nudge with the outside of the foot, burst of speed, gone. Dembele is the closest thing Fulham will ever come to John Barnes in his pomp, and that’s saying something.

If you’re not aware of John Barnes look up some of his goals, especially the one he scored for England against Brazil.  Barnes had that ability to see the field from above, to know where everyone was standing and therefore to where he should take the ball next.  Around he danced, in, out, forward to glory.  When he was on his game he was about as good as it got.  His early Liverpool career was a bonanza of genius, with him, Beardsley et al playing football from heaven. It was brilliant.

Despite that there is a sense that Barnes underachieved, given his talent. Partly this is unfair, when you consider what he did do. But there’s something to it, too, especially in England games where he and Chris Waddle were routinely something less than themselves.  People expected genius every game, and the players couldn’t be geniuses all the time. It didn’t help that they were stationed on the left wing and requested to track back, either, but you’d have hoped that the players could still rise above these things. Generally they didn’t, or not to the degree they could have.

This might have been Dembele’s lot, too, until Martin Jol realised that he had a player who could do more than people realised. By moving Dembele into the centre of midfield, Jol created a player who could still do the flash stuff, but who could also retain possession with good, relevant passing, and, crucially, tackle.  When you think about it, tackling is about anticipation and balance as much as raw aggression, so it figures that Dembele should be good at it. There aren’t many players who are sufficiently nimble to keep the ball away from him, so game after game he wades in and extracts the ball with that big stride, spins, and off he goes again.  Other teams’ attacks become our attacks. It’s important stuff.

So the Barnes comparisons don’t really work. Dembele has become the complete midfielder, and while he doesn’t have the goals in him just yet there’s no reason to think that he can’t score. If he does you’re looking at a legitimately elite player (if you aren’t already).

Fulham had one of these 50 years ago. He wanted to leave at times, too.  Sometimes quite desperately.  Spurs were interested, so were AC Milan, so were other probably.  But back then the club held all the cards and said no, and Johnny Haynes played for Fulham for all of his relevant career (and was paid handsomely to do so, it must be said).  It’s not like that now.  If you happen upon an elite talent you can’t keep him unless you’re an elite club. Everton had Wayne Rooney, Jack Rodwell seems to be good, too. Both left, simply because that’s what happens.

(The suspicion seems to be that Dembele had a £15m buyout clause in his contract, in which case we had even less chance of hanging onto him.) 

Had he been born in Brooklyn instead of in Belgium, Dembele would surely have been a basketball superstar by now. Those feet, that balance – it’s otherworldly; we’ll never see that again. You can moan all you like about Fulham lacking ambition, but this seems a) very wrong-headed (how were we supposed to keep him?) and b) to miss the point anyway: we saw genius in Mousa Dembele.  That’s what we’ll remember in 50 years, not that Fulham finished 13th instead of 11th.


Richard Allen founded this website in 2006.

15 thoughts on “Dembele off to Spurs

  1. As a spurs fan i didnt know a great deal about him but im really excited after reading this . Its a shame it came from you lot as a i quite like fulham especially with big martin jol there, hope you have a good season !

  2. So sad if that guy leave our Fulham family. He´ve been brilliant for us and done a great job even if his not that dangerous in front of goal, he win possesion, deliver those cleaver passes, and a constant thret to our opponents. The central roll he´s been giving by Jol has give fulham a new dimension i their way of play. Im a bit unsure we could find a skilled player like him for those £5m these days.

    Hope our scouts have been doin´ their homeworks and could give of some classy players that´ll improve our squad! Cause we´re realy need it!

    Have a nice day FFC fans all over/ Seb. FFC Sweden

  3. Rich, thanks for the perspective. This is hitting me hard, and it’s the biggest stumbling block to my full embrace of the sport (I’ve been following European football, and Fulham, for about 4 years). For me, it’s not that with him we can crack the top 10. It’s not about team performance at all (though when he is on his game and the team is clicking, it is possible to dream big), it’s the pure selfishness of wanting to watch him and root for him as long as possible. It is more enjoyable to watch the games and root for the team when he’s in it. At least it looks like he’s going where he’ll see the field.

  4. I’ve defintely got used to this happening. At the end of last season I felt fairly sure we’d see both Dempsey & Dembele move on and it looks like that will indeed be the case.

    I’ll miss them both massively but I’m coming to terms with this being the way of the world. We have a stature in Football that means we will be a stepping stone for players new to the Premier League. There’s some good in that as we get to see some exciting players arrive and impress but the rub is if they’re really good we’ll lose them after 2 or 3 seasons.

    The key to all this is being able to pick up a few hidden gems when we need them. I believe we’re well positioned to continue to do this. I’m looking forward to seeing how far Kacaliknic (sp?) & Barry Frei go, and also to the next Moussa or Clint.

    Onwards and upwards.

    1. Surprised he’s going to spurs. I think he could have done better. Time to plunder some other club’s talent and ruin another fan’s day. Fair play to Mr Dembele for the way he conducted himself.

      1. I agree, think he could have hung on and done better. Spurs are far from a lock for the Champions League (though I think they’ve just helped their cause a little), and at least under ‘Arry they didn’t play Europa to win. It’s possible his move is more lateral than meets the eye. Then again, it’s a bigger stage for his final audition. Cmon Moussa, think Barca. I guess part of me will be rooting for Spurs to claim a spot in Champions now if only to see Moussa glide through numerous European teams. Definitely sad about this one, no doubt about it. I was really thinking, naively perhaps, that we’d keep him through the week. Damn.

  5. You know what? As disappointed as I am to lose Dembele, he said right out front that his goal was to eventually play at a bigger club, gave us two good years, didn’t raise a stink about wanting out, and brought in a transfer fee three times what we paid for him. It’s a shame that we have to be labeled as a “selling club” because of this, but this is how you do the “selling club” thing the right way.

    And for those who bemoan Jol’s role in all of this, don’t forget that the vision Jol had to put him in that central midfield role helped to maximize the transfer fee we’re getting here.

  6. Who’s going to take his place? 2 days left to buy & we’re linked to Kieran Richardson—Is this a Dembele replacement?? Does Jol have something big lined up? Or does the money go into Mo’s bank account? We could see alot of Chris Baird in the midfield this year………………

    1. Richardson is not Dembele’s replacement. That’s just timing. I see him as a useful squad addition and little else. He’s not a player I’ve ever really liked but he did seem to have a spell of playing particularly well against us.

      I think we’ll have eyes on bigger fish longer term, the problem may be we won’t have enough time to get someone in before close of play Friday.

  7. Really nice post.

    “The Big Sleep” is my favorite Bogart to walk in and out of. The plot barely makes sense if you sit through the whole thing, anyway.

  8. List of Permier League midfielders I’d rather have than Dembele if I were starting a team from scratch today:
    — Hazard
    — Yaya Toure
    — maybe Cazorla (I’ve only seen his highlights so far)
    — 2011 version of Silva
    — maybe Bale?

  9. Sad but inevitable. In view of the Dempsey situation, and remembering Malbranque, I’m more than ever aware that we have to cash in before the player’s value decreases as his contract runs down.

    Why do some supporters resent those players who move onwards and upwards. I’d love to see him do well at Spurs (there’s talk of him being the new Gascoigne), though of course there is huge regret that he has gone.

    Given time I’m sure Jol could use the money to good effect, but this wretched transfer deadline makes a mockery of good management and team-building. I didn’t see it at the time, but the old system of year round transfers (with the exception of the last few weeks of the season) now looks infinitely preferable.

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