Tanguy Ndombele was the only new addition to Didier Deschamps’ France squad for Les Bleus’ upcoming international fixtures, but those who follow the 21-year-old closely will know that his first senior call-up was only a matter of time in waiting.
The Lyon midfielder has impressed across France’s top-flight, as well as Europe, over the past twelve months. His reward is a place among the newly crowned World Cup winners, where he’ll look to learn invaluable experience and continue his progression at a rapid rate.
So, how has he improved so quickly?
He joined Lyon from Amiens last summer on an initial season-long loan deal, with an option to buy inserted into his contract agreement. This way, he was able to continue developing without much fanfare over his performances, as supporters were naturally interested to see how he’d settle into their existing setup – but equally knew that he was essentially there on a prolonged trial basis.
It didn’t take long for him to impress, either. He made his Ligue 1 debut in mid-September and never looked back since, making 47 appearances (all competitions) last term. Hindsight is often a wonderful thing but inserting a future fee of €8m looks increasingly naive on Amiens’ part, although they could never have predicted his market value to have skyrocketed as quickly as it has.
His move into France’s top tier was a seamless transition and Ndombele embraced the challenge alongside better team-mates, who were always going to help him develop. It made sense then, that in addition to club training, he also experienced similar treatment at international level – earning his first under-21 caps in the same month.
There, he was alongside club teammate Lucas Tousart in midfield and would’ve learned the defending styles of the esteemed company behind him. Borussia Dortmund’s Abdou Diallo, West Ham’s Issa Diop and Benjamin Pavard, whose consistency merited a senior call-up in Russia. He played a pivotal part and is now a World Cup winner. It highlights the pathway from youth level into the seniors, which Ndombele will be hoping he can sustain, as France’s current crop still has plenty of years to flourish in future.
With highly-rated Houssem Aouar (20) his other partner in Lyon’s midfield trio, this allowed him the freedom – yet responsibility – to marshal his position correctly before attempting to play forward. He does that just as well, if not better than his defensive contributions.
Strengths and weaknesses
Often described as a mix between Mousa Dembélé and Yaya Toure, Ndombele is blessed with the physical attributes to be a nightmare for opposition players. In addition to this, he has excellent close-control dribbling, attacking intent and is capable of driving forward with possession as he attempts to create chances in the final third when possible.
Admittedly, he’s not the most graceful, mainly because he plays at such a quick tempo. Sometimes, this does backfire. His decision-making in goalscoring areas of the pitch has been erratic at times, though it’s an area of his game that he has been gradually improving – four assists in nine Ligue 1 fixtures this term justifies that.
To reach the highest level and be regarded a world-class player, he must be more consistent. That, again, is evident this season, having impressed against Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in recent weeks – Lyon’s two biggest games of the campaign to date. His workrate is tireless, just like Chelsea’s N’Golo Kanté, so it’s easier to stand out when teammates are struggling.
On the international stage, it speaks volumes that he’s been selected ahead of various midfield options. He offers something different to Roma’s Steven N’Zonzi and Corentin Tolisso (injured), the man he was tasked with replacing upon his arrival in Lyon last year. While N’Zonzi is more defensive-minded and Tolisso solid all-round, Ndombele is constantly forward-thinking. It’ll be interesting to see how and where he links up in a star-studded France team.
Why are European sides circling for his signature? What does he offer?
Manchester City, particularly Pep Guardiola, was quoted as being a huge admirer of the 21-year-old – with his attempts even more pressing having missed out on Jorginho to Chelsea. Now though, it appears he’s not alone. Speculation suggests Barcelona are interested in making a big-money move for his signature, while the Premier League’s top six clubs have all been linked with a similar approach.
As a genuine box-to-box midfielder at a time when there’s often indecision on whether to describe players as one, he’d prove an invaluable figure for whoever is lucky enough to secure his services. It seems only a matter of time before he does depart Lyon, provided it’s the right transfer fee from their perspective, after the Nabil Fekir fallout over the summer.
He is capable defensively as he is in attack, intelligent enough to know when risks are worth taking and you can draw parallels to N’Golo Kanté’s rise. Both players began their professional careers in Ligue 2 but developed, the Chelsea has definitely benefited from playing alongside better teammates and against tougher opposition – something Ndombele is experiencing himself now.
Questions will be asked over his suitability to England’s top-flight, but he’s more forward-thinking than both Tiemoue Bakayoko and Fabinho – who joined the league for hefty transfer fees over the past two summer windows. It’s easy to see how he’d settle in at Barcelona, as their playing style compliments his, but there’s no reason why Ndombele cannot remain patient before choosing his next move wisely – becoming the next world-class player to break out from France.