Inside Lane: Can Pochettino get the best out of Clinton Njie at Spurs?
Tottenham blogger Dan Kilpatrick says summer signing Clinton Njie’s attributes and instincts need to be moulded, and that Mauricio Pochettino is the perfect man for the job.
There was a moment in Saturday’s 0-0 stalemate with Liverpool at the Lane when Tottenham’s Clinton Njie strode confidently down the left flank, ball in tow, checked back onto his favoured right foot, looked up – and passed to Emre Can.
It was not an isolated incident. The substitute had already repeatedly given the ball away – he finished the first half with eight misplaced passes from 14 attempts – and his gift to Can seemed further confirmation that Mauricio Pochettino had introduced a player into a heated Premier League match who was incapable of recycling the ball in even the most basic fashion. Forget Alli and Dier, this was Ali Dia stuff.
As the game progressed, however, and the cookie again refused to crumble for Harry Kane, Njie was Tottenham’s best bet to break the deadlock. Simon Mignolet saved his inventive outside-of-the-boot effort before he flashed a swerving drive just over - and once he had acclimitised to the pace of the match, he stopped passing to Liverpool players.
Njie’s display of ineptitude and flashes of class was typical of his fledgling Tottenham career. In the Cameroonian’s 129 minutes in English football, fans have been treated to the brilliant – his skill and assist to set up Erik Lamela’s goal against Manchester City – and subjected to the woeful; his shots against Arsenal and Swansea that resulted in throw-ins.
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While Toby Alderweireld, Heung-Min Son and Dele Alli have quickly become popular and effective signings, no-one is quite sure what to make of Njie, which should hardly come as a surprise given that the former Lyon forward was almost universally described as ‘raw’ by observers of French football.
Njie is essentially a bundle of attributes and instincts that need shaping into a Premier League footballer. Fortunately, in Pochettino, Spurs have the man to do it.
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The Argentine is a coach, rather than a manager, and there is arguably no better boss in English football at moulding players. Just ask Dier, Danny Rose or Kane.
The process of shaping Njie into what Pochettino wants will not happen overnight. Mousa Dembele admitted this week that it’s taken him a year to appreciate the head coach’s desires and, while a younger player will arguably adapt more quickly, it’s unrealistic to expect Njie to fulfill his potential any time soon.
Crucially, however, he already understands the minimum requirement to feature in a Pochettino team: pressing from the front. Every time he gave the ball away on Saturday, he hunted for it back and he never stopped hassling Liverpool’s Nathaniel Clyne.
Lamela has arguably survived this long at Tottenham based on little more than potential and a willingness to battle, even when the technical aspects of his game were absent. Only now are fans starting to see the Argentine’s true colours.
Hopefully Njie won’t take as long to realise his potential but, in the short-to medium term at least, there are likely to more good moments and bad moments in equal measure.
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