Ranking every central midfielder Spurs have signed since Luka Modric left
Tottenham were always going to struggle to replace Luka Modric – and several of their signings since he left have certainly fallen short of the Croatian’s standards.
Much was made of the hole Spurs were left to fill when Gareth Bale joined Real Madrid in 2013, but they were arguably left with an even bigger one by Modric making the same move a year earlier.
Here are the 12 central midfielders Tottenham have signed since, ranked from worst to best.
11. Benjamin Stambouli
Stambouli joined for £4.7million from Montpellier in 2014 and made a grand total of four starts in the Premier League before Daniel Levy somehow managed to sell him for a profit to Paris Saint-Germain a year later.
Whatever Mauricio Pochettino had seen in the Frenchman clearly didn’t travel with him across the channel. He couldn’t seem him to find it back in France either, starting 18 games in Ligue 1 before PSG sold him to Schalke.
10. Lewis Holtby
Holtby was initially due to join on a free transfer in the summer of 2013, but Spurs eventually decided to bring the deal forward to January, paying Schalke £1.25million following an injury to Sandro.
Whether four starts and seven substitute appearances in the second half of that 2012-13 season were worth the hassle is open to debate, but what is certain is that when Andre Villas-Boas left Spurs in December 2013, so too did Holtby’s chances of establishing himself at White Hart Lane.
Having featured regularly for Villas-Boas, Holtby started only once under Tim Sherwood before being sent on loan to Fulham. After returning ahead of the 2014-15 campaign hoping to impress new manager Mauricio Pochettino, he made only one substitute appearance in the Premier League before being loaned out again – this time to Hamburg, whom he later joined permanently.
Spurs had apparently fought off competition from Arsenal and Liverpool to sign him from Schalke. In 2019, he joined Championship outfit Blackburn.
Paulinho was one of seven players brought in by Villas-Boas to replace Gareth Bale in 2013, with Spurs paying just shy of £17million to sign him from Corinthians. Initially, he impressed with his energy in getting around the pitch.
But Villas-Boas was gone by December and, as Spurs underperformed, Paulinho’s energy was soon considered less useful and more dog chasing a balloon. Pochettino only had to work with him for half a season before selling him at a loss to Guangzhou Evergrande.
As hard as it may be for Spurs fans to believe, there clearly is a good player in Paulinho. He’d done well in Brazil before moving to England and did so well in China that in 2017 he earned a €40million move to Barcelona.
He only stayed at the Nou Camp for a year before returning to Guangzhou, but still…
8. Etienne Capoue
Like Paulinho, Capoue is a good player. In fact, he’s even proven himself to be a good Premier League player. But, like Paulinho, Capoue didn’t show that at Spurs.
They paid £9.4million to sign Capoue from Toulouse in that fateful summer of 2013, but an early injury and then the sacking of Villas-Boas didn’t help as he tried to settle in a new country.
Both Sherwood and Pochettino used him, suggesting they saw the potential, but after starting the first 11 Premier League games of the 2014-15 season, of which Spurs lost five and won only four, Capoue was dropped and never started another league game before being sold to Watford, where, to his credit, he’s been good.
7. Tanguy Ndombele
We’ll be kind and say there’s still time, but it’s fair to say Ndombele is yet to justify the club-record £53.8million Spurs paid to sign him from Lyon in 2019.
Indeed, his first season in England will be probably best remembered by most for his lockdown-breaking private training session with Jose Mourinho, a month after the Spurs boss had made it pretty clear Ndombele would have to do more to establish himself in the starting XI.
“He has to know he has to do much better and know I cannot keep giving him opportunities to play because the team is much more important,” Mourinho said.
He also called him “a player with great talent” so, like we say, there’s still time.
6. Gylfi Sigurdsson
Villas-Boas’ first signing in the same summer that Modric left for Madrid, Sigurdsson nearly left for Reading in the very next transfer window, at which point he was still waiting for his first Premier League goal for Spurs.
He stuck around and finished the season with 48 appearances and seven goals in all competitions but didn’t make anywhere near the kind of impact he had done on loan at Swansea the previous season, leaving plenty to speculate whether the move was a step up too far.
Pochettino gave him a chance in his first year in charge, but Sigurdsson ultimately underwhelmed and was sold to Swansea in 2014.
5. Giovani Lo Celso
Initially signed on a season-long loan from Real Betis, Lo Celso had a difficult start to life in England, with a hip injury and the departure of Pochettino hardly helping.
But Mourinho had already seen enough in the Argentine to make the move permanent in the January transfer window, and Lo Celso has gone on to establish himself as one of the key components of a new-look team.
We’re excited to see what he can achieve in 2020-21.
4. Moussa Sissoko
Newcastle were laughing all the way to the bank when Spurs paid them £30million for Sissoko in 2016, and during his first season in north London it was easy to see why.
However, rather than usher him quickly out of the exit door as they had done with so many of the aforementioned players, Spurs stuck with Sissoko and were rewarded when, all of a sudden, something clicked.
He is far removed from the attacking right-sided midfielder Spurs thought they had signed – four goals in 160 appearances tells you that – but Sissoko has continued to play regularly under Mourinho. It just turns out he’s much better at stopping the other team’s attacks than he is getting involved in Spurs’.
3. Mousa Dembele
Genuinely one of our all-time favourite midfielders to have played in the Premier League, Dembele was an absolute joy to watch in his six and a half years at Spurs.
He only scored 10 goals in 250 appearances over that time, but frankly, we couldn’t care less. We’ve thought long and hard several times about moving to China just to watch him taking the piss out of players again.
The man could dribble his way out of a phone box. Both ridiculously strong and graceful, we just wish every player was like Mousa Dembele.
2. Dele Alli
When Spurs paid £5million to sign Alli from MK Dons in January 2015, everyone assumed he’d be one for the future. Indeed, he was immediately loaned back to the League One club for the remainder of that season.
The plan, presumably, was to introduce Alli slowly to Premier League life in 2015-16, with the youngster starting the first four games of the season on the bench, but it quickly became apparent he was plenty good enough to be in the first XI.
He scored 10 goals that campaign and has since moved past 150 top-flight appearances and 200 in total for Spurs. He’s had his downs, sure, but what he’s achieved by the age of 24 isn’t to be sniffed at.
He seems to have recaptured his sense of fun since the arrival of Mourinho, too, and we’re predicting a big 2020-21.
1. Christian Eriksen
Signed a year after the departure of Modric, Eriksen is a different kind of player but was the closest Spurs got to finding someone who could impact games on the same sort of regularity.
He provided goals, assists, brilliant set-pieces and, perhaps most importantly in the context of replacing Modric, a constant option for a pass.
His final half-season at the club was forgettable, but the top Danish goalscorer in Premier League history and only the second player after David Beckham to provide 10+ assists in four straight seasons in the competition, we’ll certainly remember the good times longer than the bad.