Tanguy Ndombele's unique skill set makes him the quintessential modern midfielder
It's fascinating as to how the inundation of variables have added a dynamic undertone to the effervescent prism through which the modern football fan views the beautiful game.
An interpolation stemming from the continually evolving role of players on the pitch, aided by succinct yet incredibly cogent managerial tweaks, coupled with a steady influx of a number of financial entities has altered the footballing landscape. There's never been a greater chasm between dreams and reality in football than there is now due to disproportionate dissemination of assets from club to club.
A scrupulous glance around Europe's top 5 leagues will give you a trenchant account of how the shifting sands in the middle of the park have affected the role of traditional number 10's. It's indicative of the end of an era. The manner in which adroit playmakers like Isco, Mesut Ozil, James Rodriguez, and Philippe Coutinho have been phased out of the starting eleven of their respective sides is suggestive of the fact that the influence of a paradigmatic playmaker has dwindled significantly.
In most cases, the ouster of such incredibly talented and technically gifted players can become a cause celebre for fans and pundits alike. However, it is important to recognize and appreciate the evolving role of a midfielder in the modern era and the paramountcy of being able to affect the game in an attacking and defensive sense.
The demand for box-to-box midfielders who are press resistant, show a considerable appetite to track back, press the opposition to destabilize their rhythm, provide cover for overlapping fullbacks and make optimum use of their physicality to win the ball back has never been this high.
Shuttlers, as they are called, have carved their own niche and are fundamental to their team's chances of creating advantageous situations in the middle of the park, thereby gaining a stronger foothold through the course of 90 minutes.
One such player, who was a relatively uncharted entity outside the French borders before his scintillating performances against Manchester City in the ongoing Champions League campaign, is destined to fetch his club a handsome disbursement this summer.
With his terrier-like intensity, apical acumen and pertinacious nature, Tanguy Ndombele has become the cornerstone of Lyon's midfield over the past season and a half. Alongside mercurial captain Nabil Fekir, Ndombele has been an indispensable cog of manager Bruno Genesio's jigsaw and helps Les Gones dominate games with his ominous presence in the center of the park.
Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old has attracted the eyeballs of Europe's elite and is tipped for a big-money departure from the Parc Olympique Lyonnais this summer. Deployed in a double pivot alongside compatriot Lucas Tousart, Ndombele's ephemeral rise from France's 5th tier in 2015 has been nothing short of spectacular and is largely attributed to his in-game intelligence and sublime technical abilities.
“He’s thoughtful and intelligent,” Genesio told the French press last season.
“With the ball, to make the best use of it, he takes in information before anyone else to make the right choice.
“Without the ball, he brings balance to the team. When Nabil Fekir is out of position, he’s there, providing balance, alongside our defensive midfielder Lucas Tousart.
“He's interesting because he’s one of those players capable of solving tactical problems with his game intelligence.”
Watching Ndombele in midfield is one of those gratifying experiences which make you love the minutest aspects of the game even more. A delightful combination of instinct and intricacy, the manner in which the ball daintily rolls off the French internationals foot acts as an abiding memory whilst watching him dominate the midfield area.
Capable of playing in multiple positions due to his vast array of physical and technical attributes, Ndombele's uncompromising approach to the game adds an impetus to Lyon's overall style of play.
Yet, he's most influential from the center of the park due to his controlled aggression, an incredible dribbling technique in addition to the spunk and decisiveness to execute line-breaking passes in the final third. A certain tradition has been established which the Lyon attackers are extremely familiar with now - Ndombele's sumptuous run whilst carrying the ball from a deep-lying position.
A typical surge by the Frenchman from the center of the park will see him barrel his way through midfield, evade tackles, dribble exquisitely whilst exhibiting impeccable close control, exude the prescience of spotting a teammate's run between the channels and possessing the ability to break lines of defence - all done without breaking a sweat.
His willingness to make darting runs through the heart of the midfield, assume authority, and have the gumption to deliver a fastidiously weighted defence-splitting through ball into the path of the strikers is what makes him such an exciting and productive player.
Ndombele's resistance to pressing can be ascribed to his clever first touch, which helps him buy a yard of space and fend off his marker, whilst keeping the game ticking. Funnelling possession in safe passages isn't an attribute you'd associate with the Frenchman.
A forward-thinking modus operandi has resulted in Lyon transitioning from defence to attack within seconds, leaving defences in their wake by capitalizing on their midfield enigma's intrepid approach.
Defensively, Ndombele's footballing brain and athletic physique aid him in an exemplary manner. He's blessed with the maturity and intelligence of sussing out potential breaks, blocking potentially dangerous passing channels and thereby smothering any sort of danger the opposition can provide whilst in possession or on the break.
Additionally, he has a superb burst of space from a static position which helps him retreat backward efficiently. Whilst trying to win the ball back, Ndombele applies incessant pressure when the opponent has his back turned towards him.
Moreover, his diligent reading of the game and positional discipline make him a smart tackler who doesn't lunge in very often and prefers to dispossess the man in control of the ball by using his athletic frame and imposing his upper-body strength.
A singular trait which adds to an elite player's plenary powers and separates them from good players is the ability to take risks, and then possess the mental courage to stand by their decisions in case things go south.
Ndombele's competence to remain unmoved after committing a mistake and having the fortitude to attempt the same thing again and do it better the next time around is a hallmark of a champion and the idiosyncrasy you'd associate with a fearless player.
At this point in time, it's extremely difficult to put a cap on Ndombele's seemingly endless potential. He'd be the result of a hybrid between Michael Essien and N'Golo Kante if there ever was one.
The dexterity to impact encounters with goals is one facet of Ndombele's game which needs polishing. And, according to Lyon manager Genesio, that's the only thing holding the Frenchman from breaking into the elite bracket of midfielders.
"He’s progressed with regards to the volume of his play, taking the initiative and with his use of the ball,” Genesio stated last season.
“He must, however, take a final step with his finishing; it’s the only element of the game that he’s lacking to become a very great player.
"He lacks a little focus in that final touch, but he has the technique to find it. He has to score six or eight goals a season.”
At 22, Ndombele is already the flag bearer of what a modern midfielder stands for. The lack of an emotional overture towards the club in addition to his desire of showcasing his stellar arsenal of skills makes his departure an absolute certainty. A motif of veneration from the likes of Manchester City, Manchester United, and PSG, the Frenchman is expected to leave Lyon for a huge fee in the summer.
The former Amiens midfielders teak-tough mentality and an incredibly balanced head on his shoulders are ancillaries which are emblematic of the fact that he has the stature to wrestle all the fame which such supreme talent solicits and get on with what matters the most - being the best midfielder of his generation.