I like to play the beautiful game but I'm not the new Modric, says Spurs star Dembele
23:09 GMT, 28 December 2012
Mousa Dembele is explaining why he does not score many goals — just six in the Barclays Premier League since joining Fulham in August 2010.
The Tottenham midfielder takes his time and chooses his words carefully, exhibiting the same calm, unhurried manner and balance with which he plays.
It’s not a lack of confidence, he says, but a desire to score the right kind of goal; to ‘do it nice and beautiful’. Welcome to the relaxed, laid-back world of Planet Dembele, where time seems to tick at a different pace and style is everything.
Relaxed: Mousa Dembele was confident he would make an impact in England
‘I just like to play, to pass the ball and dribble,’ says the Belgium star. ‘When I was young I never shot. I always wanted to dribble the ball in the goal. I don’t want to shoot because I don’t like to, but it’s different now. You have more experience and you think more.
‘Is it about scoring the perfect goal Yes, maybe. Before I always played on the street with two lampposts that were like a basketball pitch, and we could not shoot. You had to dribble and touch the ball on the posts to score. We never shoot the ball.
‘So maybe it’s because I always played on the street and I liked to do it nice and beautiful.’ He smiles, before saying ‘boom’ and mimicking a driving shot from distance.
‘I know now it’s important to shoot and have the combination,’ he adds, ‘not only to dribble but to shoot a lot as well. I try to do this more and more.
Making an impression: Dembele has impressed since making the move across London from Fulham to Tottenham
‘It’s true that I have to improve my hunger to score goals and I think in the last two years I have concentrated more on this. I don’t score a lot of goals but before I only thought about playing nice football. Now I try to be more important for the team by trying to score goals as well.’
This is just one of the reasons Dembele (below) believes we have not yet seen the best of him. Since a 5million move to Fulham from AZ Alkmaar, his rise in English football has been swift and he attracted interest from the likes of Real Madrid and
Manchester United before moving to Tottenham for 15m last August.
He is also part of an exciting Belgium team which boasts Marouane Fellaini, Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Jan Vertonghen, Dembele’s team-mate at White Hart Lane, who he has known since he was 11.
International talent: Dembele is part of the highly rated Belgium squad
Although a ‘frustrating’ hip injury has limited Dembele’s appearances so far, Spurs have lost just one of the 10 Premier League games he has started.
‘I know where my career will go,’ he says. ‘When I came to England I had the confidence to do something and I’m happy now that I play for a big club.
‘If you hear big clubs are interested it’s always nice to know people appreciate what you do but when Tottenham said, “We want him”, I didn’t have to think twice. I didn’t think about anything else.
‘You have a lot of players here who like to play football and, for me, it’s important that I can play my game as well. I’ve always had a good feeling with Tottenham, for a long time. We have the calibre to play in the Champions League. I believe in our teams and I believe we can do something special.’
Talking a good game: Dembele gets his views across to Sportsmail's Laura Williamson
Dembele is a player who works on intuition, he says, for whom it is important to have a ‘good feeling’, but the more dynamic side of this footballer emerges when the name of Luka Modric is raised.
The current Spurs playmaker is adamant he does not feel like a replacement for the diminutive Croat, who moved to Real Madrid last summer.
‘I never saw myself as the replacement for Luka,’ says Dembele. ‘I feel like I’m a totally different player. For me I like to touch the ball as much as possible. I like to do defensive work and attack from midfield. I think I can do both.
‘If you had asked me who were the best five players in England last season he would have been in my top five. I’m very much impressed by him. But he’s a different kind of style. I don’t feel like his replacement.’
At 6ft 1in Dembele has the physical attributes to be a midfield powerhouse, yet his football education at Germinal Beerschot in Antwerp, a club who work closely with Ajax, and from playing football in the street has given him the technique and close ball- control of a creative playmaker.
You get the distinct impression,
however, that Dembele is still learning. He thinks he can improve ‘in
every aspect’ and has ‘a feeling that I’m not at my top yet’. Football
still seems new to this 25-year-old, who is certainly not a football
‘freak’, as he puts it. Far from it, in fact.
cannot name a footballing hero because he never used to watch his sport
on television. Even now, he can usually suffer just 30 minutes at a
time — and then it has to be a ‘top team’ featuring a player or team the
midfielder knows well.
prefers going to the theatre or to watch a musical in the West End.
Jersey Boys is his favourite and he knows all the Frankie Valli and the
Four Seasons songs because he has seen it three times. ‘I never watched
football,’ says Dembele.
Not prolific in front of goal: Dembele has not scored many goals since arriving in England
‘I could not watch a game for 10 minutes. But in the last three years I’ve started watching football more and more, and now I watch quite a lot. I find it more interesting. Before, I just wanted to play football. Now I can watch it.
‘I like to watch the top teams in
different countries, like Spain or Bayern Munich in Germany. The rest I
don’t watch. I have nothing to do with that.
‘I’m not a freak. I know guys who watch every game. I’m not like that. I need to know someone or have a bit of history.
minutes Impossible. Maybe 30 minutes, then 10 minutes doing something
else, then another 20 minutes. Ninety minutes is too long.’
Game face on: Dembele taking part in the EA Sports Games console challenge
He also found it nerve-racking watching Spurs play while he was injured and would change channel if Andre Villas-Boas’s side were winning — just in case he brought them bad luck.
‘It was strange because normally I’m very relaxed,’ he says.
‘But I was nervous because sometimes we were winning and then I would think, “If I keep watching they’re not going to win”. And I would turn the TV over and keep an eye on the live scores. I’m not really superstitious but with this, yes, I was.
‘I’m usually quite relaxed but it depends how we lose a game as well. I’m always very disappointed but sometimes it’s a bit more difficult. After the game against Everton (when Spurs conceded two late goals and lost 2-1) it took me a while to be relaxed.
‘But even more with this team because you have a feeling you can beat every team there is, so if you don’t play good or we don’t win it’s more difficult to accept it. But it’s OK, it’s life.’
Mousa Dembele was speaking at the Need for Speed Most Wanted Pro Player tournament. Need for Speed Most Wanted is out now for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Playstation VITA, PC, iOS and Android.