Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino believes Mousa Dembele would be one of the finest players in the world by now had he coached the Belgian from a younger age.
Pochettino regards Dembele’s talent so highly he puts the midfielder in a group of five “geniuses” he has played with or coached in his career, the others being Diego Maradona, Ronaldinho, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan de la Pena.
It is exalted company for Dembele, who endured a disjointed start to his Spurs career after joining from Fulham in 2012 before niggling injuries cleared and his form sparked into life.
The 29-year-old has struck a strong midfielder partnership with Victor Wanyama this season and will be key again if Tottenham are to overcome a determined Burnley side on Saturday.
“Mousa Dembele is completely different to two-and-a-half years ago when we arrived here,” Pochettino said.
“He didn’t play too much in his first season, he always had problems, or physical problems. I must give all credit to these guys, the sports science and all the medical staff, to create now a Mousa Dembele that is strong and can play.
“I always say ‘Mousa, in my book you will be one of my genius players that I have been lucky to meet’.
“One was Maradona, the others Ronaldinho, Okocha and De la Pena – he was a genius too – and Mousa Dembele.
“We always told him that if we had taken him at 18 or 19 years old, he would have become one of the best players in the world. I would have loved to have taken him on at 18.”