Mousa Dembele believes Spurs are no longer the soft touch that once prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to tell his Manchester United players: “Lads, it’s Tottenham.”
Ferguson’s team talk summed up the frailties of Tottenham’s former sides, that were often high on flair but low on the less glamorous aspects of the game like commitment, resilience and hard work.
Under Mauricio Pochettino, however, Spurs are a team transformed. They have won more points from behind this season than any other side in the league, boast the meanest defence, and go into Sunday’s game against United sitting second, seven points behind Leicester.
Dembele has been an integral part of Tottenham’s progress this term and the Belgian says Ferguson’s words could not be hurled at this current crop.
“Yes. I know about this,” Dembele said. “Tottenham in the past, it was always that everybody liked Tottenham, but to make the step forward, it was different.
“I always liked it here so for me personally, I always had a good experience, but of course you can’t compare it to three years ago. You can feel that there is a different vibe.
“People respect us differently, when we play teams. People know that they need to play against us like they play against a top team. So they have the respect.
“I know that in the past Tottenham always had unbelievable players and the only thing that has changed is the difference of our mentality. That’s the only thing that has changed.”
Pochettino is a hard task-master, inflicting double-training sessions on his players even during the run-in and axing any players unwilling to comply with his methods.
“If you don’t fit into the team, it’s going to be difficult for you,” Dembele said.
“It’s not only in terms of quality. You have to have a certain quality, but more important for him is how to press, how to be ready for the team, how to come back, determination – these kinds of things.
“If he explains something to you, OK, you can do it one or two times bad, but if he explains that he expects this from a player, like a midfielder, and you keep on doing it wrong and it’s nothing to do with quality…
“He wants you to press and come back, press and come back, and if you are not willing to do it, then you don’t fit into the philosophy.
“I have the feeling that anybody can come into the team and anybody can come out almost.
“That’s why everybody understands and has a good mentality. Everybody knows, ‘OK, I can be the best player in the team, but if I don’t work, then it’s not going to be good enough’. I think that’s the difference.”
Dembele is one of a number of Tottenham players among the most consistent performers in the division this season and the challenge for chairman Daniel Levy is to hold on to the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Hugo Lloris. Dembele, however, is not worried.
“Everybody can feel the vibe at Tottenham at the moment,” he said.
“The way we play, the way the club is, everything around…I speak with a lot of players and they say, ‘Ah, yeah, Tottenham is a nice club.’
“Me personally, the most important thing for a club is to have a certain way of thinking. With the manager and everything there is a clear plan. They know what they want.
“I don’t have the feeling that it’s just because we have a good season. That has a lot to do with it as well, but you can just feel that we are in the right direction. We feel like this is the start of a bigger Tottenham future.”