Share via Email AZ’s Mousa Dembélé battles with Arsenal’s Kieran Gibbs during a Champions League game in November 2009. Photograph: Gerry Penny/EPA Listen Belgium Reuse this content Pinterest Never mind that his name is a mystery. A player who, at the age of 30, is improving to the point where one of his former managers describes him as the best midfielder in the world and Mauricio Pochettino has ranked him alongside Diego Maradona and Ronaldinho deserves to be remembered.But how? As Moussa Dembélé, which was how he was known from birth until a couple of years ago? Or as Mousa Dembélé, as everybody writes his name now? Mousa (let’s go with the latest version) had been coy about it. “It’s a long story,” he told a Belgian journalist before Euro 2016. Then he revealed in a Belgian magazine it was in fact a short, simple one. When he extended his passport his name was put down with one ‘s’ by accident. Dembélé said he decided to keep it that way.There is another Moussa Dembélé in international football, a Frenchman, nine years younger, who plays for Celtic and who quality-wise does not come close. People who know the Belgian Dembélé say it is typical of him to keep a bit of mystery, to not always want to come across as the nice, balanced guy he is. They also say it was probably out of kindness to his namesake that he did not take any action. Facebook Share on LinkedIn Andy Carroll surrounded by toddlers – Football Weekly Extra Tottenham Hotspur Share on Messenger Share on Pinterest Share on Twitter Topics features Share on WhatsApp At AZ Dembélé became aware of the importance of scoring more. “But I will never become a real killer,” he has said. He may be too nice. With Belgium he has not been a regular for a long time and did not start their last friendly, despite his strong form. He accepts it practically without mention and seems more upset when Radja Nainggolan, with whom he is competing for a place, is criticised. Fitness problems do not help his case.“He does not beat players with speed but almost walks by them,” Maaskant says. “Then you can get a kick. He’s so tough, he didn’t really mind, just played on. Only afterwards we saw how thick his ankles were.”Strength is key to his game. “You can always count on him but he has been giving so much for 13 years,” says Martin Jol, who managed him at Fulham and regards him as the world’s finest midfielder. “Sometimes I thought of resting him but even the idea of starting without him made me sweat.”Jol gave Dembélé a permanent role in central midfield at Fulham, after Van Gaal tried him as a right midfielder. “In England, a striker has to score,” Jol says. “I wanted to take away that pressure. The stupid thing is, at training he banged balls in the top corner without a care. In midfield he was sensational, the one with the ideas, the passing ability but also the best ball winner.“There is hardly a midfielder who can and dares to beat opponents in midfield like he does. Maybe Paul Pogba and Arturo Vidal but Mous can do it better, smoother.”The comparisons Pochettino reached for were even more striking. “I think it was a joke,” Dembélé has said. “I’m not a Maradona and it’s not my intention to become one.” Twitter Share on Facebook FA Cup One certainty as Dembélé prepares to play for Tottenham against Manchester United in Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final is that he is the complete midfielder. One team-mate describes him as a ballerina, another as a tank, but they all think he is the best player in this Spurs side.When Dembélé came to England in 2010, signed by Fulham, he was a striker; now he is a midfielder, albeit one hard to categorise. He is not a typical playmaker, nor a holding midfielder or box-to-box-player. He is not merely a Zola-esque technician or a pure Keane-esque tackler; he is all this combined and more.Dembélé the person is just as multifaceted. “Sometimes I think: ‘Am I crazy?’” he told the Belgian writer Raf Willems for his book Sympathy for the Devils about Belgian players in the Premier League. “I like African music but also R&B, rap, alternative rock and classic. Put down Chinese instrumental, ballet, lounge and Malian kora as well.”As the child of a mother from the small Belgian town of Mol and a father from Mali and the streets of multicultural Antwerp, he understands different cultures. “I can empathise with different cultural expressions and am open to things that seem strange at first sight. I notice I have both African and Belgian characteristics.”And English. Rather than watching football on television he goes to West End musicals, or at least he did until he became a father.He was never one for trouble. His mother could let him play on the street and go to the gym to play football because he would be home for dinner without being asked. She motivated him to develop his skills by taping the light switch so he could turn it off and on by kicking a ball at it. The damage did not bother her. “I’m not the materialistic kind,” she has said.His parents watched all his games from Berchem Sport to Spurs, alongside Dembélé’s grandmother, who played football in Belgium but developed multiple sclerosis aged 40. Young Mousa and she were close.Dembélé made unorthodox choices. Rather than joining Anderlecht, Belgium’s biggest club with an excellent youth system, who were desperate to sign him, he went to a smaller Dutch club, Willem II, because he loved the country’s adventurous, technical football. His coach there, Robert Maaskant, was impressed by the 17-year-old’s physique: “Some of my experienced, strong defenders thought they had bumped into a tree instead of a teenager.”At his next club, AZ, Dembélé did not score freely, despite having top tutors in Louis van Gaal (coach), Shota Arveladze (fellow striker then mentor) and Patrick Kluivert (trainee coach). But he made a big impact and helped AZ to an unexpected title in 2009. The goals he did score were mostly high quality. A dashing solo effort against Willem II has a prominent place in the virtual museum for the Dutch top flight’s most beautiful goals.