Mauricio Pochettino: Keeping Mousa Dembele fit vital to Spurs' success
LONDON -- Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino says the club is carefully managing Mousa Dembele and explained that keeping the creaking midfielder fit is crucial to the team's success.
Dembele, who turned 30 in July, has a longstanding issue with the top of his left foot and he has said he will always play with some pain, despite going under the knife in May.
The Belgium international has been a key player for Pochettino's Tottenham in the last two seasons, but the manager increasingly has to pick and choose when he starts, and Dembele has not featured in five of the club's past 10 league games, spanning this season and last.
"It is so important to manage him properly," explained Pochettino, who joked at the beginning of last season that Spurs "do not exist" without Dembele.
"We have a very good communication with the doctor, physio, sports science, coaching staff to try to help him. To help him is to help the team. He is such an important player for us.
"I think it is so important to manage properly, it is the key to keeping him fit and to providing all the quality that he has to the team. The communication is important and we have very good communication.
"He is a player who I have told you many, many times that, for me, he is one of the geniuses that I have met in football. Always he is so important and he shares the decision. That relationship is important to help him and if he feels well he helps the team."
Dembele has not started the past two league games against Everton and Swansea, and he could return to the bench for Saturday's visit to West Ham after playing 79 minutes of Tuesday's EFL Cup third-round win over Barnsley.
Pochettino explained that managing Dembele, like all the players, was not formulaic because there are so many human factors, as well as football factors, to consider.
"They are human, they are not machines," he said. "It is our job to be clever with how we manage them and try to keep the similar level during the season but it's so difficult.
"Sometimes you are in a good mood, bad mood, you are sick, you eat something or you drink too much one night because you are in some party and then, the day after, you are weak! It's because they are human, the players are human."
With Dembele a doubt for West Ham and Victor Wanyama still injured, Eric Dier is certain to continue in the heart of midfield, three years after he scored the winner on his debut at Upton Park as a utility defender.
A year later, Pochettino converted Dier to a holding midfielder, and he has made the position his own for England. But his manager says the 23-year-old could still go on to be one of the best players in the world in three positions, and refuses to pigeonhole him.
"To play in different positions adds more value to the player and that is why we are so happy with him. He can play like a right-back or a centre-back or a midfielder and that provides a big boost to the team. All the managers love to have this type of player in your squad," Pochettino said.
"We took a big risk not signing another midfielder and it was fantastic. He deserved all the praise and our decision [paid off]. He can dominate different positions on the pitch and that is so fantastic, he can be top as a midfielder, centre-back or full-back.
"I think it is positive, I cannot see some negatives in that. I think for me it is more than about position. We feel very proud of his last three seasons with us because I think he achieved many, many more things than he expected," he added.
"If he in time shows he is great or one of the best in the world in one position, OK that is fantastic for him. But if you are a very good player and can play very well in different positions, there are more possibilities for him to play."
Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.