For Moussa Sissoko this season has been one of resilience and redemption.
He finished the last one in disappointment, having missed out on France’s 2018 World Cup squad after a campaign where he had again struggled to impose himself at Tottenham and the club were criticised for spending £30 million on a midfielder who was not a first-team regular.
While his compatriots went on to gain prestige and pride in Russia with a 4-2 final victory over Croatia, led by former Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic, Sissoko pondered the next steps in his career.
He was defiant and desperate to bounce back.
“I missed the World Cup and I was very disappointed,” he told Sport360 exclusively.
“But football is like that. Now it’s gone. I wanted to be there to play in the World Cup, but for different reasons I wasn’t.
“After that I needed to move forward. I knew I cannot look behind – and the past has gone.
“Sometimes you can have some bad things, things do not happen like you want, but right now I have some positive things to help me keep going and keep looking forward.”
While a push for the Premier League title faltered in February, the ‘positive things’ include helping Spurs to the Champions League semi finals.
Winning this trophy would certainly help soften the blow of missing out on that World Cup triumph.
“Yes it would,” added the 29-year-old, who joined Spurs from Newcastle on deadline day in August, 2016.
A groin injury meant Sissoko started on the bench in the 1-0 first-leg defeat to Ajax, but he is expected to return to the first XI for tomorrow’s return in Amsterdam after starting in the weekend 1-0 Premier League loss at Bournemouth.
His powerful presence, and the drive and energy evident in impressive displays this season will be needed.
Sissoko’s critics have gone quiet as he has become an influential player in the Spurs ranks, playing in 41 of their 55 games, and lauded by former captain Graham Roberts as their best player in this campaign.
And he will use that same determined attitude to try to help Spurs fulfil the greatest of ambitions.
“This year I’m playing and doing well, the team is doing well and we are in the semi finals of the Champions League,” he said.
“It’s a really big achievement for me and everyone.
“I am feeling stronger. I feel I have become a better player.
When you play nearly every week, you have more confidence, better fitness and you have more roles in the team and it becomes easier.
“If you play one game every four or five weeks it’s totally different, difficult.
“But I am very happy with my form at the moment. I will try to keep going in that way.
“Winning trophies, that’s what I want, that’s what we all want. First we want to finish third in the league and why not win the Champions League?
“It would be a big dream for me and for all of us. We must believe.”
Belief and spirit will be key to the second leg in Amsterdam, and Spurs will not be daunted, having already made stirring comebacks to gain results at PSV Eindhoven, Inter Milan and Barcelona in the group stage to help them advance to this stage.
Memorably, they also prevailed in a dramatic quarter-final tie at English rivals Manchester City on away goals.
With 17 minutes left at the Etihad they were out, but a combination of Fernando Llorente’s controversial finish and an injury-time strike from Raheem Sterling ruled out by VAR, saw Spurs through.
It is why Sissoko says it would be “foolish” to write his side off now as they have the character and quality to fight back.
At the City game, he had returned to the dressing room after Sterling’s effort despondent, unaware that it had been disallowed for an offside against Sergio Aguero in the build up.
“This game gave me a headache, different emotions,” he recalled. “You qualify then you not qualify, it was crazy. It was an emotional game, but at the end we got through and that’s what we wanted, very happy for that.
“It was a big achievement for the club, the players and all the staff.
“Now we can feel it. We feel we can go to the end now we have got to the semi final. We have to believe and we believe. Anything can happen.
“We have to give our best against Ajax and make sure we get through. Now we have to go to the end.”
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