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When Jose Mourinho arrived at Tottenham Hotspur, it did not take him long to spot a player who suited his needs in academy graduate Japhet Tanganga.

An injury crisis might have seen the 21-year-old move down the pathway to the first team quicker than expected -- he made his Premier League debut at right-back for Spurs against champions-in-waiting Liverpool -- but it is easy to see why Mourinho was so keen to blood an academy graduate, who offers an impressive cocktail of technical quality, recovery pace and composure with and without the ball.

When his opportunity came Tanganga seized it, firmly establishing himself in Mourinho's first team. In each of the 10 Premier League games before lockdown, he was in the matchday squad. In the final three, he was a starter. But for a stress fracture to his back, the youngster may still be a fixture in Spurs' plans.

As is he is recovering, his match sharpness in the Europa League, where he has started Tottenham's last two games and is expected to feature against Antwerp as Spurs attempt to secure top spot in Group J (3 p.m. ET on CBS All Access). Whether an impressive performance on Thursday will be enough to earn Tanganga further opportunities in domestic fixtures remains to be seen, but the young defender knows he will have Mourinho's support as he battles to establish himself as a regular for the club he joined at the age of 10.

"He has really helped me understand the game in a different perspective," Tanganga tells CBS Sports when asked to reflect on Mourinho's influence on his early career. "He has helped me in so many ways, learning to defend better, manage the game better and so many aspects I felt I really needed to take that next step in my career. 

"He has done a lot for me. He looks after me, asks how I feel, gives me tips to do this, encourages me when I'm doing well, tells me when I'm not doing well. He's exactly what players want and for me he has been very helpful.

"What helps the most? His knowledge of the game, his detail into how he looks at opposition. He makes it a lot easier for us going into a game knowing our opposition.

"It's so helpful, for example, going into a game against Chelsea and you know he'll give you all the tools and guidance to nullify Werner's pace and make sure you stop him at source. His detail is amazing, that's what I'd take from him."

Japhet Tanganga defending Chelsea's German striker Timo Werner in the Carabao Cup. Getty Images

For all Mourinho's support of Tanganga, the manager's assessment that he viewed the defender as more full-back than center-back prompted no little debate among Tottenham supporters who are naturally eager to see a youngster and one of their own established in the heart of defence.

Tanganga seems rather more relaxed about where his future might be. He came through Tottenham's academy playing most of his youth career as a center-back but found no great difficulty in moving out wide -- "ability-wise ... I could play anywhere along the backline" -- and is keen to praise the influence of Jan Vertonghen, another who could switch between the flanks and central areas with ease, when he joined the first-team last season.

In recent years, many a forward has graduated from wide positions to playing through the middle and Tanganga sees no reason why he could not do the same at the other end of the pitch, where he takes inspiration from a Real Madrid great.

"Sergio Ramos is an example who played at right-back at Sevilla and then when he came to Real Madrid played right-back before moving to center-half. It happens, if the manager sees something in you that you might not see in yourself then he might put you out there. It's for you to learn, adapt and use that opportunity to show your ability, show what you can do. 

"It's also about using people who have been in that position and asking them for guidance, asking them to help you and using all those tools to make yourself better."

Tanganga's third game of the season will not be an insignificant one with Spurs needing to beat Antwerp at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium to gain top spot in their group and in the process earn seeding for the round of 32. That would mean avoiding big names such as Roma and Villarreal in addition to the four best performing teams to drop out of the Champions League.

Whoever Spurs draw they will be acutely aware that as a Premier League side with a rich history, an imposing stadium and perhaps the most famous manager in the world, there will be plenty of teams ready to raise their game if they draw Tottenham. That was certainly true of Antwerp when the two sides met at the Bosuilstadion, Lior Refaelov smashing home a famous winner for the oldest team in Belgium.

"Maybe there's a target [on us]," Tanganga acknowledges. "We play in the Premier League, we're a big club and the other teams look up to Tottenham and think 'if we can beat Spurs we've got the ammunition to do well in the tournament'. 

"Maybe we do have that target but we're not focused on that, we're focused on doing the job, winning the game and hopefully topping the group tomorrow."

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During his lengthy association with Spurs, Tanganga has never had to go far to find a reminder of his club's storied history in Europe with two UEFA Cups and a Cup Winners' Cup to their name. He is reluctant to get carried away with such a lengthy knockout round ahead but is acutely aware of what it would mean to be one of the players who ended Tottenham's 13-year trophy drought.

"Of course, a Europa League win would be fantastic. It's a trophy we can add to the cabinet, it's been quite a while.

"If you come to Spurs' training ground, you see those posters and paintings of the titles that the club won, the European cups. Being young and growing up in the academy you look up to that."

Trophy or not, future generations of academy graduates may yet look at Tanganga, the man who rose to prominence at a time when Spurs needed him most.

"In a sense, I'm kind of like a role model to those looking to break through to the first team and looking for a pathway when they might have doubts and need some confirmation they can make it," he says. "I can be that, hopefully I'm that person they can look up and see. 'Japh's done it, he's broken from the academy into the first team.'

"Doubt is always in football sometimes a run of games aren't going well for you and you think 'can I do it? Can I make it?' It always happens but the main thing to do is to always trust yourself, believe in your ability and continue to work hard, waiting for your opportunity to come. 

"Thankfully for me it did come."