Nabil Bentaleb made his Tottenham Hotspur debut as a substitute in a 3-2 win over Southampton in December 2013. He was just 19 and introduced into the side by Tim Sherwood after taking over from Andre Villas Boas just six days earlier. But after a promising start in his Spurs career things have taken a notable step backwards for Nabil Bentaleb; so what next?
Nabil Bentaleb: So What Next?
It was a massive leap of faith by Sherwood at the time and a clear sign that he wanted to make his own mark on the team. By introducing a 19-year-old youngster into the side at the expense of some established international players the decision raised some eyebrows. At first fans could not understand it and were reticent to accept the merits of this young player. Spurs had spent much of the £85 million they had received from selling Gareth Bale – plus a bit more – on seven players that summer. The introduction of Bentaleb was an indication from Sherwood that in his view the purchases were not working out.
Sherwood didn’t exactly endear himself to the fan base during his time in charge. The regular inclusion of Bentaleb in the team gave the fans a conduit to vent their dissatisfaction. Although they were doing it through a young player that was merely trying to establish himself in the first team.
Bentaleb however, gradually won fans over, although not all of the fans, and not all at once. He brought an energy into the side and an endeavour that Spurs fans were not seeing in the later days under Villas Boa’s leadership. By the end of the 2013-14 season Bentaleb had made 20 league and cup appearances. His performances took him to the World Cup in Brazil that summer where he represented Algeria, the country of his parentage. Bentaleb helped Algeria qualify from Group H in that tournament and into knockout stages for the first time in their history. They lost to eventual champions Germany 2-1 after extra time in the Round of 16.
Bentaleb started the 2014-15 season at White Hart Lane under new manager Mauricio Pochettino. His youthful energy and skill set immediately meeting the requirements of the coach’s newly introduced high intensity and high pressing game. It wasn’t long before he had formed a reliable midfield partnership with Ryan Mason. At a time when the team was lacking leaders, many were considering Bentaleb as having future captain potential. With another thirty five league and cup games under his belt that season (and his first professional goal for the team), the future was looking bright indeed for Nabil Bentaleb.
The summer of 2015 saw Spurs fans agonising over whether Bentaleb would be signing a new and extended contract with the club. This he eventually did much to fans pleasure. But it was a very different story come the 2015-16 season. He had an awful opening day performance away at Manchester United. He had misplaced many passes that day and looked totally off the pace in the game. His early season form mirrored that of the clubs uneasy start over the first four games. He was then injured in the 0-0 home draw against Everton. He missed thirteen weeks as a result. By the time of his return, it seemed that Spurs had moved on without him.
Eric Dier and Mousa Dembele had since formed a formidable partnership in midfield. Apart from a few cup performances, and another solitary outing in the Premier League, Bentaleb only played 11 times last season. By March 2016 Bentaleb had to undergo surgery for a knee injury and his season was effectively finished.
The intriguing aspect of Bentaleb’s fall from grace last season were the noises around his lack of participation last season. Rumours abounded that the delay in the contract negotiations and his attitude around the club meant that he fell out of favour with Pochettino. It was even rumoured that Spurs would be willing to sell him this summer. The truth is likely to be different, however his lack of participation did little to stop these rumours.
Bentaleb’s situation is one to watch this off season. It could be that the rumours had no substance and that indeed it was merely injuries and the loss of form that made 2015-16 such an awful one for him. If indeed the club do keep him and he can rediscover his previous form, he could be like a new signing for the team. We will have to watch this space. His fitness is not questioned by his team mates. A recent club online video had them voting Bentaleb as the player that runs the farthest each game. They know how he can contribute.
Of course the team isn’t made up of marathon runners. Skill set and application is key as is an understanding of where each individual fits in Pochettino’s footballing philosophy. Eric Dier had an impressive inaugural season in midfield for Spurs in 2015-16. And the club has recently also acquired Victor Wanyama from Southampton, adding to the midfield competition for places.
It will be interesting to see if the club give Bentaleb the opportunity to fight for his place in the side and whether he then takes it. With Champions League football beckoning and another arduous domestic campaign ahead, squad rotation will be key. Bentaleb will have to put 2015-16 behind him and prove that he can get back to his best. If indeed he still forms part of Pochettino’s plans.