It was a dream come true for Nabil Bentaleb at Tottenham, where he finally made his mark. Released by Lille at the tender age of 14, just at a time when a young boy starts dreaming of becoming a professional footballer, it was a massive blow to him.
“It has been a difficult path for me to get to where I am today,” the Spurs central midfielder said.
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. Having joined the Tottenham's academy after a successful trial in January, 2012, the young Algerian starlet has gone on to rise through the ranks at White Hart Lane.
He has progressed from strength to strength, making 14 appearances for the Spurs Under-21s last season. In August, most supporters would have known Bentaleb as simply one of the club’s promising youth prospects. A few months later, and after the arrival of over £100m of fresh talent in the summer, no one would have expected him to command a regular spot in Tottenham’s midfield.
On 22 December 2013, Bentaleb finally made his first ever Premier League appearance for the north London outfit, coming in an away game against Southampton. He came off the bench to replace Mousa Dembele on the 50-minute mark. Tottenham won the game 3-2. Manager Tim Sherwood's faith in the midfield maestro was duly rewarded.
The summer signings of Paulinho, Etienne Capoue and Christian Eriksen to join the likes of Sandro, Dembele and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the Spurs squad meant that competition for the central midfield positions would be fierce. However, Bentaleb went on to start seven out of the next eight games following his debut, despite the intense competition for positions. When entrusted with a first team role, Bentaleb delivered. Nabil put in fantastic after spectacular performances, announcing his arrival to the physically demanding Premier League with style.
Bentaleb made his full league debut in a home game against Crystal Palace on January 11 2014. He completed an impressive 97 passes (93% accuracy). Bentaleb's played like a seasoned veteran rather than an inexperienced debutant.
He adapted to the pace of the game swiftly, becoming increasingly accustomed to his midfield responsibilities. In addition, the young talent also has an eye for goal, with his two attempts in the match coming close (one cannoned off the post and across the line, the other well parried by Palace custodian Julian Speroni). His brilliant display has earned praised from the man himself that first provided him with the opportunity to shine, Tim Sherwood.
"He’s a top player and ready to play. I knew he was ready," Sherwood commented following Spurs' 2-0 win against Crystal Palace.
"I know what the boy is capable of doing, I know the Premier League better than any of our players so I know what's required, I know the demands. I knew he had the qualities to be able to do it. If I don’t think they (the younger players) are ready, they won’t even be on the bench. I was convinced he wasn’t going to be fazed and give us a performance of energy and responsibility, ” the former head of youth development at Spurs added.
In that respect, Sherwood is probably right. What Bentaleb adds to Tottenham's plethora of midfield options is his energy, drive and composure on the ball. Whenever he receives the ball, Nabil is always fully composed, either trying to create an attacking play by playing a through ball to a teammate, or simply taking the sting out of the game by retaining possession, passing it back and to the side.
Bentaleb abrupt rise to prominence is attributed to his fantastic qualities whether on or off the ball, by making that intelligent run to start a play, or by playing a confident pass to his teammate. In fact, Bentaleb has completed 88% of his passes in the Premier League so far this season, the second highest of Tottenham’s midfielders.
The intelligent midfielder provides the youthful spark that Tottenham needs, his contribution is always vital with his efficiency on the ball. The young midfielder does make mistakes at times though, misplacing a pass every now and then which may lead to a goal, or by venturing too far forward at times, exposing the midfield. However, Nabil is still a talent in the making and still has much more to improve on.
And of course, Nabil Bentaleb is not quite yet the finished article. This extremely talented young Algerian midfield maestro has bags of potential, only showing glimpses of his talent in his 14 appearances so far this season. To the majority of fans, he might not be a well-known player yet, but that will certainly change in the years to come.
Further guidance will be required, though, as many more challenges await for this exciting young Algerian.
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