29th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
After enjoying a breakout season in 2014/2015, where he became an integral member of Mauricio Pochettino's fierce Tottenham Hotspur side, Nabil Bentaleb's fall down Pochettino's pecking order last campaign was as rapid as his initial rise to prominence.
Starting 25 matches in 2014/2015, the Algerian international looked set for and long and fruitful career with Spurs, with his stirring performances even earning him a bumper five-year contract at the club. But due to a numbers of factors, including injury, a downturn in form, the emergence of Eric Dier and what's been described as a questionable attitude, the Spurs academy graduate found himself left out in the cold last term.
The fact he played just 168 Premier League minutes aptly illustrated his plight and how harsh Pochettino can be once his faith in a player wanes. Being left out of Tottenham's preseason tour of Australia and sent to train with the U21s was clearly the final straw for Bentaleb.
"The rule is very clear: if you are not part of my plans, why are you training with us? He understands very well, like any other player," Pochettino explained.
"He is not with the first team because he wanted to leave. I think I explained very well. If he wanted to leave, he can come and see me, I say 'OK you can leave,'" Pochettino said.
Knowing his relationship with Poch had reached an untenable nadir, Bentaleb effectively felt he had no choice but to leave. Joining Bundesliga giants Schalke, on an initial season long loan with the option to acquire him permanently for £17 million, should give him an ideal opportunity to get back on the right path, however.
Having already played over 70 professional games for club and country, it's incredible to think that Bentaleb is still just 21. Getting a youngster with so much experience and with a huge scope for improvement, it's understandable why Schalke's sporting director, Christian Heidel, is over the moon with the capture of Bentaleb.
"We are delighted that Nabil Bentaleb has made his decision to sign with us. We have been working on this deal for around six weeks. He is an aggressive, ball-winning midfielder and an extremely useful addition for Markus Weinzierl to have in the squad" explained Heidel.
Bentaleb himself was equally excited about his move to the Blues, saying: "I am really looking forward to this new challenge at Schalke and getting to know the fans."
"Schalke 04 are a big club and their fans have a great reputation in England. Visiting here in the last week has only confirmed my desire to join. I am very happy and I will work hard to help the team to achieve all their goals throughout the season."
There's no reason why the Lille born talent shouldn't be a success at his new club too, for, while he's primarily a defensive midfielder, he's also very adept in the attacking phase. Thus making him a very complete operator.
When he first started at Spurs within Pochettino's side he was a rather cautious passer, but with time and confidence, he improved markedly in this regard. Now, he's an ambitious passer who's capable of finding a teammate with pinpoint precision. But he importantly has a fine situational awareness of when to keep things simple or go for the more expansive option.
There's no doubting the most impressive aspect of his game is his defensive qualities, however. Whenever he steps out onto the pitch, Bentaleb exudes plenty of aggression and intensity, as he always undertakes his work in a tough, no nonsense fashion. He always tracks opponents diligently, making them earn every touch with his dogged, physical approach. While his underrated ability to read the play and make necessary interventions is another endearing component of his armoury.
His numbers back up his stopping capabilities suitably too, for in his formidable 2014/15 EPL crusade he averaged a commendable 2.3 tackles per game, 2.5 interceptions pg and 1.9 clearances pg.
Although he might take some time adjusting to life in Germany and a new league, Bentaleb's multifaceted skillset should hold him in good stead to be a success story with Schalke. With him being so accustomed to operating within Pochettino's dynamic, high octane philosophy, this should importantly mean he'll adapt reasonably smoothly to Markus Weinzierl's similarly energetic tactical strategy.
In the case of Bentaleb, Tottenham's loss is certainly Schalke's gain.
More football blogs at Licence to Roam
Nabil Bentaleb Joins Schalke, And is Set to Be a Strong Acquisition
29th August 2016. By Edward Stratmann.