Many eyebrows were raised when Tim Sherwood started using Nabil Bentaleb regularly for Tottenham, but the youngster seems to be coming of age after a great display at Newcastle.
The 19-year old central midfielder, who was born in France but could represent Algeria at the World Club, as he has roots from the Northern African country, was only a youth team player at Spurs just two months ago.
He signed for the Lilywhites’ Academy in 2012 and while his talent promised much, it was obvious that he would not have an opportunity under Andre Villas-Boas.
But after a 5-0 humiliation at home against Liverpool in December, the Portuguese manager was fired and Tim Sherwood was handed the reigns, a development that kick-started Bentaleb’s career at Spurs’ first team. Having worked with him in the youth ranks, the new manager knew by first hand what the young prospect could offer to the team and one of his first actions as boss was to give him his chance.
After introducing him as a second half substitute in three Premier League matches against Southampton, West Brom and Manchester United, Sherwood started Bentaleb for the first time in the North London derby away at Arsenal in the FA Cup. Spurs lost that game 2-0, but the youngster was established in the team, starting in the next six EPL games.
Even before the recent crucial wins against Everton and Newcastle though, Bentaleb was considered by many just one for the future, a player that would step aside after the returns of more experienced players from injuries. Indeed, all of Spurs’ central midfielders except Sandro are now fit. But despite that, the 19-year old remains a regular starter. And last time out against Newcastle, he gave arguably his best performance so far.
Emmanuel Adebayor took center stage after scoring two goals in a 4-0 romp at St. James’ Park, but for many, Bentaleb was the man of the match. With Ettiene Capoue shielding the back four just behind him in a 4-1-4-1 formation, he dominated the midfield alongside Paulinho with endless energy, interrupting the hosts’ play and picking out the right passes.
To top all that, he even helped in two of the four Spurs’ goals against the Geordies. First, he robbed the ball off Moussa Sissoko and tried a cross that the Newcastle keeper Tim Krul pushed into the path of Adebayor for Spurs’ first. And later on, his back heel served Nacer Chadli for the visitors’ beautiful fourth strike.
All of a sudden, Bentaleb is winning plaudits from club legends like David Ginola, France and Algeria are in a battle for the right to play him in international matches, while Spurs are reportedly ready to offer him a new contract.
One for the future? No. For Nabil Bentaleb, the future is now.