Tottenham’s approach with Nabil Bentaleb next season 3

Nabil Bentaleb got a raw deal this season.  Rather unfairly, he became a symbol of Tim Sherwood’s unpopular regime and his inclusion in the first-team was seen a contrived attempt by the now departed manager to reinforce the progress he’d cultivated within Spurs’ academy.

Tottenham fans tend to be split between two schools of thought with Bentaleb: either they’re mystified by his inclusion in so many games this year, or they think he’s the present and future of the side’s midfield.  As with so many footballing debates, the truth is a compromise between the two.

Bentaleb’s promotion wasn’t undeserved this season, because quite obviously he’s a player of some talent.  He has an exemplary first-touch, is extremely capable with the ball at his feet, and has a passing-range which genuinely makes him an asset at Premier League level.  What he doesn’t posses - yet - is the ability to process the game at the necessary level to be a reliable part of the side.

That’s really about experience and making the adjustment to the fast-paced nature of top-flight football, and it’s a deficiency which ultimately shows itself when a player doesn’t have the ball - or, what he does immediately after losing it.  Give Bentaleb time to play and space to move into or to exploit with his passing, and he looks first-team ready, but pressure him, ask him to be more disciplined, or put him against a better standard of opponent, and all of a sudden he can look very naive indeed.  Compare his performances against Newcastle and Manchester City: that’s the problem.

Sherwood may have given him his chance, but he also put him in a very awkward position.  It’s all very well having faith in a young player, but a manager also needs to make his bedding-in period as easy as possible.  Sherwood got Bentaleb’s transition half-right: he put him in the team, which was great, but in quite a cavalier way and in a manner that brutally exposed the nineteen year-old to the Premier League.

How many different midfield partners did Bentaleb have this season?  How many times was his role changed and redefined between games?  Continuous selection is one thing, but continuity of instruction is another.  One could argue that a steep learning-curve is good for a player, but in Bentaleb’s case it seemed counter-productive - excellent games against Newcastle, Benfica, and Everton aside, the Algerian’s form dropped-off dramatically as the season wore on and he seemed progressively overwhelmed by his new environment.

Bentaleb is not yet a natural first-choice player at White Hart Lane, but that isn’t to say that he doesn’t have a good future.  The right time to introduce him into the side will be, firstly, when the midfield as a whole is more settled and more secure, but also when he has learnt a little more about defensive responsibility and how to avoid getting outnumbered in transition when playing against an elite side.  Those aren’t even really criticisms, because that’s a process every youngster has to go through - and it’s especially important for a player occupying central areas.

Sherwood promoted him because he wanted to put his own stamp on the Tottenham side, and that’s entirely understandable, but from now on Bentaleb needs to be handled with more care and patience.  He’s not going to start twenty games or more next season, so ideally his 2014/15 should be spent at a club who are able to give him that kind of pitch-time - even if that’s in the Championship.  Let him get roughed-up and knocked about, let him suffer peaks and troughs in form…essentially, let him learn his trade.

He has all the technical attributes needed in a Premier League player, he just needs time to become a bit more street-wise.  He’s nineteen, so there’s no need to rush him - in three or four years he could really be a star if developed correctly.

Follow @premleagueowl

Latest article for Squawka: Missing piece: Aaron Ramsey’s return to the Arsenal side