Bentaleb’s ending 2014 on a high - and he feels sky’s the limit for Spurs
22:35 18 December 2014
PA Wire/Press Association Images
Nabil Bentaleb achieved another landmark at Tottenham this week, scoring his first goal for the club a year after his debut - and the Algeria international believes Spurs can finish in the top four this season.
Nabil Bentaleb scored his first Tottenham goal on Wednesday to help fire Spurs into the Capital One Cup semi-finals – and then realised he is set to miss the ties with Sheffield United.
The Algeria international is due to head to the Africa Cup of Nations in the new year, with his country’s three group games taking place between January 19 and 27, while Spurs face the Blades over two legs in the weeks commencing January 19 and 26.
Bentaleb’s face fell as he realised the clash in his diary, and he said: “It’s a really bad thing to miss but it’s my country and I made the choice to play for them and I have to assume it now.”
When the initial disappointment has gone, the midfielder might reflect that it is a nice problem for a 20-year-old to have.
After all, this time last year he had not even made his debut for Spurs’ first team. That breakthrough came on December 22 under Tim Sherwood and, since then, he has established himself as a regular for Tottenham, gone to the World Cup and, most recently, scored the opening goal in a cup quarter-final.
“I’ve developed over the last year, I’ve grown as a player,” he said. “I know I still have a lot to learn but I’m listening to all the advice I get from everywhere. I have a lot of people around me that want the best for me and I’m really lucky with that.
“I work hard in training to be in the team and the manager [Mauricio Pochettino] trusts me. He tells me to have control of the game, to dictate the pace in the midfield. I take his advice. I still have to improve a lot. I’m like a child, I want to learn and I have to keep on working really hard.
“I owe Tim Sherwood a lot. He was the first one to trust me and put me in. Most of the credit I have is for him and I will be forever grateful to him.
“I have found my position at Tottenham but you are never safe. It’s football, you can get injured. I got injured and I came back into the team, and you have to fight again. Maybe next week I won’t be in the team, and I have to fight again. This is football, you always have to fight and even the biggest players, you can see them on the bench sometimes.”
Bentaleb’s first goal for Spurs came from a goalkeeping howler as Newcastle’s third-choice custodian Jak Alnwick dropped the ball in the six-yard box.
Nonetheless, it was a landmark moment for the youngster and, with Spurs going on to win 4-0 and reach the Capital One Cup semi-finals, it felt like a big moment for Pochettino’s team too.
“We had a great game against Everton and we had a little bit of a down against Crystal Palace, and now we’ve bounced back up and we have to keep on going that way,” said Bentaleb.
“The training was really hard [at the start of the season] but you can see we’re developing as a good team now. We can see what we can do. Sometimes we have little downs but we bounce back up and we show great character and great discipline in some games. It’s a positive point for us.
“We don’t know how far [we can go] because we always want to improve and the manager always wants more from us, so we don’t know what our limit is. That’s the good thing about this team. We know we can be better but we don’t know the limit.”
So is the top four still a realistic goal? “I think it is,” said Bentaleb. “When you look at it, we are in December, and we are still in the game. We are not far from it. It will all be played in the second part of the season.”
That will make it even more of a wrench for Bentaleb to leave Spurs and head off to Equatorial Guinea in January. But he is proud to play for Algeria - where his parents were born – after rejecting France, where he was born himself.
“When people ask me why I chose Algeria over France, I say when I was younger and France lost, I was not crying in front of my TV - whereas when Algeria lost, I was crying and I was getting angry,” said the midfielder. “That’s the reason why I chose Algeria, because my heart always wanted Algeria.”
That decision took Bentaleb to the World Cup in the summer, and he said: “It’s the biggest competition you can play in. I had the chance to play a few games and it was an amazing experience and I have to take that forward - and I think that’s why I did really well. I had more experience from that, and I’ve grown from that competition.”
There is plenty of growth ahead for Bentaleb. And, having broken his duck for the Lilywhites this week, will he be chipping in with goals more regularly in the new year?
“I hope I won’t have to wait another year to score another one!” he said.
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs