It’s now over a year since Tottenham appointed manager Mauricio Pochettino, and whilst he missed out on a top four finish in his first season, there is plenty to be pleased about for Spurs fans.
The Argentine managed to land fifth place in the Premier League table, notched a win over rivals Arsenal at White Hart Lane and, most importantly, gave Tottenham fans a glimpse of the future by bedding in a number of talented youngsters.
Striker Harry Kane, of course, grabbed all the headlines by hitting 31 goals in all competitions, but Danny Rose established himself as one of the Premier League’s top left backs, whilst midfielder Ryan Mason became an England international less than a year after featuring on loan for Swindon Town.
Yet, outside of Kane, the most promising player of Tottenham’s youth movement is Algerian international midfielder Nabil Bentaleb.
A January 2012 signing from French side Dunkerque, Bentaleb has been fast-tracked into the Tottenham first team, and supporters can actually thank former manager Tim Sherwood for that. If there is anything Spurs fans can look fondly upon from Sherwood’s reign, it’s the emergence of Bentaleb.
The 20-year-old player 35 games in all competitions this past season, becoming the heartbeat of the Tottenham midfield and a key player under Pochettino despite his relative inexperience. Week by week, Bentaleb proved that that he has what it takes to be a future star for club and country having impressed in the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations as well as in the Premier League.
This is all great for Tottenham. They’ve unearthed a gem, and that’s certainly something fans needed after the failed signings of Vlad Chiriches, Etienne Capoue, Paulinho and Roberto Soldado in 2013. Yet, somehow, Spurs are managing to cause themselves problems with Bentaleb.
In the last year, those aforementioned prospects have been rewarded for their performances; Rose, Mason and Kane all signed new and improved contracts to keep themselves tied to the club until 2020. Unsurprisingly, Bentaleb now wants the same courtesy. Only, chairman Daniel Levy appears reluctant to do so.
Bentaleb aired his frustrations to The Telegraph last week, admitting that he had been in talks over a new contract with Spurs since September. In nearly nine months of negotiations, Tottenham still haven’t been able to strike a deal with Bentaleb – and now they could risk losing their disgruntled star.
In terms of the next generation of world-class midfielders, the likes of Marco Verratti, Paul Pogba and Mateo Kovacic steal the limelight on a regular basis. Yet at White Hart Lane, Spurs have a player who could rival all three in the future – because he can be used in a variety of ways.
His range of passing is good enough to be able to dictate play as a deep-lying playmaker, he’s physical enough to break up play in front of the back four, and he has enough athleticism and energy to work from box-to-box. Bentaleb already has all the tools to become one of the finest all-round midfielders in Europe, and he can become anything Spurs want him to be – so why the confusion over his future?
Bentaleb has been just as good as, if not better than the likes of Rose and Mason this past season, and deserves to be rewarded accordingly – especially given that his team-mates have already been handed new deals in the last 12 months.
If Tottenham don’t believe that Bentaleb is worth a new and improved contract, then it’s almost certain that another team, possibly a Premier League rival, would be more than willing to pay good money for an up-and-coming midfielder. With Pochettino keen to build a great Tottenham side not only for now but also for the future, there is no logical reason why Spurs and Levy should be putting Bentaleb’s future in doubt when he could be a hero at White Hart Lane for years to come.
Allowing Bentaleb to leave could be a mistake reminiscent of Manchester United losing the aforementioned Pogba to Juventus in 2012, with the Frenchman harnessing his potential away from Old Trafford whilst United desperately scramble for a midfielder they had all along.
Pogba’s story should serve as a cautionary tale to Tottenham, with potential replacements costing exponentially more than keeping existing young talent at the club; and having forked out for the likes of Paulinho, Capoue and Mousa Dembele with little reward in recent years, this is an avenue Tottenham can’t afford to journey down.
Whilst Pochettino will look to add more signings this summer after the arrival of Austrian defender Kevin Wimmer from FC Koln, the most important deal would be securing Bentaleb’s future in North London as he looks to keep his young core in place ahead of another top four push next season – and they stand a better chance of achieving that by keeping Bentaleb rather than letting him leave.