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With Tottenham signing Victor Wanyama from Southampton, concerns are growing that Nabil Bentaleb could be heading for the White Hart Lane exit door this summer.
The Algerian had a disappointing campaign where he barely featured for the club and could be further down the pecking order next term if he stays put.
His demise was surprising given he was a prominent part of Mauricio Pochettino’s plans in his first season at the club following a successful World Cup with his country in 2014.
Given he had broken into the first team for one of the stronger Premier League teams at the age of just 19, it seemed the future was very bright for Bentaleb but things have started to go wrong over the past 12 months.
Fall from grace
The main reason for his fall from grace at club level has been the form of other players however. Eric Dier’s successful conversion into a holding midfielder and the outstanding form of Mousa Dembélé meant his game time was severely limited in the Premier League to just 2 starts and 3 substitute appearances.
However the fact that Ryan Mason was mostly preferred to Bentaleb as back-up to those guys points more clearly to the fact that the Algerian, who signed a new 5 year contract only last year, has lost his way.
Injuries played a part in his struggles too and he underwent surgery in March effectively ruling him out for the final couple of months of the season.
There also seems to have been some kind of breakdown in the relationship between him and his manager as he has evidently gone from an integral part of the Tottenham team to a player not even worthy of Pochettino’s trust as a substitute or occasional starter.
The only times he completed 90 minutes post-August where in the FA Cup, a competition which clearly sank to the bottom of Spurs’ priority list when a title challenge became a realistic possibility.
Bentaleb, along with Mason, was reportedly offered to Southampton as part of an exchange deal to Wanyama, which suggests Spurs have their heart set on offloading the player this summer.
They would perhaps be a little hasty to do that though given Bentaleb displayed real quality and an enormous amount of composure for an inexperienced young player in his breakthrough campaign.
Like young players often do, he may have lost his way a little but at 21 it would be unrealistic to expect Bentaleb to be the full package either on or off the pitch and whatever has gone on behind the scenes surely could be fixed given time.
The main problem though is that Bentaleb isn’t realistically going to get any more game time next season if he stays at the club.
Wanyama will provide fierce competition to Dier and Dembele pushing the Algerian to at best fourth choice in the holding midfield role.
With Tottenham in the Champions League rather than Europa League they are not going to be fielding weakened teams in Europe and after a disappointing season spent mostly in the Under 21 team, Bentaleb really needs first team football next term.
Bentaleb might command a fee in the region of £10million but unless Spurs are really desperate for cash to help fund other signings, they’d be wise to send the Algerian away on a season-long loan rather than a permanent deal.
That may help him refocus and regain his form and he is good enough to go and play regularly for certainly a top-end club in Italy, with Napoli said to be interested or alternatively another Premier League team.
Wiser to keep him in the books
If he can get back on track and continue to develop, the midfielder has the ability to come back to Spurs in 12 months or even two years time and put pressure on the likes of Dier and Dembele.
Certainly he looks a classier all-round performer than Ryan Mason, who is four years Bentaleb’s senior and realistically has less scope for improvement.
Therefore, Tottenham might be wise to show some faith in Bentaleb and give him some time to develop elsewhere as the midfielder still has a big future in the game.
Pochettino has never been one to give up on young talent on the basis of one rocky patch so a loan move surely would be the best option for all parties at this point in time.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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