On Wednesday, Schalke face a tough test in the Champions League when they welcome Manchester City to the Veltins-Arena in the round of 16.
Nabil Bentaleb will surely be involved tomorrow, as he has become a central figure for the German club since he joined them on loan (and later permanently) from Tottenham Hotspur back in 2016. On the eve of Schalke’s big game, he has been featured in an interview that touches on quite a few interesting topics pertaining to his time at Spurs.
The Independent sat down with the 24-year-old.
“Pochettino was one of the first ones who always believed in me,” Bentaleb looks back. “There were some players the club bought but he put me, a 19-year-old boy, in to play every game. He put a lot of trust in me ... I was young and when I came back from injuries, I wanted to play,” he says. “I was so hungry to play straight away, and so frustrated when I didn’t play. I know that the coach was just doing this to protect me.”
When Bentaleb returned from ankle injury and could not get back in the team, things came to a head. “I got injured and when I came back, I wanted to play so bad that I had some arguments [with Pochettino]. I was a little bit frustrated, and I was learning basically. Being on the bench is a learning curve.”
Looking back now, Bentaleb accepts that he should have been more patient that year, that he should have understood Pochettino’s decisions. But he is not punishing himself with his regrets. “I know I made mistakes. But they helped me learn, as a man. And they don’t stop me from sleeping at night. And if I was 24 right now, and I had been at Tottenham, I don’t think I would make the same mistakes.”
Bentaleb’s fall at Spurs was almost as rapid as his rise. There was the injury that he suffere, but something was clearly wrong when he went from playing every day to not featuring at all even when healthy. There was plenty of speculation about what could have gotten him into Pochettino’s dog house after such an encouraging start to his senior career at White Hart Lane.
It seems like it was an unfortunate situation made worse by a not-uncommon display of immaturity from a young player. It’s nice to hear that Bentaleb recognizes the role his attitude played in the exit.
The Algerian international elaborated that he has since learned from his mistakes and made up with his old manager.
“We spoke to each other for a bit, it was really nice ... I knew he wanted the best for me. I respect him for sure, I have no problem with him. My desire to play was too much, and after that I was swerving away. Now, a couple of years later, I know why. I have a bit more maturity, I understand now. I understand what was best for me. And it was good for me, when I look back at it.”
Bentaleb has moved on from the issues towards the end of his time at Spurs to build a promising career at Schalke. This season he has managed three goals from midfield in the Budesliga so far this season.
Still, Bentaleb sees the success Tottenham are having and can’t deny that he wishes things had gone differently at his first club in England. Spurs’ 3-0 win over Borussia Dortmund last week has put them in a good spot to qualify for the next round of the Champions League.
Bentaleb still watches Spurs games and cheers them on. He is full of praise for the job that Pochettino has continued to do, saying that they have had an “unbelievable development”, starting from the steps they made when he was still there. Given how well Spurs have done, Bentaleb admits there is part of him that wishes he was still there. “I would be a hypocrite to say that I would not like to be there, and I am not a hypocrite. But this is football ... England gave me the chance. Where I am from, in France, no-one gave that to me. So I am forever grateful to Tottenham, the whole club, the administration. They gave me an opportunity to make my dream, to realise my dream. I grew up from 16 in England, and I left at 20. I spent a lot of time there, made lots of friends. I love that country, I love the football over there.”
Bentaleb is now a few years older, and thus, a few years wiser. His improved attitude is probably also partially responsible for his good form on the pitch. The talent that he is possesses is undeniable.
It will be a tough ask of his side to get past Manchester City, but if they do, an emotional tie with Tottenham could be on the cards, assuming they don’t really screw things up against Dortmund, who just happen to be Schalke’s rivals.