September 18 2014 Latest news:
By Ben Pearce, Tottenham correspondent
Monday, January 13, 2014
Nabil Bentaleb insists he is not surprised to find himself at the heart of Tottenham’s first team.
But the Frenchman admits that Tim Sherwood’s appointment has been a key factor in his big break, and that the new head coach knows him better than any of his new charges in the senior squad.
Bentaleb was on the fringes of the first team under Andre Villas-Boas, but never appeared under the Portuguese.
Sherwood’s promotion from the development set-up has changed all of that, and the 19-year-old midfielder has also taken a step up, playing in five of the new boss’ seven games in charge.
Having appeared as a substitute against Southampton, West Brom and Manchester United, Bentaleb got his first start in the FA Cup tie against Arsenal last weekend – and he made his first Premier League start in Saturday’s victory over Crystal Palace.
“It’s not a big surprise,” he said. “I was getting ready for a long time and I was waiting for a chance, and the gaffer trusted me and put me in so I was very happy.
“Does it help that he knows me from the youth team? Of course, he knows me better than anyone else on the pitch so it’s a very big help, and I know what he wants from me as well.
“I’m really enjoying [being in the first team] – and learning from it as well. I’m training with very big players every day, and you can just enjoy it.
“The nerves, you feel them before the game, or when you’re sitting on the bench and you’re getting ready to come on - but once you’re on the pitch you forget everything and I just focus on my own game.
“[Against Palace] I was just thinking ‘I have to do what I used to do in the reserve team’ because that’s why the coach trusted me and put me in, so I just played my own game.”
Bentaleb was one of the brightest stars of Spurs’ 2-0 victory in Saturday’s London derby, hitting the post with a 25-yard effort in the first half and showing off his passing ability throughout.
He says he feels right at home at Tottenham – particularly given the strong French contingent at the club with Hugo Lloris, Younes Kaboul and Etienne Capoue – and he is keen to play his part in a top-four finish.
“It’s a very big club, all the players are very friendly and they do everything for me to feel right at the club, so it’s easy for me to play in the team,” he said.
“Most of the players have given me advice – on the pitch and outside the pitch. When you come onto the pitch you know that everyone’s behind you and everyone wants you to do well.
“[With the other French players], we’re always here to talk to each other. It’s always good to have people that you’re tight to and, coming from the same country, it helps.
“I want to have a regular first-team spot, and the target this season is the Champions League, and we’ll see what happens from there.
“We have the players and we have the squad for it. We’re going the right way, we showed great character [against Palace] to get the three points, and I think we’re still up for it.
“We’re still in the Europa League too and we want to go far in that as well. We’re not playing just to have a laugh, we want to win it.”
Follow me on Twitter @BenPearceSpurs