At the beginning of the season Nabil Bentaleb got a huge amount of criticism from the German media. On loan from Tottenham, Bentaleb had accepted the Bundesliga switch because Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t find a prominent role for him at White Hart Lane.
The summer arrivals of Moussa Sissoko and Victor Wanyama closed things off a little more for Bentaleb and it was clear he’d fallen out of favour with Pochettino.
Schalke had terrible troubles in the months after Bentaleb joined, and he was one of several to receive criticism. Dubbed a ‘Schalke-Slacker’, Bentaleb’s commitment to the club was questioned, and, like some of his talented teammates, it was claimed he was playing more for himself than the manager.
At times it was farcical. Young German manager Markus Weinzierl had arrived from FC Augsburg to team up with sport director Christian Heidel, and it was heralded as a great partnership.
When things very quickly went wrong, the players were hung out to dry and someone at Schalke provided a constant stream of nonsense to media outlets like Bild. It was all too obvious, desperation had seen subtlety abandoned, and the process of talking down players to deflect criticism from Weinzierl and Heidel was taken on enthusiastically.
Bentaleb kept his head down. At Tottenham there’d been concerns about his attitude, so if he returned to London having failed at Schalke his reputation would be in shreds.
The midfielder has been an important part of Schalke getting over that terrible start to the season, which is why buying him from Tottenham for €19m in February was celebrated.
In March, German football uber-legend Lothar Matthaus said this of the Tottenham reject: “He often reminds me of Zidane, who, like Bentaleb, has Algerian roots. Of course, the comparison is too high, but technically Bentaleb is in a class of his own.”
Matthaus said Bayern Munich should take a look at the player ahead of the summer transfer window. Of course, Bentaleb isn’t Zidane, but Matthaus’ praises is a good indication of just how well the 22 year old has been doing. Pochettino also saw the talent but wasn’t able to give the Algerian international the platform he desired.
On Tuesday Schalke lost 3-0 to Werder Bremen, Bentaleb was suspended due to accumulation of yellow cards. The defeat means bad press for Schalke, Weinzierl and Heidel, so as-if-by-magic, German newspaper Bild publish an article asking if Bentaleb is actually overrated, and has just been a lucky charm.
It’s claimed that since the permanent Tottenham transfer was activated, Bentaleb has only been showing fleeting examples of what he can do. Sports director Christian Heidel is quoted as saying: “Nabil can make a difference, but sometimes he’s too risky.”
Bild say: ‘Bentaleb is too often between genius and madness. Is he perhaps overrated?’
Last season Schalke finished 5th. They’re currently 12th and only five points clear of the relegation play-off place. Maybe instead of once again pointing the finger at Nabil Bentaleb, the German media should redirect it towards Markus Weinzierl and Christian Heidel.
And if the former Tottenham player does get an attractive offer in the summer then perhaps he should take it. Playing the role of both talisman and scapegoat must be tiring.