sport

Bentaleb at home with Spurs

Teenager Nabil Bentaleb has described how he was rescued by Tottenham when it looked like his ambitions of becoming a professional footballer appeared all but over.

The French midfielder has stolen the headlines at White Hart Lane after head coach Tim Sherwood opted to hand him his first-team debut last month.

However, it has been far from a smooth journey to the top for Bentaleb, who was released by four clubs before finally making the grade with Spurs.

The 19-year-old was shown the door by Lille, Mouscron, Dunkerque and Birmingham and the highly-rated playmaker admits he was on the brink of calling time on his football career.

"It has been a difficult path for me to get where I am today," he told Spurs' matchday programme.

"I was released a few times and many clubs didn't want to open their doors for me. Lille let me go when I was 14, just at the time you start seriously dreaming of becoming a professional footballer.

"That was a very tough time for me and I had two choices: I could either give up and not right for what I wanted or try to show them they were wrong."

In the space of five years, Bentaleb was forced to move from France to Belgium before returning to his native land once again, before eventually finding himself at home in England.

"The trial at Tottenham was very important for me," he admitted.

"I didn't want to put pressure on myself by thinking it was my last chance.

"I just wanted to impress the coaches. Fortunately, I was able to do that and it was enough to secure a move here."

Nervous

Bentaleb signed for the club's academy within two weeks and went on to make his senior bow weeks later, coming on as a substitute for Mousa Dembele in Tottenham's victory over Southampton before making appearances off the bench against West Brom and Manchester United.

Sherwood entrusted Bentaleb with a starting berth for Tottenham's FA Cup showdown with north London rivals Arsenal and despite losing, the Frenchman revelled in the derby experience.

"I was so happy the manager trusted me to play in such a big game at Manchester United," he said.

"I was nervous before I went on but when we finished with the three points, it was an amazing feeling.

"It was a good experience to play against Arsenal, to feel the passion and determination that you get from such an important derby."

Although admitting defeat to the Gunners was a heavy blow to take, Bentaleb insists Tottenham's primary focus remains on securing a place in the UEFA Champions League next season.

"The result was obviously a setback," he added, "but we have come back with a league win against Crystal Palace and the target is still to challenge for a Champions League spot.

"I went back home recently and my mum reminded me of where I was two years ago and pointed out that now I am training with the likes of [Emanuel] Adebayor, [Roberto] Soldado, Demeble, [Aaron] Lennon and all the guys.

"But I know I still have to work hard all the time. That is the only way to succeed."