Nabil Bentaleb opens up on the 'longest down' of his career after Newcastle United debut

Nabil Bentaleb feels that the only way is up for him at Newcastle United – after the “longest down” of his career.
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Bentaleb made his debut in Saturday’s goalless draw against Oxford United at a sold-out St James’s Park after joining on loan from Schalke 04.

The midfielder had been frozen out at the Bundesliga club in April last year following a behind-the-scenes row, and he says the past nine months have been a “learning curve” for him.

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Asked about his time out of the team, Bentaleb said: “Tough. Every footballer loves playing, and unfortunately, I’ve not been playing football. It was a learning curve for me, and in that situation, you have to try to make something positive about it.

Nabil Bentaleb.Nabil Bentaleb.
Nabil Bentaleb.

“I took this time out to spend time with my family and improve my game, watching a lot of games, a lot of my games to see what I could do better, ensure I stayed fit, I wanted to make sure I was ready for when I came back because I knew it wouldn’t last forever.

“When I got chance to come here, I felt in my mind I was ready. It was very clear for me, I knew my decision straight away.”

Bentaleb, 25, believes that he’s stronger for the experience.

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“I’m a footballer, and everyone who knows me knows how important football is in my life, but at the end of the day, in football, you have ups and downs,” said the Algeria international. “I went through a long down, but it made me stronger. I have learnt something, maybe a lot of things.”

Bentaleb, short of match fitness, was handed a start against Oxford in the fourth-round FA Cup tie at St James’s Park.

Steve Bruce’s struggled to break down Karl Robinson’s organised side, and the two teams will now face each other in an unwanted replay at the Kassam Stadium, the scene of a 3-0 FA Cup defeat for Newcastle three years ago, next week.

“I thought Bentaleb did OK,” said head coach Bruce. “It’s his first game for four months, and he nearly got through it. He tired towards the end, which is normal, I expected him to, but he’ll be fine. He handles the ball well, and he’ll be fine.”

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The draw felt like a defeat for Bentaleb and his team-mates.

“It felt like a defeat in the dressing room, but we know we have a second chance,” said Bentaleb, who could make his Premier League debut for the club in Saturday’s home game against bottom-placed Norwich City.

“We tried to win and kill it as soon as possible. I think we had chances to kill the game, but, unfortunately, the ball did not go in, but we stayed strong defensively. We have a second leg and we are still in the cup.

“The beauty in England (is that) there are no easy games, even against opponents in League One. You can expect them to give 200%. In the replay, we have to show a better face than we played.

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“The attitude is to go for it in the cup. We want to go as far as possible, We were gutted not to get the win, but we worked really hard not to concede a goal, so we get another chance which I think we deserve. And in the league we want to finish as high as possible. We’re not in the worst situation, but are still working

“We have a tough home game against Norwich, but that is a game we can do well in.”

The replay will be played during the Premier League’s first winter break, and Bruce has described the timing as “ridiculous” given that he had planned to give his players some time off next week.

“I was not going to have a break anyway,” said Bentaleb, who has Premier League experience from his time at Tottenham Hotspur. “I was going to stay behind and train – I think I have had a long enough break anyway!

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“But now our mind is on football. We could have avoided a second game, but didn't. Now let us go to war again. I always want to win. I was desperate (to win), but sometimes it is difficult.

“It was my first time back in England against a League One team, and, for them, this was their cup final.

“Now we go to Oxford and it’s going to be our Cup final. We’ll fight and be strong, and that’s what you have to do every game in England.

“I can feel the ambition of this club from the players to the supporters to the directors, and that’s really important for me. It’s not enough just to pick up points, I want a club that plays good football and have a real aim. Everyone’s pulling in the same direction.”

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Bentaleb has between now and the end of the season to earn a permanent move to St James’s Park – and help the team achieve its goals.

“I want to be here next season, for the long term, not just this season,” said Bentaleb. “I feel like I have the same ambitions as the club, and I want to be part of this club.”