PROFILE: The midfielder, also adept at playing at centre-back, is a cheaper alternative to the Southampton man, though is capable of enjoying similar success at Spurs
By Robin Bairner
Tottenham closed in on their sixth arrival of the summer transfer window on Friday evening when French outfit Montpellier announced that an accord had been reached over a fee for Benjamin Stambouli.
The holding midfielder, who celebrated his 24th birthday earlier this month, has long been tipped to depart the French champions of 2012, having outgrown a side that has regressed since the heady days of Olivier Giroud and Younes Belhanda.
Unlike Remy Cabella, who arrived at Newcastle from Montpellier with some fanfare, Stambouli is a player who has largely slipped under the radar of those who have only a fleeting interest in Ligue 1, despite having played over 100 matches in Le Championnat since debuting in 2010.
The reason? He is not a player of particular glamour but, like many of Mauricio Pocettino’s signings, he is a player of impressive consistency and fine technique.
He first made his breakthrough as a centre-back for the Stade de la Mosson side, but over the course of his stint in the senior team has shown versatility in his positioning, able to be used in the rearguard or as a bona fide central midfielder. More often than not, though, he is the holding presence in the midfield that binds the team together.
Spurs fans might have hoped for Morgan Schneiderlin this summer, but in Stambouli they have a player with the potential to replicate the astounding rise of the Southampton star, whose profile is remarkably similar to the player it seems they are about to sign.
Schneiderlin, though, is perhaps a more natural central midfielder; a player willing to shuttle box-to-box and cover every area of the field. Stambouli is not a figure wanting for commitment – his wholehearted approach to the game has won him a great deal of praise in France – yet he is most comfortable patrolling the area in front of the defence.
International acclaim has not been won yet beyond the Under-21 ranks. The vast majority of nations would have called upon a player of Stambouli’s quality by this point, but he is unfortunate that Didier Deschamps has at his disposal a raft of excellent midfield options, including Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi.
With a relatively modest price tag believed to be in the region of €7 million, driven down by the fact his contract is due to expire next summer as well as a lack of international pedigree, he represents a more economical option than Schneiderlin.
MIDFIELD MAESTRO | Only Cabella played more passes than Stambouli for Montpellier in Ligue 1 last season
And with value comes interest. Until Montpellier’s announcement, the French press were of the widespread belief that Fiorentina and Swansea were in pole position to sign the wild-haired player, who had previously rejected the advances of hometown club Marseille, where his father was recently relieved of his post as director of youth.
Stambouli indicated that he felt it likely that OM would want him to play in their problematic defence, but he told Midi Libre earlier in the week that he was “not really hot” on that prospect.
So what of the other offers that may yet see the player whisked away from the White Hart Lane club? As of lunchtime, Montpellier owner Louis Nicollin insisted that both Swansea and Fiorentina, who the player has reportedly discussed terms with, had failed to make concrete offers for a player whose family is laced with footballing tradition.
As well as his father’s involvement at Marseille, he is the nephew of Laurent Banide, a previous coach of Monaco, and the grandson of Gerard Banide, who was previously in charge of both the principality side and OM.
Stambouli’s comportment and application on the football field is one of someone who loves the game. His attitude has never been in question, and though he has been omitted from the Montpellier squad in the last two weeks owing to the rife transfer speculation, he has said: “I’m training as hard as possible. And if nothing happens, well, why shouldn’t I stay? It’s not so bad here.”
With such an outlook and the guiding hand of Pochettino at Tottenham, there is no reason why he could not follow in the footsteps of Dejan Lovren, who completed the transition from Ligue 1 to Premier League with great success under the Argentine.