Nabil Bentaleb: An open and honest discussion with the coach
After six months at Newcastle United, Nabil Bentaleb returned to Gelsenkirchen a few weeks ago. The midfielder has made a good impression during the pre-season friendlies and training sessions so far. In an interview with schalke04.de, the Algeria international spoke about a fresh start with the Royal Blues, an honest discussion with David Wagner and his goals for the upcoming weeks and months.
Nabil, on Sunday you and your teammates will take part in the first competitive match of the new season. You should have some fond memories of our opponents already.
That’s true. We faced 1. FC Schweinfurt 05 in the first round of the DFB-Pokal two years ago. If I remember correctly, I scored the opener in the match, right?
That’s correct. You converted a penalty in the 24th minute. In the end, we won 2-0.
I remember it being a tough game for us. Lower league teams always put up a fight in the cup and do everything they can to upset the bigger clubs. But, we’re prepared for it and are highly motivated.
You have a bit of a usual pre-season behind you, with there being a positive Covid-19 case within the squad during training camp. How did the team handle that?
It was an unexpected situation. However, things like this can happen nowadays, where someone gets infected with the virus despite everyone being aware and respecting the hygiene and social distancing rules. What was most important to me was that the infected member of our team gets well soon, because health comes above everything else. Our medical team and our coaching staff, as well as our support staff did a great job. They analysed the situation quickly and implemented the necessary measures, so that we could get back to training after a short interruption and continue our preparations for the new season.
I’m someone who is always itching to play football.
You yourself only took part in the latter half of pre-season, after it was agreed that you should take enough holiday to recover following the end of the Premier League season and your return from loan at Newcastle. Are you already back to peak fitness?
I had two, three weeks off. That was enough time to rest and recharge. I’m someone who is always itching to play football. But, I still very much enjoyed the time with my family with no training or games. After all, during the season there’s rarely a chance to spend several days on end with your family.
Last year you welcomed your twins to the world. How much has the birth of your children changed your life?
It was an amazing moment. Since then, I’m no longer responsible only for myself, but for our family as well. I want to be a good role model for my kids every day, show them the right values and ensure that they grow up happy. So that they can be proud of their dad.
You only featured for the U23s during the first half of last season. After going on loan, it wasn’t exactly a given that you would play for the Schalke first team again. What expectations did you have ahead of your return and are you surprised at how quickly and well you’ve been reintegrated into the squad?
A few weeks ago, I had a very open and honest discussion with David Wagner. The coach told me that he is keeping an open mind on my return and that he would look and see how I behaved on and off the pitch, how I can bring my skills to the team and where he can play me. Also that I’m an option for him, if I meet these expectations. I have the opportunity to become a key part of the team, which is something I really want.
You were playing at Newcastle during the Rückrunde. Did you keep an eye on what was happening at Schalke during that time?
Of course. I checked each week how things were going and cheered on the team. Unfortunately, the results weren’t the best. I was also in touch with some of lads on a regular basis over the last six months, such as Benjamin Stambouli or Omar Mascarell.
Was the loan spell a bit of a new start for you, after a difficult period? You underwent a meniscus operation at the end of August 2019 and afterwards you were solely with the U23s.
There’s no doubt that my time at Newcastle was very good for me. I had the opportunity to show what I can do and to get my fitness back after my knee injury. The Premier League being put on hold for several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic also gave me additional time to get back to my usual level. In a way, I had additional time to prepare. I’m very grateful to Newcastle United for the opportunity that the club gave me. In the end, I featured in 15 games in the second half of the season.
I will do my best every single day so that we can be successful as a team!
Most recently, the coach has had Benjamin Stambouli play alongside you in defensive midfield. Do you think that’s a pairing that could be used during the season as well?
I can definitely see that happening. However, we also have several other good players in the squad – everyone has their own individual qualities. In the end, it’s the coach who decides who plays. Of course, I would be happy to play alongside Benji, because the two of us are very close. We joined Schalke around the same time four years ago after having previously been teammates at Tottenham as well. Benji became a good friend of mine back then already.
What goals have you set for the upcoming weeks and months?
After a strong start to the season, the latter half of the season was not that great for the team. I want to help us do better this year. I’m convinced that we will be able to do so. The entire team – and I’m not just talking about the players here – put in a lot of hard work every day in order to be successful. The coaching staff, the support staff and the medical staff all do an incredible job.
Is there anything that you can promise the fans?
Definitely. I will do my best every single day so that we can be successful as a team!