5 Players to Follow Nabil Bentaleb in Representing Africa in the World Cup
Ahead of a major tournament such as a World Cup or an African Cup of Nations competition, there is a natural impulse of international managers to try and recruit the best possible squad of those players available to them.
For many African coaches, this means tapping into their country’s extensive diasporas; that is, the spread of people with one national origin beyond the geographical borders of that land.
The decision of Nabil Bentaleb to turn his back on France, a country he represented at the youth level, to play for Algeria, the land of his parents, goes some way to illustrate the allure the World Cup can have for young players keen to make an impact at the international level.
This article presents five other players who, like Bentaleb, have potentially split international loyalties and could be tempted to sign up for an African nation ahead of Brazil 2014.
After coming through the fabled Auxerre academy and attracting interest from Premier League sides, Paul-Georges Ntep eventually signed for Stade Rennais in January 2014.
The fact that clubs such as Tottenham, Arsenal and Roma were reportedly considering him, according to Ben Jefferson of The Express, is testament to his burgeoning reputation within the game.
The 21-year-old was born in Douala, Cameroon’s largest port, but he has represented France at every youth level from U-18 upward, having moved to the country when he was eight.
The current Indomitable Lions squad is currently lacking in creativity in the final third and lack cohesion offensively. These are both issues that Ntep could help to solve; he boasts flair, quality technique and explosive pace, while his versatility would also be an asset to Volker Finke.
Mehdi Abeid is another who has represented France at numerous youth levels; he featured regularly for the U-16 and U-17 sides but lost his way a little as his development stalled.
In 2011, having seemingly given up on any aspiration to represent France, the attacking midfielder opted to play for Algeria’s U-23 team. A senior cap, however, is still not forthcoming.
At the club level, Abeid’s development has been seemingly muddled. Having told L’Equipe (via Graeme Bailey of Sky Sports) that he had “stagnated” at Lens, Abeid moved to Newcastle in 2011.
He is yet to impose himself in the first team, but considering his impressive showing on loan at Panathinaikos, he might be in a position to profit from the Magpies’ paper-thin squad next season.
While Cameroon have attempted to ensnare Barcelona prodigies Frank Bagnack and Jean Marie Dongou in recent months, inviting them to a squad with the promise of Brazil on the horizon, Nigeria boss Stephen Keshi has been more reluctant to do the same.
The Big Boss did turn to Belgium-based pair Michael Uchebo and Imoh Ezekiel, but he has left, largely untapped, a vast reservoir of potentially receptive diasporic talent. One hopes that the Super Eagles do not come to regret this negligence in the future. Keshi’s recent acknowledgement that he will resist inviting new faces to the squad does not augur well for their World Cup hopes.
To flesh out my point, I refer to three central defenders: Kenneth Otigba, Derik Osede and, the pick of the bunch, Tiago Ilori. All three represent other nations at the youth level but could, if invested in by Keshi, instead represent the future of the Nigerian defence.
Little was expected of Eintracht Braunschweig in the Bundesliga this season. The Lions are bottom of the division but, it is to their credit that they are only four points from safety with six games to play.
Two Africans have played a key role in their performances this season. Congolese forward Dominick Kumbela scored a hat-trick in a recent triumph against Hamburger SV, and he was ably supported by Karim Bellarabi. The Berlin-born star is on loan from Bayer Leverkusen.
The right winger-cum-striker is a former German youth international who, with a Moroccan mother and Ghanaian father, could seek a future with two very different corners of the African continent.
In truth, considering the Black Stars’ crowded midfield, Morocco might be the better bet if he is seeking game time.
Ghana, though, would be wise to find a place for a player who is a definite upgrade over Albert Adomah.
The future is exciting for Algeria. As well as Bentaleb, youngsters Aissa Mandi, Saphir Taider and Faouzi Ghoulam have provided the Desert Foxes with a talented new generation, and all of them will likely play key roles at the World Cup.
Could Lyon’s Mehdi Zeffane be set to join them?
The defender has a similar profile to several of the others—born in France to Algerian immigrant parents—and his encouraging performances during this, his debut season, will surely have alerted Vahid Halilhodzic.
Nominally a right-back, Zeffane can also play on the left and was once named Man of the Match as Lyon defeated Guimaraes in the Europa League. He would be a versatile, useful addition to the Desert Foxes squad.