French football expert Andrew Gibney gives FFT the lowdown on the Montpellier midfielder said to be close to a move to Spurs...
The 60 second story
- Date of birth: August 13, 1990
- Place of birth: Marseille, France
- Height: 5ft 10in
- Position: Midfielder
- Current club: Montpellier; 112 apps, 3 goals
- Honours: Ligue 1, 2011/12
- International: France U21; 14 caps, 0 goals
Montpellier’s Benjamin Stambouli has been part of the set-up at La Paillade for 10 years now, breaking into the first-team as the club won their first ever French league title against the odds in 2012.
The versatile 24-year-old midfielder has spent the whole summer being linked with a host of clubs around Europe. For the last few weeks it had looked like being a fight between Swansea City, Marseille and Fiorentina for his signature. However, Montpellier’s vice-captain now looks set to sign for Mauricio Pochettino’s Tottenham Hotspur after the clubs agreed a fee for the underrated midfielder.
Montpellier’s title success has led to most of their stars leaving for pastures new. Last season, Stambouli was easily one of their standout players behind Newcastle United’s Remy Cabella, playing 37 of their 38 league games. He may not be the most spectacular player on the pitch, but it would be difficult to find a player who gives as much as Stambouli when it comes to persuing victory.
Why you need to know him
With Pochettino arriving from Southampton this summer, Spurs fans had expected France international Morgan Schneiderlin to follow the Argentine to North London. That move now looks unlikely, but Stambouli has everything in his locker to emulate the Southampton midfielder, costing a fraction of the price and without compromising on quality.
The style of the Premier League is perfect fit for a player with the abilities Stambouli has shown for Montpellier in the physical challenge of Ligue 1. He suits the passing style Pochettino is trying to bring to White Hart Lane, but is also the kind of all-action midfielder the Londoners will fall in love with.
Stambouli is joining Spurs to play in the centre of the park, but his versatility could make him a vital component for the foreseeable future. For Montpellier, he broke into the side as a centre-back due to injuries and suspensions, but once he was given his place in midfield, he quickly became an indispensable part of the team.
As a midfielder or a centre-back, he reads the game extremely well, favouring to intercept dangerous attacks rather than jump in and make reckless tackles.
In a side that picked up 14 red cards last season - the most in Ligue 1 - Stambouli was one of only a few first-team players that didn’t see red. Considering no player in the Montpellier squad made more tackles than Stambouli, you have to admire his determination and timing in an aspect of the game that people think is close to dying out.
This is not to say that he is nothing more than a midfield bruiser. Once he has won the ball or stopped the attack, he is quick to get on the front foot and push forward. Behind Remy Cabella in the Montpellier attack, Stambouli made the second most passes in the team, at around 40 passes per game.
He is not quite as much of a box-to-box player as Schneiderlin, but has an excellent range of passing - be it short, quick passes to the attacking players, or sweeping longer balls out towards the wingers. Stambouli is an all-round, all-action type of player: the type that should really flourish in the Premier League.
Despite being a player who is largely unknown outside the most ardent of Ligue 1 viewers, it’s hard to pick out an obvious weakness in Stambouli’s game. You could be critical and suggest that he needs to add more of a killer instinct in front of goal, whether that is to score himself or provide more assists (he has only scored three goals and provided five assists in 115 league matches with Montpellier), but he keeps to what he does best and performs with consistency.
One question mark would be how he reacts to moving away from the south of France. He joined the Montpellier youth team in 2004 and the furthest he had travelled before that was for his short spell at FC Sion in Switzerland.
Stambouli is a family man at heart, highlighted by following his father Henri to Marseille and Sedan when Henri was part of the staff at both clubs. His father is now also a part of the youth set-up at Montpellier and this will be his first real move away from the nest. How he adapts to life in London will have a bigger influence over his success than his ability on the pitch.
Stambouli has become a huge part of Montpellier team. While talking about his possible departure this summer, President Louis Nicollin declared: “I would have been happy if he stayed, because he was my future captain.” Praise indeed from the eccentric club owner.
Did you know?
Stambouli was part of the Montpellier youth team that won France’s national youth cup, the Coupe Gambardella in 2009 against FC Nantes. It is a prestigious competition, with the game famously played before the Coupe de France final at the Stade de France. Stambouli is just one of five players, including Remy Cabella and Younes Belhanda, that played that day who then went on to shock France and pip PSG to the Championship in 2012.
- Shooting 5
- Heading 7
- Passing 8
- Tackling 9
- Pace 7
- Dribbling 7
- Creativity 6
- Work-rate 9
What happens next?
Once his transfer to the Premier League is complete, Stambouli will hope to earn and keep a place in the Spurs midfield despite a fierce battle for places under Pochettino. The midfielder declined a move to Marseille because they were planning to use him in their three-man central defence, so Stambouli will be hoping to shake off the versatility tag and become one of the best central midfielders in England.
Despite playing for the France under-21 side, the midfielder hasn’t been able to force his way into Les Bleus under Laurent Blanc, but if he can excel in England, just like Schneiderlin has for Southampton, he will hope that he can make that breakthrough before the 2016 European Championships in France.