With international friendlies swiftly following the Premier League’s transfer deadline day, the dust has barely settled on what was a remarkable day of spending.
But among the myriad of high-profile transfers, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a brilliant coup with the £4.7 million capture of French midfielder Benjamin Stambouli from 2012’s Ligue 1 champions Montpellier.
Of course Stambouli – who has never been capped at any level for France – was not Tottenham’s first choice.
That was Morgan Schneiderlin, the midfield maestro who makes Southampton tick. Schneiderlin has arguably been the best holding midfielder in the Premier League for the past two seasons, and undoubtedly the best tackler in the league.
But with the Saints wanting £27 million for their team’s most important player (thanks to Adam Lallana’s move to Liverpool), getting Stambouli instead for under £5 million is a bargain.
Of course, Schneiderlin is slightly the better player – or at least that’s what the stats say.
Last season was Stambouli’s breakout season for Montpellier. The team struggled a lot last season, but had a strong score with their captain Hilton at the centre of defence, Stambouli has the stronger half of a double pivot with Morgan Sanson in the 4-2-3-1, and Newcastle United’s new signing Remy Cabella thriving in the no.10 role.
So it’s fairest to focus at the stats from last season, when Schneiderlin also had his best days under Mauricio Pochettino.
Benjamin Stambouli made almost double the tackles (111) of any Spurs player last season (Paulinho & Dembele 65). Bargain @ 5m #THFC
— Farah’s Football (@FarahsFootball) September 1, 2014
Schneiderlin also made 69 interceptions at a rate of 2.1 per game, significantly higher than Stambouli’s 57 interceptions at a rate of 1.6 per match.
And in building play out from the back – combined with tackling and intercepting the most important of a holding midfielder’s game – Schneiderlin appears to be streets ahead with a pass success rate of 89.3 per cent from an average of 58.5 passes per game.
To be a truly world-class midfielder he’d need a success rate of 90 per cent or more with an average of over 60 passes per game, but Schneiderlin is certainly very close when it comes to passing.
Stambouli’s statistics in this regard aren’t anywhere near as impressive. The 24-year-old managed a success rate of 82.8 per cent from an average of 40.6 passes per game.
However, Schneiderlin was part of a stellar Southampton side filled with great talent, working under one of the game’s most intelligent and innovative managers in Mauricio Pochettino.
Stambouli meanwhile was part of a poor Montpellier team which had ditched his stellar midfield partner Marco Estrada, replaced title-winning manager Rene Girard with the lacklustre Rolland Courbis, sold star players Younes Belhanda, Henri Bedimo, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and allowed key striker John Utaka to leave on a free.
In a team that struggled to a 15th place finish in Ligue 1 last season, Stambouli comfortably made the most tackles, interceptions and accurate passes. In fact, only three players made more tackles than him in France’s top-flight last season.
Without him, Montpellier could well have been relegated, he was that important.
While Morgan Schneiderlin can boast some impressive statistics from last season, Stambouli’s were no doubt skewed by his poor-performing teammates.
In fact, to have those kind of stats in a team which were two points clear of the relegation zone last season shows the potential Stambouli has.
Potential which can be filled at White Hart Lane. As was clear in the 3-0 defeat to Liverpool, Spurs are crying out for a high pressing, enthusiastic midfielder to fit Pochettino’s Barcelona-esque pressing game.
That’s even clear by looking at the stats from last season – Stambouli made almost double the tackles than any Tottenham player did in 2013-14.
The Frenchman will add that steel which has been missing with the shy and retiring partnership of Nabil Bentaleb and Etienne Capoue, both in the tackle and vocally.
Indeed the player himself said (h/t SkySports):
“I like to talk in the locker room, it’s a pleasure for me. You have to manage when it goes wrong and I’m glad to have responsibilities.”
So while Stambouli may not be the Morgan Schneiderlin Tottenham fans wanted, he is a very similar player to the man who is the same age, same nationality and plays in the same position as him.
And on the pitch Stambouli brings all of the same qualities as the Southampton midfielder.
The only difference is, he’s more than £20 million cheaper. A better fit for Pochettino’s plans than any of Tottenham’s holding midfielders, and with a point to prove in the Premier League, Benjamin Stambouli could well be the bargain of the season for Tottenham.