By Robin Bairner | French Football Editor
Younes Belhanda found himself firmly in the spotlight after Montpellier’s Tuesday night draw with Evian. The Morocco international playmaker had opened the scoring with a cheeky penalty and then produced a cultured performance as la Paillade recovered to secure a 2-2 draw against Evian.
But it was his part in a five-minute disturbance as Souleymane Camara waited to take a last minute penalty that will be remembered, particularly as the attacker saw his spot kick save by Stephane Andersen, denying Rene Girard’s men the chance to go eight points clear of Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1.
Not only was this a blow for a team chasing their first Ligue 1 title, it could also be a personal setback as Real Madrid sporting director Zinedine Zidane was watching on from the stands, ostensibly in Montpellier on charity work, but doubtless casting an eye over the talented playmaker, whom the Blancos are interested in.
The match provided a good overview of Belhanda for ‘Zizou’; he showcased his first-class technique, his audacious confidence, but also his spiky side, which had already seen him dismissed once before this season.
YOUNES BELHANDA | MONTPELLIER
MONTPELLIER 2-2 EVIAN
With Belhanda due to serve a ban next Monday against Stade Rennais in any case, the red card means it is now doubtful that he’ll play again for la Paillade this season, having been the major catalyst to their unlikely title effort.
The phenomenon of Belhanda has not come as a surprise to club owner Louis Nicollin, who predicted at the start of the season that his young prodigy would become more discussed than last season’s Ligue 1 Player of the Year, a certain Eden Hazard – another player that Zidane has expressed great admiration for in the past.
“In one year we will not speak of Eden Hazard ... We will have another name in our mouth: Belhanda,” the owner of the Languedoc-Roussillon side boasted.
Since then, Belhanda’s performance level has been stellar and the plaudits have rolled in. Barcelona and Inter are believed to have watched the 22-year-old at work, while Liverpool's Kenny Dalglish and Bayern Munich sporting director Christian Nerlinger were spotted in the stands during last Friday's away trip to Toulouse. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has also expressed his admiration of the Montpellier No.10.
“He plays without any complex,” the Gunners boss wrote in his Eurospot blog. “His real talent is dribbling, passing and he has good technique which can influence any game.
"I love this player, but I do not want to create problems.”
|"I love this player, but I do not want to create problems"
- Wenger praises Belhanda
Nicollin, meanwhile, has only stepped up his praise. “He is better than Hazard, Pastore and company. He has more class,” he boasted to RMC.
Known for his overblown statements, Nicollin’s comments should be taken with a pinch of salt, though there can be little doubt that he holds this genuine belief himself, but the performances of the Avignon-born star have been comparable with the Belgian and definitely above those of the Argentine, whose season has been marked by inconsistency and uncertainty.
Even Zidane described Belhanda’s talents as “extraordinary” to Canal+ following Tuesday’s game, seemingly unperturbed by the show of immaturity that saw him dismissed.
The future holds only promise for the 22-year-old. With a glut of top clubs interested in his signature, though, he has hinted that his immediate future lies in France, despite suggesting that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund hold particular interest for him in the long term.
“I still have two years left on my contract, and, if the president doesn't want to sell me, I have no problem with staying at Montpellier,” he explained to France Football last month.
Hazard, who has undoubtedly benefitted from an extra year of regular first-team football in Ligue 1, may be showing Belhanda the way for now, but the prodigious Moroccan would certainly appear set to fulfil Nicollin’s promises of greatness in the future by carving a name for himself at one of the game’s very best clubs.
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