Le50 2016: Ramy Bensebaini – Montpellier HSC
Montpellier’s budgetary constraints mean that their transfer policy can often be a little left-field, so acquiring a 20-year-old central defender on loan from a second-division Algerian side, and who had spent the previous season on loan getting relegated in Belgium, is pretty characteristic.
Ramy Bensebaini had joined the Paradou AC / JMG Academy when it opened in 2007, before moving to the senior team mid-way through the 2012/13 season, which saw them relegated to the third division. In summer 2013 he had trials at Porto and Arsenal, featuring in a slightly unfortunate friendly match as an U21 team made up largely of trialists was beaten 7-0 by Luton, before returning to Paradou to play a starting role in their unsuccessful attempt to get back up. While they did manage that in 2014/15, Bensebaini was playing for Lierse SK in the Jupiler Pro League, scoring two goals in his 29 games for them, as he experienced another relegation.
He arrived at Montpellier as a centre-back, but given the club’s traditional requirement that players can play at least two, and preferably three, positions, has mostly been deployed at left-back, and has also featured in defensive midfield. He has impressed in a holding role, maybe not having the attacking instincts necessary for a modern fullback, as his crossing can be erratic; his strength is his workrate, both on and off the ball – in the 1-0 defeat in Bastia, playing at full-back, he touched the ball 95 times in that game, more than any other player.
At 6’2” his aerial ability can be useful at both ends of the pitch. While he may not be attack-minded in open play, he has good instincts when pushed up for set-pieces, with two goals both from Ryad Boudebouz corners: the first, a looping header over the goalkeeper against Lorient in week 8 – although possibly he was trying to reach a colleague breaking towards the far post – the second, a low drive through a forest of legs after a failed headed clearance against Caen.
He has dealt well with the positional changes required of him, including mid-match, but the season’s managerial changes have not been so positive; since the arrival of Frederic Hantz in Montpellier’s relegation-avoidance effort, he has started only one game in eleven, with four substitute appearances, and most recently was not in the squad for the game against Lyon. He is not first choice in any of his three positions, behind Congre-Hilton at centre-back, the marauding Jerome Roussillon on the left, and, with Morgan Sanson back, midfield options are also limited.
As he is only in Montpellier on loan, this has led to some uncertainty; in early March, Paradou president Kheireddine Zetchi said that his immediate future would be resolved in April – “Either Montpellier buy him definitively, or he will be transferred to another European club”.
This uncertainty is not helping his national ambitions; he received his first senior call-up in November for the World Cup qualifiers against Tanzania, but spent those, and a CAN Qualifier against Ethiopia in March, on the bench. His focus, however, will be the Olympics in Brazil, where Algeria qualified as runners-up in the U23 CAN.
His experiences so far have given him a philosophical outlook – as he said after getting the call-up in November, “I feel that I am developing in all areas, which is important for me as it wasn’t long ago that I was playing in the Algerian third division”. At this stage in his career, stability would be a bonus to give an already capable player the chance to develop more consistency. Hopefully his patience will pay off and he will get more playing time in the final stages of the season, then the opportunity to represent his country in the Olympics.