Younés Belhanda 22 Midfielder Montpellier HSC
Keen to make use of a good infrastructure within the club, long term decision makers at Montpellier, the Nicollin family, were faced with the difficult prospect of replacing manager Rolland Courbis in the summer of 2009. The former Toulouse and Bordeaux coach was due to begin a prison sentence for his part in the Marseille scandal which had enveloped French football, and his impending custodial sentence could not have come at worse time for the club. Having finally steadied themselves in Ligue 2, Montpellier had managed to secure promotion back to the top level of French football with an exciting group of young players.
Turning to former France under 21 coach René Girard, La Paillade begin to harness the talent and youthful exuberance that already existed within the club. Under the tutelage of Girard, and alongside the experienced Nenad Džodić, defenders Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa and the Moroccan Abdelhamid El Kaoutari began to grow during 2009-10. Montpellier’s attacking style, coupled with a tightening defence saw the club surprise many and secure fifth place in the league. As impressive as their young defenders had been, it was another Moroccan, 19 year old winger Younés Belhanda, that was really beginning to stand out.
That ‘first season back’ surprise factor deserted Girard’s team considerably during 2010-11. As many of his team faded due to injury and loss of form, only the goal scoring exploits of chisel jawed former Tours striker Olivier Giroud ensured that Montpellier remained above the relegation places. That said, a strong showing in the Coupe de la Ligue, in which they lost narrowly to Marseille in the final, indicated that not everything was wrong. More significantly, a young Moroccan winger was beginning to make much more of an impact.
In the early stages of 2011-12, Girard had ironed out issues within his team and the neat football which had deserted them for long spells in 2010-11 was back on display. Leading the pack as 2011 drew to a close, there remained a collective belief within French media circles that Montpellier would surely begin to fade away from a challenge for the Ligue 1 title. With the opulent riches of Paris St Germain set to be utilised fully in the January transfer window, Montpellier’s title charge had probably long since exceeded its validity and a Spring decline back to a respectable top six slot was the expectation of many observers. Probably quite a high number of the club's fans too.
But within Girard’s team there was spirit, and no little amount of skill. While the smart money was on PSG, Younés Belhanda had other ideas.
Belhanda had always been considered something special. Progressing through the youth ranks as a destructive winger with exceptional close control, he had been courted by several French sides, rejecting a move to Marseille as he considered his prospects of making the first team at the Velodrome limited. In fact he had originally decided to join St Etienne, only to renege on the decision at the final moment after his parents convinced him that Montpellier was closer to the family’s Aramon home.
Having signed professional terms with Montpellier in 2009, Belhanda was fast tracked into the first team by Girard. The former French junior coach could see that Belhanda had ability and rather than expose the precocious youngster to the defensive screening of his back four, encouraged Belhanda to utilize his vision in a more attacking role on the left side of midfield.
By 2011-12 his early season form for Montpellier was truly outstanding, and having attracted the attention of some of France’s most notorious hatchet men, Belhanda responded by stepping his game up even further as the season continued. It proved enough to clinch his club their first ever league crown.
As with Lille in 2011, Montpellier’s first team was always likely to be broken up this summer, and while the team have to tried to play, the loss of Giroud to Arsenal has been an insurmountable blow. Belhanda continues to perform well for his club, but there is a lot more pressure on the youngster to score the goals that his team needs, and his game has suffered as a consequence.
Ultimately, Younés Belhanda is a very clever player that remains a consistent performer and has enjoyed a relatively injury free career to date. It would be wonderful to suggest that he might be able to expand and evolve fully at the Stade de la Mosson, but it doesn’t look likely.
We really thought that Montpellier were robbed by Arsenal in the Giroud transfer, the €12m deal hardly a reflection of the striker’s worth to his club. With this in mind, the sale of their skilful winger for a higher fee might be a good compromise all round and the imminent African Cup of Nations in early 2013 could be just the stage to show what Younes Belhanda can do.
"Technically flawless and brilliantly creative, Belhanda's vision, pinpoint accuracy and fantastic distribution make him one of French football’s outstanding talents. Immense with Montpellier last season. Must use African Cup of Nations as a shop window for Europe's best next year." - Jonathan Johnson (French Football Weekly)
C+ This could quite easily have been an A, but the intensity has dropped. Looks ready to move
Minutes On Pitch1,540
Mins per goal154
Right footed goals8
Left footed goals1
Goals inside box9
Goals outside box1
Direct free kick goals0
Shots On Target20
Shots Off Target15
Touches per game52.65
Pass Completion %81%
Pass Completion in final third %69%
Duels won %37%
Cross Completion %20%
Dribbles & Runs53
Dribble Completion %28%
Tackles Won %73%