Rodrigo Bentancur exclusive interview: Spurs midfielder finding his level again under ‘incredible’ Ange Postecoglou

Rodrigo Bentancur tells Sky Sports about his long road back from injury and adapting to Ange Postecoglou’s “incredible” style of play; watch Spurs vs Fulham live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm

Image: Rodrigo Bentancur joined Tottenham from Juventus for £20m in January 2022

It is testament to Rodrigo Bentancur’s dedication that his unavailability due to injury during the early months of Ange Postecoglou’s Tottenham revolution did not prevent him from attending training sessions. The midfielder was a regular observer.

“I was still on the same timetable as my team-mates,” he tells Sky Sports in a first-floor meeting room at the club’s Hotspur Way headquarters. “I tried to stay as close as possible, to follow what they were doing, above all because of the new manager and coaching staff.

“It was a big change from our previous style of play. Remember, I didn’t get a pre-season. I missed his first six months in charge. That’s why I was keen to be there, to see how the new manager worked, to study his system of play and prepare myself for coming back.”

Bentancur’s presence did not go unnoticed by Postecoglou. In fact, his determination and positivity, despite having ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament, made a lasting impression. “He kept banging on my door about being involved,” said the Spurs boss.

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He got his wish in the 2-1 win at Crystal Palace in October, receiving a rousing reception from the travelling fans after appearing as a substitute. “The feeling of stepping on the pitch again was special,” he says. “It was incredible to be able to enjoy it with our people.”

Soon, though, he was having to dip into his mental reserves again, a rash challenge by Aston Villa’s Matty Cash in November, on his first start in nine months, leaving him with another knee injury. “They told me there was damage to all four ligaments,” he explains.

The extent of the damage made the speed of his return all the more impressive. Bentancur completed an expected two-and-a-half month period of rehabilitation in five weeks.

“A lot of work,” he smiles when asked how he did it. “The physios here are amazing and they looked after me so well, as they did after the first injury. We worked every day. I barely had a break.”

Image: Bentancur ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament against Leicester in February

The long hours at the training ground were followed by more of the same at home, where he counts on the support of family friend and long-serving personal trainer Daniel Fernandez in addition to that of his wife and daughter. They worked tirelessly to speed up his return.

“I tried to get back as quickly as possible because I knew the team had a lot of injuries already,” says Bentancur. “My team-mates needed me to be there and help them. I did everything I could. Fortunately, I was able to get back much earlier than expected.”

Postecoglou has marvelled at his level of commitment, describing the 26-year-old as a “warrior” after he started in the 3-1 win at home to Bournemouth on New Year’s Eve. Bentancur is known for radiating positivity around the club. It is easy to understand why.

“I had never really had any serious injuries before. It wasn’t easy. But I took a lot of positive things out of it,” he says. “The time I had with my family was unique. I wouldn’t change it, especially not for my daughter, who is only a year and eight months old.

“I realised I had missed a lot with her due to football, so that was a special period. In the end, the time passed quite quickly. Now, it is in the past and I can focus on the present.”

Image: Bentancur celebrates after scoring against Manchester United

There is plenty to be excited about.

The 4-0 win over Aston Villa on Sunday has put their Champions League destiny in their own hands. The game even featured a late trip by Bentancur on Cash which was cheered by the travelling fans as a perceived act of retribution – even if he insists otherwise.

“Everyone was always asking me how I felt about the tackle and whether I wanted to give him one back but that wasn’t the case,” he says with a smile. “These things just happen in today’s football.”

If there was any element of revenge for that 2-1 reverse at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in November, it came in the form of the emphatic scoreline. For Bentancur, meanwhile, arguably Spurs’ best player in his first year at the club, it was another important step towards building himself back up.

It is little wonder, given all he has been through, and given his physical intensity is one of his defining characteristics, that he is not quite there yet. Bentancur has started eight of Spurs’ last 10 games in all competitions. He admits, though, that his best is yet to come.

“I’m feeling better all the time. I know I still have work to do to get to my best level but I’m doing well, the knee feels good, and I’m hoping to get to the level I was at previously as soon as possible.

“I came back, played four or five games, then got injured again, so it hasn’t been smooth. But I’ve got more games under my belt now and I feel I’m adapting to the manager’s playing style.”

He offers a glowing assessment of Postecoglou and his methods. “He was always very attentive during my time out, checking how I was feeling on a physical and personal level,” he says.

“He showed me his support and, once I was back, I could really see that the way of playing he has implemented is incredible. I think, as a team, we have shown that throughout the season.

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“He is a calm person who gives us a lot of confidence and trusts us. I think you can see that during games. He barely talks on the sidelines. It’s so impressive how calm he is. He is a great manager and I’m really enjoying every day working with him.”

Bentancur is not alone in that sentiment. “I would say we already had a good team spirit but he has strengthened the idea of being a family, and that we are all brothers,” he continues.

“Ange has been really keen to instil that, so the group is now very united. We are a young team, around 24 or 25 on average, and we all get along very well. He has created a great atmosphere.”

He has created competition for places, too, particularly in midfield, where James Maddison, like Bentancur, has recently returned from injury and Yves Bissouma and Pape Sarr have excelled.

“It’s healthy competition and it helps us all to improve as individuals,” says Bentancur. “This year, going out of the cup competitions means we have only had the Premier League.

“But the idea is to have this same level of competition when we are hopefully playing in Europe again next season and we have more games. We will need everyone in the squad to be at 100 per cent.”

Having played as a predominantly deep-lying midfielder under Antonio Conte, Bentancur is adapting to a new position under Postecoglou as well as a more expansive style of play.

Image: Bentancur is enjoying life under Ange Postecoglou

“When I returned from the second injury, I started as the No 6 because Bissou was with his national team,” he says. “Now that he is back, I’m playing more as the right-sided No 8.

“I’m feeling better and better physically, and I think I am at the point now where I can start to play in both positions. I think Ange and the coaching staff have seen that as well, so I just keep working. I am always available to play wherever I am asked.”

Is he enjoying being more advanced, with more licence to attack?

“I like it a lot, yes,” he replies.

Image: Bentancur has been used in a more attacking role this season

“I know that above all I am a tactical and positional player but being a bit freer to attack feels very good. I am trying to copy the work Pape does in the position a little bit. He does it very well and that is what the manager wants from his No 8s, so I’m working on that.”

For now, Bentancur is focused on finishing the season as strongly as possible. Beyond that, though, he is in no doubt that this Spurs side has the potential to challenge for major honours.

“Definitely,” he says. “More so now following Ange’s arrival. Of course, we have to go game by game. These are the short-term targets we set ourselves, to take three points every week.

“But we know we have the team to compete. We have shown that this year. Remember, we have had a lot of injuries. We haven’t had a lot of luck in that sense.

“The boys who have stepped up from the bench when starters have been injured have shown their quality and we have been able to stay high in the table. But if we have a better season with injuries next year, I think things could go very well for us.”

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The hard work continues as they prepare to face Fulham, live on Sky Sports on Saturday. “It’s going to be a difficult game,” says Bentancur. “There are no easy ones in the Premier League. But we are in going into it in great form, both physically and mentally.

“I am training hard this week to make sure I start. But we will see what team Ange selects. Whether I start or not, I am always at 100 per cent, ready to give my best for the team.”

That much was clear even during those long months on the sidelines.

Watch Spurs vs Fulham live on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event from 5pm on Saturday; kick-off 5.30pm


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