Saïd Benrahma - The First Interview
Saïd Benrahma will have the support of a football-obsessed nation after completing his loan move to West Ham United.
Algeria are the reigning CAF Cup of Nations champions, are climbing up the FIFA World Rankings and is home to millions of fans of the Beautiful Game.
When an Algerian player moves to one of Europe’s leading clubs, the whole country gets behind him, as was the case when Sofiane Feghouli joined the Hammers in 2016, Riyad Mahrez won the Premier League title with Leicester City and then again when the talented winger joined Manchester City.
Benrahma, who is close friends with and an international teammate of both players, is hoping to do all Algerians proud every time he pulls on a Claret and Blue shirt.
I was born in Algeria and I used to enjoy myself playing in the streets, because for me, playing football is a pleasure
“I am proud to represent Algeria in the Premier League, and there’s already a player who’s representing Algeria very well, who is Riyad Mahrez,” he told West Ham TV. “Hopefully I can do my best to represent it (my country) well too.
“They love us back there, so we’ll try to give it back to them on the pitch and make them proud. I’m proud to be an Algerian.”
Benrahma, who will hope to bring his exceptional form in the Championship for Brentford to West Ham and the Premier League, revealed he had spoken to both Feghouli and Mahrez before deciding to swap west London for the East End.
"Sofiane is a great player who had a spell at West Ham,” he confirmed. “I talked to him and he gave some good advice and told me positive things about the club. He helped me with my decision and I’m very happy about it. I hope I can do my best here, just like he did.”
And, by a strange coincidence, Benrahma and Mahrez – the only two Algerians playing in the Premier League at present – could share a pitch on the former’s debut for the Hammers when Manchester City visit London Stadium on Saturday 24 October.
“Riyad is a friend of mine, but once we’re on the pitch, I’ll represent West Ham and I hope we can win,” he smiled. “But yes, he’s a friend and a team-mate in the national team so I’ll do my best to beat him.”
While Feghouli and Mahrez were both born and raised in France by Algerian parents, Benrahma spent the early years of his life in the northern Algerian city of Ain Temouchent, playing his first football on the streets before joining the club NRB Bethioua at the age of nine.
It was that experience that helped turn him into the skilful, creative winger he is today.
“I’ve had it [this style] since I was a kid,” the 25-year-old explained. “I was born in Algeria and I used to enjoy myself playing in the streets, because for me, playing football is a pleasure. So, it’s about trying to repeat the moves I used to perform outdoors when I was a kid.
“That’s how it is back there, I think the Algerians are all the same in that sense. We all like to have the ball at our feet and play with it.”
Benrahma continued his football education in France, moving to Toulouse as a schoolboy before playing for local clubs Balma and Colomiers before being snapped up by Ligue 1 side Nice at the age of 17.
There, he worked in a professional environment for the first time and trained alongside a player who would become his hero and helped shape his own game, enigmatic France winger Hatem Ben Arfa, whose precocious talents lit up Lyon, Marseille, Newcastle United and, in 2016/17, Nice.
Loan spells at Angers, Ajaccio and Chateauroux followed, with his form for the latter attracting the attention of Brentford, where his career truly took off over the last two seasons.
“I was born in Algeria and I arrived in France at the age of 12 in Balma to join my mother,” he confirmed. “I played for Balma and they had a good academy, with good training for the youngsters. They help them a lot and they helped me a lot; I stayed there for three seasons. Then I moved to Colomiers, where it all went down very well too, before joining Nice.
“I didn’t follow a proper training and my debut for Nice was a bit difficult. It was very hard as the professional environment was all new to me. But I managed to learn over time under all the coaches I had. It was just part of the learning process. I also met Hatem Ben Arfa at Nice, he’s just so good! He’s very, very good, he’s a natural talent, a genius.
“I was loaned a few times and it turned out to be very positive for me. The last loan was at Chateauroux, where it went very well, and that’s where Brentford came to me.
“I want to thank them warmly as they put a great deal of faith in me and I’m grateful to them for that.”
For Benrahma, moving to England took him out of his comfort zone, but the move paid off in a big way.
Now, he is hoping for similarly positive results after moving to West Ham and the Premier League.
“When Brentford approached me, I could have decided to stay at Nice, but Brentford’s project got me very interested,” he recalled. “They were planning on trusting the youngsters, thanks to a good development. So when I met them, I thought: “That’s where I want to be”. I did join them and it went down very well; I spent two fantastic seasons there.
“It’s physical in the Championship, just like in the Premier League, you just need to adapt. I’ll see how it goes in the Premier League as I’m about to discover it.
“Standards are obviously very high in the Premier League and any player would like to come to England. Almost all the best players are in England, so it’s exciting to compete against the greats.
“I joined the Championship where I really enjoyed myself and I think the Premier League is at another level, so I’m very happy to join it and I’ll try to do my best.”