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Player Focus: Mehdi Benatia - The Centre-Back Worth a Small Fortune

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Player Focus: Mehdi Benatia - The Centre-Back Worth a Small Fortune

 

Recognition hasn’t come without sacrifice for Mehdi Benatia. Though his talent was discerned from an early age, he has had to work harder than most to get where he is today. Inducted into Clairefontaine [where he’d be asked to leave for not applying himself in school], he was also a part of the academy at Olympique de Marseille. Impressed by the young Moroccan whenever he got the opportunity to train with the first team, Didier Drogba, the talismanic striker behind their run to the UEFA Cup final in 2004, would recommend Benatia to José Mourinho and Chelsea following his move to Stamford Bridge. 

 

“I did a trial for three or four days in London,” he revealed on beIN Sport’s Le Club du Dimanche. “I lived with Drogba and Claude Makélélé. They were a great team but I did not feel ready to go. I was offered a three-year contract, but I was fine at Marseille and the idea of moving abroad scared me.” Benatia was still a teenager. It was a mature decision, putting his development and chances of regular first team football ahead of money. But he wouldn’t get the opportunities he thought he would at Marseille. 

 

He went out on loan to Tours, proved himself in Ligue 2 and, on his return, expected to be given a shot. It never came and Benatia grew frustrated. He fell out with Jose Anigo. The Marseille coach didn’t play him regularly, and yet blocked a move to Saint-Etienne. “He left me disgusted with football,” Benatia admitted. 

 

Finally allowed to leave for Lorient, it wouldn’t work out for him in Brittany either. A knee injury contributed to more time on the sidelines than he would have liked, but their manager kept him there even when fit. “I wasn’t starting,” Benatia recalled in France Football. “I went to see Christian Gourcuff four or five times to say: ‘Coach, you’re killing me. If I don’t play, I have no life’.” 

 

The 20-year-old would make only one appearance in the cup before returning to Ligue 2 with Clermont. “I needed it,” he reflected in La Gazzetta dello Sport. “Our second division is more physical. It’s full of Africans.” Benatia had a couple more seasons as a regular in this school of hard knocks. It toughened him up. Samir Nasri, one of his best friends from his time in Marseille’s youth ranks, vowed to make Arsenal sign him. “He said to me: ‘I’m going to talk to Wenger’. And I replied: ‘You’re crazy’.” A call never came. However, Benatia had by then appeared on one of the most sensitive radars in the world for picking up talent. Udinese signed him for free. In hindsight, the centre-back has to be considered one of their best purchases in recent years along with Alexis Sánchez and Samir Handanovic. 

 

In Udine, by the border with Slovenia, in the cold and the rain, “I managed to make my name,” Benatia told France Football. Arguably the most successful cycle in Udinese’s history - together with the Zico years - coincided with his arrival. They finished fourth, third and fifth, qualifying for the Champions League twice only to miss out on the group stages after losing in the play-offs to Arsenal and Braga. 

 

Player Focus: Mehdi Benatia - The Centre-Back Worth a Small Fortune

 

High profile suitors began making themselves known to Benatia’s entourage. Wanted by Paris Saint-Germain at one stage, the Qatari backed club ending up buying Thiago Silva from Milan instead. Once the Brazil captain left, Benatia soon came to be thought of among the calcio cognoscenti as the best centre-back in Serie A. And that made the initial reaction to buying him baffling among Roma supporters. At €13m, they thought Benatia was expensive. Fans quickly realised that it was cheap. 

 

Roma had let in 56 goals the previous season. That’s what being coached by Zdenek Zeman will do for you. But even so, the difference made by Benatia over the last year was really quite something. He had won his final seven games as an Udinese player. At Roma he claimed victory in his first 10, an all-time Serie A record, and a personal streak of 17. They conceded only once in that run. Roma shipped just 25 over the course of campaign as a whole.

 

Until their out of character 3-0 defeat to Catania on May 4, which left Roma’s season devoid of any meaning as Juventus could no longer be caught and Napoli couldn’t catch them, they had shipped only 0.5 goals per game, a remarkable average. Their 21 clean sheets represented the benchmark [shared with Lille] among clubs in Europe’s top five leagues. Benatia had dominated. Of players to make at least 50 league appearances, only Lucio [7.56] has averaged more tackles and interceptions than he has [6.55] in the last four seasons in Serie A

 

At the end of the last one, his star was in the ascendancy. Already of interest to Europe’s traditional elite, Benatia was even more so now. He knows his worth. When he joined Roma, he did so against his agent’s better judgement. “The contract was low with respect to the other offers [€1.6m a year net],” Benatia admitted to La Gazzetta, “and I wouldn’t be playing in the cups. I signed all the same and have never regretted it. There was a project. I liked the idea of it.”

 

Player Focus: Mehdi Benatia - The Centre-Back Worth a Small Fortune

 

Yet he insists a promise was made. “Before signing for them, Roma said to me: ‘Bena, we know you deserve more and you have refused a lot of money. Come, show that you’re worth it at Roma and if we get into the Champions League or win the Scudetto we’ll give you a good contract’.” Roma kept their word. “But,” in Benatia’s words, “an unacceptable offer was made. I’ve heard it said I asked for €4m a year. I didn’t even ask for €3m.” 

 

Owner James Pallotta held talks with Benatia during Roma’s pre-season tour of the US and seemed confident of retaining him. Rudi Garcia has insisted he doesn’t want to lose his best players and pointed to the fact that Benatia’s existing deal runs until 2018. The player has also told fans: “I’m staying. Of course I’m staying.” 

 

Reports this week indicate Chelsea have made a bid of €37.5m. Mourinho has responded to the speculation by saying: “We’re not interested.” That has been interpreted as a ‘bluff’ by the Italian papers even though if the Blues were to buy him they would need to sell a couple of their foreign players first in order to comply with the Premier League and Champions League’s homegrown quotas. 

 

Roma are in a strong position too. They’re under no obligation to sell and can argue that if David Luiz cost PSG €49.5m and Porto received €30.5m for their 57.67% stake in Eliaquim Mangala from Manchester City then Benatia - probably the best centre-back in Europe last season - must be worth a small fortune. Roma also have cover. They signed Davide Astori as a stand-in for Benatia rather than as a successor and have monitored the likes of Kostas Manoloas and Eder Alvarez Balanta. As far as they’re concerned, though, their No.17 is not, and has never been, up for sale.

 

“The sooner we close the market, the more I can work on preparing the team for Serie A and the Champions League,” Garcia said. “That doesn’t just go for me, but all coaches. But what’s important is the good of Roma. I hope that from now until September 2, nothing important happens.” So do all Romanisti.

 

Would you consider Mehdi Benatia the best centre-back in Europe at the moment? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

Comments (6)

 
  • No but he's unfairly under considered, he's a lot better than hummels

  • No, I wouldn't and there are a few reasons for this. Italy is a relatively weak league compared to many others, and, whilst their is obvious talent there, it's not exactly packed with it like it used to be, so he's not challenging himself against the best. This is not the same standard of league it was when Cannavaro, Nesta, Maldini et al were at their pomp. Someone like Mats Hummels is shining in Germany in an attacking side in a fast league, so isn't getting a lot of protection. Then there are the likes of Subotic, Kompany, Terry, Vertonghen, Bonucci, Thiago Silva, Barzagli, Koscielny, Cahill, Boateng and Godin, all of whom I personally rate at least as good if not better defenders than Benatia, and that's not including wider players like Lahm (albeit he's been moved more as a CDM recently), Baines etc. I personally think that the reported fee of €37m is insane for him, regardless of the frankly comical fee's for Marquinho's and Luiz from the Qatari billions in France.

  • @NokkonWud Thiago Silva and other defenders that have recently played in the Serie A did just fine in the whole "changing style of play, quality of forwards and the atmosphere" process, so a Benatia transfer would theoretically be a major asset to the team he might be joining and of course to his career.

  • I'd probably take Mats Hummels over Mehdi Benatia

  • Without question. When you see the likes of Mangala and Luiz moving, it's bizarre nobody is firming up their reported interest in Benatia. Would be a cracking buy for any team!

  • @WilliePete AS Roma is still a good team. They're gonna show that this season in Champions League.

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Murphy Martin O'Neill Modibo Maiga OGC Nice Perparim Hetemaj Alejandro Faurlin Leon Britton Nicolas N'Koulou Antonio Nocerino Maximiliano Moralez Claudio Marchisio Marco Rigoni Simone Pepe Heidar Helguson Mark Gower Blackburn Emanuele Calaiò Zlatan Ibrahimović Germán Denis Jose Jurado Nicolas Anelka Edgar Barreto Alexandre Song Shaun Wright-Phillips Nicolas Maurice-Belay Jhon Jairo Culma Kevin Anin Sebastien Corchia Kevin Theophile-Catherine FC Cologne Julien Feret Jaroslav Plasil Yann Jouffre Tomas Rincon Kevin Davies Giampiero Pinzi Tamas Hajnal Camel Meriem Frederic Bulot Caen Gokhan Tore AS Nancy Gabriel Torje Lynel Kitambala Florent Sinama-Pongolle Idriss Saadi Oscar Trejo Botelho Juanlu Axel Bellinghausen Gonzalo Castro Andrea Cossu Marcel Schafer Marco Hoger Timothy Chandler Bolton Wanderers Ivan Klasnic Paris St Germain Wolverhampton Wanderers Wigan Athletic Micah Richards Javi Varas Blackburn Rovers Stephan Lichtsteiner Anotnio Cassano Nathan Dyer Scott Sinclair Nenad Milijas Anatoliy Tymoshchuk Luis Gustavo Ruud van Nistelrooy Benoit Cheyrou Lucho Gonzalez League Analysis Queens Park Rangers Walter Samuel Christian Chivu AS Roma Stephen Warnock Martin Kelly Gary Caldwell Karl Henry Kevin Doyle England National Football Team Charlie Adam Javi Venta Vicente Iborra Sergio Ballesteros Bobby Zamora Jonas Gutierrez Dariusz Dudka Youssouf Hadji Christian Abbiati Alvaro Dominguez Phil Neville Senad Lulic Gabriel Obertan Filip Daems Ezequiel Schelotto Victor Ruiz Jonathan Pereira Anthony Reveillere Santiago Gentiletti Cheikh Diabate Nicolas Spolli Luciano Fabian Monzon Mauricio Isla Ignazio Abate Titus Bramble Ritchie De Laet Leroy Lita Christian Lell Philipp Wollscheid Milivoje Novakovic Tottenhman Hotspur Johan Cavalli Eliseu Serdar Tasci Ryan Babel Aleksandar Ignjovski Chechu Dorado Djamel Mesbah Arsenal Swansea Ashely Williams Piscu Eden Dzeko Emmerson Boyce Auxerre Phil Bardsley Jose Bosingwa Gretar Steinsson Mattia Cassani Jonathan Woodgate Germany National Football Team Gasperini Mauro Zarate Diego Forlan Estaban Cambiasso Juraj Kucka Marco Faraoni Joel Obi Benedikt Howedes Clemens Fritz Chris Lowe Daniel van Buyten Albania Yann M’Vila Baptiste Reynet Raul Meireles Angelo Palombo Eric Tie Bi Faouzi Ghoulam Chris Mavinga Anderson Aaron Hughes Chris Baird Raul Aly Cissokho Alessandro Del Piero Samir Handanovic France National Football Team Marc Tierney Bundelsiga Raul Bobadilla Michael Dawson Loric Remy Jean Pascal Mignot Mainz 05 Schalke 04 Marcel Risse Steven Reid Danny Gabbidon Michal Kadlec Paulo Machado Ben Watson Spain National Football Team German National Football Team Bundeslgia Ricardo Carvalho Ivan Ramis Diego Colotto Sergio Fernandez Sere A Cesare Bovo Miguel Britos Bostjan Cesar Jose Angel Gabriel Heinze Chris Samba Charles N'Zogbia Yohan Demont Rod Fanni Rudy Mater Georgios Tzavellas Javier Pinola Dennis Aogo Daniel Schwaab Attacking Full-Backs Defensive Wingers 2010/11 Attacking Wingers Nicolas Douchez Jeremy Menez Under-21 Team of Season 2010-11 Maxi Rodriguez Scott Dann Crossing Wingers Under-21 Team of Season All-Round Midfielders Benoit Pedretti Rising Stars Kyle Walker Gaetano D'Agostino Centre Backs Paulo Da Silva Ivan Hernandez Eric Abidal Weligton Borja Ekiza Alassane Toure Stephane Grichting Jordan Loties Kader Mangane Adama Coulibaly Martin Stranzl Pedro Geromel Neven Subotic Christian Zapata James Tomkins Roger Johnson Stephan Lichsteiner Reto Ziegler David Vaughan Seb Larsson Asamoah Gyan Dimitri Payet Benoit Pedretti Anthony Mounier Mehmet Ekici Simao Duda Alvaro Cejudo Xabi Prieto Alexsandar Kolarov Guiseppe Mascara Simone Bentivoglio Fernando Marques Gian Piero Gasperin Thomas Hitzlsperger Rafael Van der Vaart Theofanis Gekas Gerard Asamoah Youssef Al Arabi Lisandro Loric Remy Victor Hugo Montano Edison Cavani Sergio Pellissier David Di Michele Steward Downing Spain Under 21 Felipe Caicedo Pierre Webo Youssef El-Arabi Brown Ideye Mobido Maiga Chu-Young Robin Van Persie Kevin Gamerio England U21 Udinese. Alexis Sanchez Pedro Sami Allagui Frédéric Kanouté Renato Augusto Jonathan Pitropia Eljero Elia Ivo Llicevic Fernando Muslera Diego Perez Alvaro González Abel Hernandez David VIlla Marcel Schmelzer Danijel Pranjic Holger Badstuber Sven Bender Johan Djourou Darren Fletcher Carlos Kameni Thiago Silve Antonia Di Natale Cristiano Zapata Domenico Criscito Luis Jimenez Josep Ilicic Samuel Eto’o Alexis Thébaux Ludovic Sané Mamouda Sakho Boukary Dramé Daniel Alves Nikolay Mihaylov Charles Puyol Ji-Sung Park Edwin van der Sar Dani Alves John O’Shea Park Ji-Jung Gabi Fernandez Jonathan de Guzman Michael Owen Gary Taylor-Fletcher Ian Evatt DJ Campbell Charles N’Zogbia Wolverhampton Robinho Rudi Garcia Avram Grant Conor Sammon Wayne Bridge Rob Green Victor Obinna Mike Hanke Borussia Munchengladbach VfL Bochum Tomasz Kuszczak Martin Olsson Brett Emerton Steven N’Zonzi Muset Ozil Gianpaolo Pazzini Leonardo Seydou Keita Miguel Pallardo Ibrahim Afellay Valdo Pallardo Damien Perquis Luka Modrid David SIlva Roberto Mancini Benoit Assou-Ekotto Vedran Corluka Carlo Ancelotti Saloman Kalou Clarence Seedorf Matteo Brighi Fabio Simplicio Rodrigo Taddei Mark Van Bommel Gennaro Gattuso Kevin Prince-Boateng Nicolas Burdisso Elkin Soto Pep Gaurdiola Lassana Diarra Jurgen Klopp Lucas Barrios Antonio da Silva Robert Mak Heurelho Gomes Andre Marriner Pinto Alavro Arbeloa Alexander Hleb

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