Yesterday we spoke briefly about the Mehdi Benatia to Roma rumors, which are largely fueled by Benatia's lack of playing time in Munich and Roma's dire need for defensive reinforcements. Despite the somewhat acrimonious divorce, the marriage between Roma and Benatia was pretty blissful, with the club setting a record for points and the player garnering new acclaim as one of the game's best.
So, now that we've had (at least the Americans among us) the chance to decompress from our celebration of gluttony, let's take a quick look at the pros and cons of this reunion.
We'll start off with the positives.
He's Damn Good
Our memories may have been blighted by the war of words between Benatia and Pallotta, though the latter was far more vicious in his attacks, but Benatia was becoming, without a doubt, one of the world's best centerbacks during his time in Italy, with his lone season in Rome being particularly noteworthy.
Benatia made 37 appearances across all competitions during the 2013-2014 season, emerging as one of the game's most intuitive, efficient and effective central defenders, teaming with Leandro Castan to create, perhaps, Roma's best central partnership ever. And if that weren't enough, he scored five goals and completed nearly 89% of his passes that season. He was a total threat, through and through.
Despite the fact that he fell precipitously down the pecking order with Bayern, there's no reason to believe those skills have diminished whatsoever, in fact...
Between his three seasons at Udinese and his breakout campaign with Roma, it may feel as though we've been watching him forever, but Benatia is only 28 years old and has only eclipsed 2,000 minutes four times in his career (more on that in a moment). Point being, if Roma were somehow able to bring him back this winter, they can still expect three to four seasons of peak production from Benatia, perhaps even more considering his relatively low mileage, so this investment, no matter how large, has ample time to produce returns.
He Knows the League
Playing defense in Serie A demands a special temperament and certain level of tenacity not required in other domestic leagues. While the face and form of Italian football is changing slowly, Benatia remains the prototypical Serie A defender: athletic, intelligent and brilliant at building play from the back, and with four seasons in the Italian trenches, we wouldn't have to suffer the inevitable growing pains. What's more, he knows Garcia's system, and one can say that system hasn't worked quite as well since he left.
Three pretty strong and pretty obvious reasons to bring Benatia back to the fold. He's one of the game's best and any club would be better with him out there. Throw him back there with Kostas Manolas and Antonio Rüdiger and Roma would have three massive and mobile central defenders, capable of jockeying with any forward in the league.
But, as Poison once warned us, every rose has its thorn...
When the Benatia-leaving-Roma rumors surfaced 18 months or so ago, we had visions of €30 to €35 million valuations dancing through our heads, and while those figures never came to fruition, €26 million was nothing to sneeze at. The unfortunate part of this scenario is simply this: Bayern Munich has no incentive to give Roma a discount or to simply call it a wash and sell him back for the same €26 million, so don't expect this deal to come quick and easy.
But transfer fees are always negotiable, so let's get to the heart of the matter and the reason this relationship fractured to begin with, contract demands.
In sum: Benatia loved Roma, was confident an extension with a lucrative pay raise was coming his way, when that extension never came and he was sold, he summarily informed the media that Walter Sabatini flat out told him the club had to sell him to save the bottom line. Benatia took it a step further hitting out at allegedly bogus wage claims he supposedly made during the negotiations, making Roma look cheap and petty in the process.
Which brings us to our next point...
He Burned That Bridge
Over the following month he lied about wanting to stay and about the details of his compensation to both Rudi Garcia and his teammates. Lying to me was one thing which I can somewhat handle. Lying to Rudi Garcia and his teammates was completely unacceptable to me. I told Walter Sabatini he was becoming a poison and I wanted him gone, and Rudi and Walter agreed. It wasn't about the money; it was about having character in our locker room. We are in a very sound financial position. As owners of Roma, we make difficult decisions all the time. As a fan of Roma, I am deeply disappointed that one of our players could act this way.
James Pallotta isn't one to mince words, and he hit back at Benatia hard, going so far as to call him a poison. Those words aren't exactly easy to forget, so we'd have to wonder if either party would be willing to reconcile, no matter how much tactical sense it may make.
Then there are more practical concerns...
He's Frequently Injured
Following two uninterrupted seasons with Udinese, in which he made 61 appearances and logged over 5,000 minutes, Benatia suffered a spate of injuries and/or dips in form that have seen him surpass the 2,000 minute mark only once since 2012-2013. While he hasn't had any major orthopedic operations, he has endured multiple thigh and hamstring injuries over the years; the types of maladies that tend to linger and reappear year after year.
Again, these are minor issues, but they tend to resurface at the worst possible moments, don't they?
Given how salaciously talented Benatia is and how instrumental he was to Roma's outstanding 2013-2014 season, my bias is probably coming through. If Roma has the financial wherewithal and can let bygones be bygones, then this move is a no brainer. Besides which, with Castan's uncertain future and Rüdiger not even being Roma property in full, the club will need a top caliber central defender of some sort.
Now, whether that's Benatia, Marquinhos (swoon), Kamil Glik or even Nikola Maksimovic, it's going to cost Roma at least €20 million to fill this gap with a tested talented. So, at least in terms of transfer fees, bringing Benatia back may not be that outrageous. Given his talent, age and familiarity with the club and with the league, Benatia may be the best option out there.