If Kostas Manolas worked his way into our team of the decade through solid and consistent play over the course of five years, then Mehdi Benatia took a decidedly different path. Although he was only in the capital for one season (one that ended rather acrimoniously), much like Alisson did with keepers, Benatia redefined our expectations of what a truly successful center-back looked like. Benatia was tall and imposing and could play the hard-man role with the best of them, yet he looked equally comfortable with the ball of his feet, moving with a grace seldom seen from a central defender.
Signed in July of 2013, Roma were taking a rather large gamble (€13.5 million) on a 26-year-old defender who, to that point, had never played for any club bigger than Udinese and was coming off a season in which he missed a dozen games with groin and thigh injuries.
Benatia soon put those issues to rest, playing an integral role in Roma's 85 point campaign in 2013-2014, which was good enough to edge out another short-term Roma defender (Marquinhos) for a spot on our team of the decade.
In his lone season with Roma, Benatia made 37 appearances for the club, scoring five goals, completing 89% of his passes and finishing the season with an impressive 7.59 average match rating per WhoScored.
Notable Achievements; His One and Only Season with Roma
Given that he only played one season with the club, it's a bit difficult to hone in on a singular achievement, so (if you have time) absorb all 26 minutes of that video. If you're anything like me, you'd probably forgot just how incredibly good this guy was. He was tall but not awkward so he used his long limbs to his advantage, pulling off a number of hook tackles and dispossession from behind, while his reading of the game was exceptional. While he was fully capable of doing the incredible, he was so often in the right spot at the right time he didn't have to.
If you were to design the perfect 21st century center-back in a lab, it'd be Mehdi Benatia: skill, strength, poise and intelligence in equal parts. And we've barely even mentioned his offensive contributions, which were immense.
Check out this goal against Sampdoria:
That's a 6’4” 200lb defender slaloming through the Sampdoria defense like he was Maradona. That was one of five goals Benatia scored in a Roma shirt, which still represents a career high, while he also set new career highs for shot attempts and successful dribbles under Rudi Garcia's tutelage that season. Perhaps it's due to the passage of time, but I really underestimated just how good he was with the ball at his feet.
He was certainly a sight to behold, and that one season of excellence was enough for Benatia to edge out Marquinhos and Leandro Castan to join our team of the decade alongside Manolas in central defense.
Where is He Now?
Benatia's departure from Roma was as ugly as his play on the pitch was beautiful. Sold to Bayern Munich in August of 2014 for €26 million, a move Benatia reportedly did not want, he was quickly labeled “a poison” by club President James Pallotta. The war of words over the new contract that may or may not have been offered eventually subsided, but, as it turned out, Benatia's lone season in Rome was his best as a professional.
Benatia remained with Munich for parts of two seasons, making only 29 Bundesliga appearances, before going on loan to Juventus for two plus seasons where he was a bit player in Juve's continued dominance, though that didn't stop him from jabbing back at Roma in 2018.
After a decade plus long career in Europe, Benatia is playing out the string with Al-Duhail in Qatar.
Coming up next, we move the discussion to the midfield.