Mehdi Benatia occupies a strange space in recent Roma history. By most accounts, Benatia played the best football of his life during his lone season in Roma colors, and what seemed like a marriage destined for greatness sooned decayed into an extremely hostile and bitter divorce. With a battle for a new contract playing in the background, Roma ultimately opted to cash-in on Benatia’s ascension, shuffling him off to Bayern Munich for €26 million, but that was far from the end of the story.
Speaking in September of 2014, Benatia shared his side of the story:
I felt great at Roma right from the beginning. We finished second, and all was great for me. I scored five goals and even captained the team. The people trusted me, and I did not think that I’d be leaving Rome.
But enquiries started coming in during the year, and I discussed them with the sporting director. Walter Sabatini told me that the club essentially wanted to keep me, but that they needed money so they might sell me.
We then agreed that I would either get an updated contract or that I would join a top club.
Sounds reasonable, right?
Well, as he’s known to do, James Pallotta just couldn’t resist throwing in his two bits from afar. A mere 24 hours after Benatia’s take, Pallotta shared a completely opposite perspective, kicking things up a notch, flatout calling Benatia a liar.
It’s clear that Medhi Benatia has continued to construct a castle of inventions over the past two months. In July in Boston, we had reached a verbal agreement to increase his salary. After having made it explicit that we wanted to hold on to him, he told me that he was delighted.
During the following month, he lied to [coach] Rudi Garcia and to his teammates about his real desire to stay and about the figures we had discussed. The fact he has lied to me is something I can tolerate. To have lied to Rudi and to his teammates is absolutely unacceptable.
I told Walter Sabatini that he was poisoning the dressing room harmony and that I wanted rid of him. Both Rudi and Walter agreed with me. It was not about money, it was a question of personality and the dressing room harmony.
Our financial situation is very solid.
Now, that was four years ago, so I don’t recall exactly what we wrote when this actually went down (Just found it. Wow, how times have changed!) but nothing in Benatia’s original comments seem that inflammatory, do they—certainly not worthy of Pallotta’s immediate escalation. But the strange thing is, this story just sort of died, even when Roma squared off against Bayern in the Champions League. Part of this, of course, has to do with his complete and utter failure during his stay at Munich, and part of it has to do with Roma’s immediate capture of Kostas Manolas, who one can argue is and was the superior player.
BUT...it appears this rivalry may be reborn. Speaking to his new teammate Blaise Matuidi on some sort of YouTube channel about the differences between Juventus and other clubs, Benatia struck back at Roma, going right for their twig and berries.
That’s what people in Italy don’t understand. They are always looking for excuses, but don’t look at the way in which Juventus work.
Before that, I was playing for Roma, so I was on the other side. I would say: ‘Oh Juve win but they don’t play well. They win because of the referee, because of this and that.’ You know, the same loser excuses, because losers always need an excuse.
First off, on behalf of Roma, let me say ouch! But what a remarkable insight. This is Mehdi Benatia, who was unquestionably one of the best players on Roma during the 2013-2014 season, unequivocally saying that he (and presumably other players) relied on the same knee-jerk excuses us, well, jerks, behind keyboards do—if that doesn’t speak volumes about the state of AS Roma, I don’t know what does.
Of course, we can also view this as Benatia simply clapping back at Roma, and by extension James Pallotta, several years later, but when viewed through the lens of Eusebio Di Francesco bemoaning his club’s mental state every week, it seems like Benatia might be onto something there. Only now we get to hear EDF whine about how his methods worked at Sassuolo but not here.
Benatia continued to compare Juve to the rest of the pretenders to the calcio crown:
But when they see how hard we work and how seriously we take every detail, of course we get results. We are obliged to get results.
Even you were telling me at the start of the season that Inter were really strong and Roma impressive, but I told you, listen Blaise, I know Serie A. In two months, there won’t be anyone left up there. These sides can win seven or eight, maybe nine or 10 games, but 38…
Italian football is difficult, you’ve seen how hard it is. Every team plays the performance of a lifetime against us. It’s not just the players in the squad that makes the difference, it’s the hard work! Juve dominate in Italy today thanks to hard work.
People don’t realise how hard we work. They should be here to see it with us.
Again, fair points from Benatia and if you watched the Juventus documentary, aside from seeing Federico Bernardeschi’s questionable taste in hats, you witnessed the extent to which winning and hard work is emphasised around Turin.
And sure, to an extent that documentary series was a puff piece, and yes Juventus were tried and convicted of cheating, and yes they have more financial resources than Roma, and yes this very sentence is indeed indicative of the very mentality Benatia was speaking about, but he has a point and you have to start somewhere. At some point the time for excuses must end and and Roma must get serious about building for the future.
And if you’re a fan of the Pallotta regime, you probably believe they’re doing just that, and if you’re not, you probably think Pallotta is just a blow hard who got into this game for the wrong reasons and has been treading water ever since.
To which I’d say, don’t look to Juventus, look to Napoli. Roma won’t have the Old Lady’s resources any time soon, but there is no reason why Roma can’t replicate and exceed the Napoli model. Napoli don’t bitch and moan like Roma do, they don’t pin losses on hexes or matters of the frontal cortex, and they don’t churn through coaches and players like Roma does.
So while we wait for that to happen, let’s see how Roma responds.