Mehdi Benatia: The Udinese Hard Man Who Wants To Play For Manchester United...
The road less travelled can eventually lead you to where you have always wanted to arrive and for Mehdi Benatia it could well become a truism if he ends up in the Premier League.
“I have always been interested in the English which is very aggressive but also at the same time very sporting,” he recently gushed in an interview which suggests that his time in the shop window at Udinese is coming to an end.
The club from Friuli has always had a buy low, sell high policy and the 24-year-old was plucked from the lower reaches of French football at Clermont, having slipped through the net at Marseille where he was a contemporary of Samir Nasri.
So when the defender was linked with some of Europe’s top clubs the Bianconeri have been wringing their hands at cashing in on another shrewd find if the price were to top the 10million Euro mark.
Having been capped for France at Under-18 level he decided that his youthful promise would be better served by representing the birthplace of his father and switched allegiance to Morocco and the higher profile has since brought full international recognition.
A willingness to knuckle down and adapt has served him well and when he arrived at Udinese in the summer of 2011. His quickness and lean 6ft2in frame were seen to be better employed on the right side of a back three where he was encouraged to get forward with the ball at his feet.
Since then he has played across the backline and would have no problems playing in the middle of a more traditional back-four where his excellent technique and sure passing could be exploited to the fore. A ball-playing defender he may be but that sugar-coated touch masks a steely determination.
His speed has enabled him to anticipate a challenge rather than fly head-long into a tackle while his strength in the air has paid dividends not only at the back but from set-pieces in attack, and the feeling is that Nasri’s one-time room-mate is finally on the fast lane to success.