Medhi Benatia ended his eight-and-a-half-year tenure with major European clubs this week when he left Juventus to join Qatari side Al-Duhail SC.
Since leaving Udinese in July 2013, the Morocco centre-back has represented AS Roma, Bayern Munich and Juventus with distinction, but despite being 31, has decided the time is right to depart for one of football’s relative backwaters.
Unlike Asamoah Gyan, who left the major narratives of European football for one of the sport’s backwaters when he was in his prime (admittedly much younger than Benatia), the North African can at least say that he’s achieved great things in the world’s top leagues.
While he wasn’t always an undisputed starter at either Bayern or Juve, he was a regular contributor, and memorably netted twice in the Old Lady’s 4-0 Italian Cup final victory over AC Milan in May.
He may have only played 450 minutes in the Italian top flight this term—across five matches—but Benatia still has much to offer.
Bearing this in mind, it’s a bitter shame that he couldn’t have been tempted by any of his reported Premier League suitors.
He’d been linked with a move to both Arsenal and Fulham, and while the prospect of a relegation battle—particularly in a league and country he’s never previously played in—might not appeal, the Emirates Stadium might have been an ideal destination for the stopper.
Benatia boasts the physical presence and tenacity to thrive in the Premier League, while his composure in possession would also fit in well with Unai Emery’s approach.
He’d represent an upgrade on one of the club’s summer additions—Sokratis—and boasts more experience than new boy Dinos Mavropanos, who’s yet to truly get his opportunity in North London.
Even before the unconvincing defensive display and the injuries sustained on Friday, it was clear that Arsenal needed reinforcements at the back—they’ve kept just four clean sheets in their 23 Premier League games to date.
Benatia could have represented the kind of commanding presence that Arsenal crave in the heart of the defence, and surely the £8.6 million Al Duhail paid Juve for the defender’s services wouldn’t have broken the bank!
His exit to Qatar represents a missed opportunity for Arsenal, and perhaps for the defender as well.
While the Gunners aren’t likely to return to their former glory this term, there are some promising signs under Emery, and Benatia might have been a vital building block for the coming years.