Mehdi Benatia is the current captain of the Moroccan national football team and plays for Qatar’s al-Duhail Sports Club as a center-back.
Born in Courcouronnes, France to Moroccan parents, Benatia began his professional football career at Olympique de Marseille. While at Marseille, he also loaned his time out to Tours FC and FC Lorient-Bretagne Sud. He joined Clermont Foot 63 in 2008, Udinese Calcio in 2010, AS Roma in 2013, and Bayern Munich in 2014.
Benatia began his career with Italian champions Juventus in 2016, originally on loan. He was signed permanently to the club in 2017 after “demonstrating his qualities of physical prowess, class, and defensive vision.”
Throughout his two-and-a-half seasons with the prestigious Italian club, Benatia earned a reputation as one of the best center-backs in Serie A.
Benatia first appeared with the Atlas Lions on November 19, 2008 during a match against Zambia in Casablanca. He scored his first Moroccan goal on June 4, 2011 against rival Algeria. The 4-0 win for Morocco qualified the national team for the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations (CAN).
Benatia’s debut as Morocco’s captain was at the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations in Gabon. Later in the year he qualified the Atlas Lions for the 2018 FIFA World Cup after scoring against the Ivory Coast. This was “the most beautiful moment of my career,” the 32-year-old said.
Benatia first played for al-Duhail in February 2019 in a 1-0 home win over Al Sailiya in the Qatar Stars League. He received intense criticism from Moroccan fans after choosing to play for Qatar, with accusations of greed, and many still believe that money was the main reason for his transfer.
“I’m not here for the money,” Benatia declared on Qatari television in early 2019. “Whoever thinks that I came for the money, he must look at my career, the choices I made,” he continued. “All my career I gave priority to football. All my life I gave priority to football.” He later added that Qatar presents the best option for “his children to live in an environment where they can learn Islam properly.”
After the 2018 World Cup, Benatia appeared to put the Moroccan national team on the backburner as he concentrated on his club commitments. His distance drew some resentment, but Morocco’s team manager Herve Renard still considers Benatia to be “one of the greatest players in the history of Moroccan football.”
Since launching his professional career, Benatia has received many notable awards including two Serie A titles with Juventus and two Bundesliga crowns at Bayern. He was named Best Moroccan Player in 2013 and 2014 by Mars D’or and Best Arab Player in 2014 by the Globe Soccer Awards.
In May, Benatia revealed his favorites for the final square of CAN, naming Senegal, Algeria, and Egypt as the competition’s top contenders.
In this year’s CAN, Morocco is in Group D, and will have to face Namibia, South Africa, and the Ivory Coast. While aware of the difficulty his team will face, the “Lion of the Atlas” is still optimistic about Morocco’s potential to pass the second round of the competition.