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CCF Rebooted 26: Ahmad Benali
Thursday, 14th Apr 2022 13:32 by AtThePeake

After another break, the CCF re-booted series returns with a look at another loanee from the Dale's 2011/2012 relegation season in midfielder Ahmad Benali.

Position: Midfielder

Arrived from: Manchester City (loan)

Left for: Manchester City (end of loan)

Played : 2011

Appearances : 2

Goals : 0

First of all, apologies for the delay in returning to the CCF re-booted series. Basically, I do these when I have some spare time and it's been a busy few weeks and months - hence why there hasn't been a podcast for a while either!

How do you write about a player that you're not completely sure you've ever seen play?

One thing that could certainly be said for Steve Eyre is that he was loyal to his Manchester City youth charges. At least in terms of signing them, if not in terms of giving them minutes.

At the rest of his career in Italy has shown, Benali has obvious talent but when he became yet another former Citizens youth player to move to Dale in 2011 he almost became a laughing stock among the fanbase. Not really for his ability or lack thereof, more for the fact that he had been brought in from Manchester City to gain first-team experience and ended up getting basically none.

Having been captain of Eyre's youth teams in Manchester, Benali was sold to us as an exciting creative midfielder after arriving on deadline day and to be fair, he did gain himself an assist in one of his two league appearances for the club, thanks to Gary Jones driving home his pass in a 2-2 draw with Colchester United - a game in which a certain Ian Henderson opened the scoring with a sumptuous free-kick.

I defy anyone to remember anything about Benali's time at Dale though. That appearance off the bench versus the U's came six weeks after his arrival and he played just once more, a week later, again off the bench away to Exeter City.

Once Eyre left the club, Benali was one of several loanees to be returned to their parent clubs and whatever exactly was gained from the experience by Benali, Rochdale or Manchester City is negligible.

Since Dale though, Benali's career has been pretty impressive. In fact, less than a year after leaving Spotland having failed to start a single league game, he was playing second-tier football in Italy with Brescia, featuring nine times in an injury-hit 2012/2013 campaign and being called up to international duty by Libya.

A combative player, prone to plenty of cards and suspensions, Benali ended up being a key player at Pep Guardiola's former club over the next two seasons. Known for his ability to carry the ball and arrive late into the box from a midfield position, he began making a name for himself in Serie B.

After scoring nine goals in 2014/2015 from midfield, despite the club finishing in a lowly 20th place, the Manchester-born man was now beginning to attract interest from much bigger clubs.

Despite strong interest from Celtic, he secured a move to the top-tier with Palermo upon the expiration of his contract but was immediately loaned out to second-tier Pescara. However, it wouldn't be long before he got a taste of Serie A. Benali helped the Dolphins to promotion in his loan spell and as a result was signed permanently at the end of the campaign.

The step-up proved too much for Pescara though and they would be back in Serie B a year later. Benali, clearly admired by many in the top tier, secured a loan deal to Crotone and did enough to impress in his 10 game spell to secure a permanent transfer to the Calabrian side.

He left Pescara having scored 16 times in 89 appearances in all competitions and he's since racked up a total of 15 goals in 95 appearances with the Rossoblu of Crotone, with 28 of those outings coming in the top tier. Furthermore, despite conflict and issues with travelling, he has captained the Libyan national team and scored three goals for his country to boot.

Now 30, who knows how much Benali owes his success in Italy to the few months of sitting on the bench at Spotland? Very little, I'd imagine.

Photo: Action Images

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