Cologne - Humble yet authoritative, quiet while uncompromising, Medhi Benatia incorporates a wide range of characteristics that have led to him becoming one of the world's most revered centre-halves.
Key element of Bayern's vertebra
Since joining FC Bayern München last summer, the Moroccan has further reinforced that reputation, emerging as one of the strongest joints in the backbone of Pep Guardiola's side.
With Manuel Neuer behind him, Bayern need not fear for the stability of their lumbar region thanks to one of their marquee summer signings, who was soon striking fear into opposition attackers. While Neuer may have taken all the plaudits for a first half of the season which saw the Bavarians concede only four times, the German goalkeeper may have had to fish the ball out of the back of his net more often had it not been for Benatia.
A back injury forced him to miss Bayern's first game of the second half of the season, and it is no coincidence that they conceded as many in those 90 minutes against VfL Wolfsburg as they had in the first 17 league games. With Benatia restored against Stuttgart, it was back to the business of clean sheets following the 1-1 draw against FC Schalke 04 (in which the Reds were reduced to ten men after Jerome Boateng's red card).
Modest to the hilt
"It was important to win after a defeat and a draw," the 27-year-old told Sport1.de. "We were up against tough opponents in Stuttgart, but we were solid at the back and grabbed the goals at the other end." The 'solid' reference could have been reserved for him, but Benatia is too modest to accept the praise. He is good at dishing it out, though.
"Jerome has performed consistently well," he said. "He's a model professional and very important for the team, but one of the strengths of Bayern is that when Boateng is out, we have Dante, me and Holger Badstuber. We all do a job. We are FC Bayern and we know we're strong."
Benatia already underlined that at previous club AS Roma, helping them concede 31 fewer goals in his one year in the Italian capital compared to the previous season, as the Giallorossi kept 21 clean sheets. He was also the league's highest scoring defender, illustrating another useful string to his bow. It will come as no surprise, therefore, that he modelled himself on one of the very best in the game.
"Paolo Maldini - he was a phenomenal player," Benatia told uefa.com in a recent Twitter Q&A session. "He started when he was 17 and played at the top level for his entire career. A real champion." He is now surrounded by many such champions at Bayern, having integrated himself seamlessly into Germany's biggest club. "They're all nice people at Bayern," he said. "We have fun in the dressing room and it's a great atmosphere."
Coach Pep Guardiola contributes to that too. "[It's] fascinating," Benatia said. "Every day you learn something new. Many believe there is nothing more a Bayern player can learn, but it's not the case with a coach like him. It's a great pleasure." The pleasure, Medhi, is all ours.