Southampton favourite Francis Benali misses the kind of loyalty shown during his playing days and would love captain James Ward-Prowse to end up as a one-club man.
In a month when Aston Villa fan Jack Grealish made a £100million move to Manchester City and homegrown Tottenham striker Harry Kane looks to follow him, the subject of footballers’ commitment is a hot topic.
Benali knows a thing or two about loyalty having advanced through the youth set-up at hometown club Southampton and made 389 first-team appearances.
He is now a club ambassador along with former team-mate Matthew Le Tissier, who current Saints skipper Ward-Prowse will overtake in terms of Premier League appearances this weekend.
Only Jason Dodd and Claus Lundekvam have represented Saints more in the competition than the 26-year-old midfielder, who signed a new five-year contract with the club on Thursday.
“The chances of a one-club player going his entire career, potentially having a testimonial, seems to be coming more and more unlikely nowadays, doesn’t it?” the former defender told the PA news agency.
“You mentioned James Ward-Prowse there – a player that there is the potential for him to be that one-club man and I would love to see it.
“It would be incredible because not only is he just such a fantastic guy away from the pitch but he’s a big driving force for the team and the captain on it as well.
“If he were to stay at Saints for his entire career, that would be amazing. That’d be incredible.
“So there’s a possibility there and especially when it’s my team it would be brilliant to see but, you’re right, I think football has become what it is today.
“There’s a lot about it that doesn’t particularly sort of sit comfortably with me in the sense that I’d like to see that loyalty in many ways – whether it be players, management, whatever, clubs themselves.
“More than what it is, a bit more like to what it was in my time. Ultimately, it is down to the player I guess.”
Ward-Prowse was linked to the likes of Tottenham and Aston Villa over the summer, but Saints have managed to tie down a player Benali calls the “heartbeat of the team”.
The England international will certainly have a key role to play on Sunday when he makes his 271st top-flight appearance against Manchester United, who won the sides’ last meeting 9-0 in February.
🔙🏡— Southampton FC (@SouthamptonFC) August 16, 2021
“If anything, I’d liken how I feel as a player and what my mindset would be in that dressing room,” Benali said.
“Certainly you’re aware of it and it’s going to get spoken about. You don’t have that kind of scoreline and think ‘well, it’s just going to disappear and go away’. People will talk about it.
“It’s going to get brought up, so you know it’s going to be there, use it as a source of motivation to put things right and make sure that it never happens again and use that as that incentive to drive you to perform better, to get better results.”
Combative Benali would have certainly not shied away from such a challenge, with Le Tissier likening his matchday persona to the Incredible Hulk.
Opponents saw that side down the years but more recently they have seen him channel that inner drive into charity work, raising more than £1million for Cancer Research UK by undertaking gruelling endurance challenges.
Benali collected his MBE from Princess Anne earlier this month in honour of that work, with the 52-year-old reliving those incredible challenges and his memorable career in a new autobiography released on Thursday.
“I’m a boy that was born and raised here,” he said ahead of the book’s launch.
“I used to pinch myself almost on a daily basis that I was being paid to play football for my hometown club.
“I understood the responsibility that I had as a local lad to represent what I saw – everybody in the city and the supporters of the club.
“I still try to, I guess, carry that on in a positive way with things that I do now.”
:: Francis Benali: The Autobiography, published by Bloomsbury, is out now.
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