Money drove Benatia's move to Bayern Munich
Within half an hour of the season starting in Germany, Pep Guardiola was already back to the drawing board.
He had just witnessed Javi Martinez being stretchered off. The 25-year-old had been attempting a volley at goal to get his team, Bayern Munich, back on level terms in the Super Cup against Borussia Dortmund. As he followed through, Martinez had connected with Marcel Schmelzer's elbow. The impact left him in agony.
He had torn his cruciate ligament. Word soon got round from the treatment room that he would be out for six months.
Martinez, a midfield colossus wearing No. 8, had been operating at centre-back for Bayern like he had under Pep's mentor Marcelo Bielsa at his previous club Athletic. The intention had been to use him there for the duration of the upcoming campaign as the Bundesliga champions transitioned to the 3-4-3 we saw Barcelona evolve to in Guardiola's final season in the dugout at the Camp Nou.
Those best-laid plans were now in jeopardy. A fortnight after telling reporters he would make no more signings in the transfer window, Guardiola revealed Bayern would have to venture back into the marketplace.
"We need a new player," he said. "We have to react and there are candidates. There are many candidates but only a few who would do for us. With this injury we have a special situation and now we must act. There are still two weeks." Not that it would take a club as efficient as Bayern that long to source another centre-back.
Martinez was injured on the Wednesday. By Saturday, Sport Bild couldn't wait to go to print to break the story. It would be out by then. Everything was happening so fast. Bayern's new technical director Michael Reschke, headhunted from Bayer Leverkusen where he'd signed the likes of Arturo Vidal, was supposedly in Rome negotiating the transfer of Medhi Benatia. As it turned out, he wasn't. But Bayern had identified him as their primary target and were moving. The issue was that Roma didn't wish to sell.
Coach Rudi Garcia had made it clear at the end of last season that he wanted to retain the team's best players. He didn't want a repeat of what had happened at Lille after he won the double when over the summer he lost several of his stars ahead of a Champions League campaign. Owner James Pallotta reassured that Benatia wasn't going anywhere. He wondered whether there had been a communication breakdown as journalists didn't seem to be getting the message. But Benatia had given the impression he was restless.
In late May he had a tantrum in Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport.
He explained how a year ago when he joined Roma he did so against his agent's better judgement. There were bigger and better offers out there. He wouldn't be playing in Europe either.
"I signed all the same and have never regretted it," he said. "There was a project. I liked the idea of it." Benatia claimed a promise had been made.
"Before signing for them, Roma said to me: Bena, we know you deserve more and you have refused a lot of money. Come, show you're worth it at Roma and if we get into the Champions League or win the Scudetto we'll give you a good contract. But an unacceptable offer was made [to] me."
Put on guard by that, Roma's director of sport Walter Sabatini tried to warn teams off Benatia.
He valued him at 61m euros. The price was justified as follows: 31m euros for his right foot, the better one. 30m euros for his left, the weaker one.
It seemed fair in a market where David Luiz went from Chelsea to Paris Saint-Germain for 49.5m euros and Porto got 30.5m euros from Manchester City for their 57.67 percent stake in Eliaquim Mangala.
Benatia only turned 27 in April and was also tied to the club until 2018. Roma dug in. They tried to placate him. Pallotta held talks with him during their tour of the U.S. Another round of them followed Bayern's expression of interest.
La Gazzetta reported that a raise was proposed that would increase Benatia's net earnings from 1.7m euros a year net to 2m euros with 500k euros in performance-related bonuses. However, he believed himself to be worth more.
While Benatia denies feeling entitled to the kind of contract Miralem Pjanic received before the World Cup (said to be around 3.6m euros a season after tax), it wouldn't be a surprise if he did, even though the playmaker was arguably more deserving of it. He had been at the club three years (not one) and was entering the final season of his existing deal. He had other offers but showed loyalty in committing.
Despite his dissidence, Benatia got an unconditionally warm reception from the Curva Sud at the presentation of the 2014-15 Roma squad at the Olimpico last week. It didn't change his mind, however. His head had been turned.
So Roma were resigned to selling him. It's difficult to keep an unhappy player. Sabatini, who had sensibly lined up contingencies in the event of Benatia's exit, beat competition from Arsenal and Juventus for Olympiakos' highly regarded Konstantinos Manolas. Once that was complete, Benatia's move to Bayern for 26m euros plus 4m euros in add-ons was allowed to go through.
It was another good piece of business from Sabatini.
Twelve months after buying Benatia, Roma were seeing a 12.5m euro return on their initial investment. Though not quite a Marquinhos profit -- he was sold to PSG for 35m euros a year after being bought for 4.5m euros -- it is a handsome one all the same.
While the money may offer some consolation, Roma will regret losing Benatia even if the fans, feeling betrayed, have since taken to calling him "Medhi the Mercenary" (his Bayern contract is believed to be four times what he was taking home last season).
He was the best centre-back in Europe last season (and the highest scoring one in Serie A). Though a team effort, a great deal of the improvement in Roma's defence, which shipped 31 fewer goals than in the previous campaign, was attributed to him. They kept 21 clean sheets, a high across Europe's top five leagues shared only with Rene Girard's Lille.
Bearing in mind, Sabatini had considered him a 61m-euro player, so the price Bayern got him at represents a bargain, especially in light of the Luiz transfer. Why did Benatia go for less then?
Unlike in the curious deal that took Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid to Manchester United, the player's desire to leave did, as usual, have a knock-on effect. Benatia is also less marketable than Luiz. He is less of name, and what has he won? Nothing.
Suddeutsche Zeitung described him as "a virtual unknown." Bayern also know he will be away with Morocco, who host the African Cup of Nations from mid-January to early February, although unless his country go the distance in the competition, the length of the Bundesliga winter break means he won't miss much.
It's a great signing for them. Even though he has no winners' medals to his name, make no mistake about it, he brings a winners' mentality. Benatia won his final seven games at Udinese and his first 10 at Roma. That 17-match streak is only bettered in Serie A history by Dejan Stankovic (20).
Ideally for Guardiola, he played on the right of a three-man defence during his time in Friuli and in an orthodox back four at the Olimpico. While it seems harsh to quibble with Bayern's existing centre-backs Jerome Boateng and Dante, given they have won everything and had unprecedented success at the club, it's also true that they were never the most convincing aspect of the team. You always felt it was an area where they could improve. With Benatia, Bayern have upgraded it.
After adding one of the world's best centre-forwards in Robert Lewandowski, Bayern now also have one of its best centre-backs. Rather than weakening their squad, Martinez's ACL tear, though desperately unfortunate for him, has quite counterintuitively created the circumstances whereby it has become even stronger.
Bayern now look even more frightening.
James contributes to ESPN FC, Guardian Football Weekly, FourFourTwo and The Blizzard. Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.