Benali: ‘I’d much rather be on the pitch knowing I could have an input on the result’

THERE have been count­less play­ers over the years who have been great in dress­ing rooms. It’s nor­mal­ly the great per­son­al­i­ties and char­ac­ters, who can be quite dif­fer­ent on and off the pitch.

Often the fun­ny play­ers like Jim Mag­ilton and Iain Dowie were great to be around. Most of the goal­keep­ers often seemed quite wacky such as John Bur­ridge. Those dif­fer­ent per­son­al­i­ties could be qui­et on the pitch but more live­ly in the dress­ing room envi­ron­ment.

I was prob­a­bly in the cat­e­go­ry of being qui­et off the pitch but was more vocal once I stepped out into the game. It’s about hav­ing that melt­ing pot of indi­vid­u­als to cre­ate a team and mak­ing the most of everyone’s qual­i­ties.

That was a mas­sive help in those dire sit­u­a­tions we found our­selves in at times. The cama­raderie of the squad in those years and hav­ing a great bond with every­body was impor­tant.

I tru­ly believe every­one who was work­ing at the club, the staff, coach­ing teams, and sup­port­ers enabled us to sur­vive when we were writ­ten off by many oth­ers. Matt (Le Tissier) was clear­ly the gem in the crown.

He was the play­er who could pro­duce some­thing out of noth­ing and he rel­ished the respon­si­bil­i­ty of pro­duc­ing some­thing when it mat­tered. That cou­pled with the abil­i­ty of the play­ers and the mind­set that we would not be beat­en or not go down in the years where we were fight­ing rel­e­ga­tion was a huge thing.

Cred­it to the play­ers that were there at the time because they all made it hap­pen. I feel very priv­i­leged to have been a part of it. I felt the pres­sure at the time and I still feel the same way look­ing back on it now. I rel­ished the chal­lenge.

We didn’t want to be in the posi­tion we were in but I rel­ished the oppor­tu­ni­ty of hav­ing a chance of deliv­er­ing what we need­ed to do.

Daily Echo:

It’s like being a pas­sen­ger in a car, quite often peo­ple pre­fer to be the dri­ver and I felt so much hap­pi­er and more com­fort­able that I had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to be in the team and actu­al­ly have a say in the out­come by play­ing.

It was a mas­sive thing for me. I would have been much worse sat on the touch­line either as a sub­sti­tute or as a sup­port­er. I get that feel­ing now being a sup­port­er, I’d much rather be out on the pitch know­ing I could have an input into the out­come.

Rus­sell Mar­tin has allud­ed to the impor­tance of the whole squad in the push for pro­mo­tion back to the Pre­mier League. Those play­ers who have not played reg­u­lar­ly have had a part to play.

Whether that’s com­ing on off the bench, being sup­port­ive in the dress­ing room, or in the train­ing ground. That was just as big as the 11 play­ers that were being picked to start a game.

I also want to take this chance to acknowl­edge the Saints Wom­en’s side who won 5–0 against Read­ing last week­end. It was an incred­i­bly time­ly vic­to­ry, espe­cial­ly in the man­ner that they did putting in such a dom­i­nant per­for­mance.

Daily Echo:

That will be the per­fect ton­ic for the remain­ing games. Saints sit just one point off the top of the table in a remark­ably close Wom­en’s Cham­pi­onship pro­mo­tion race which could see one of five teams gain entry to the Wom­en’s Super League.

Now, it’s about deliv­er­ing and hav­ing the right mind­set. It would be the most incred­i­ble sea­son if our men’s and women’s teams both got pro­mot­ed to the top lev­els of the game. We are poised nice­ly for it on both fronts.

I hope every­one believes that we can do it and we give them the sup­port we can to help them achieve that. It would be bril­liant for both the women and the men.

Ear­li­er in the week, I was up at Celtic Manor in Wales for an overnight break with my wife. So I had a lit­tle bit of down­time and it was good to make the most of the inter­na­tion­al break.

On Sat­ur­day evening, I’m going to be going up to Wem­b­ley to watch the Eng­land vs Brazil game with my wife and daugh­ter Ken­zie, who is work­ing on the game, so we decid­ed to accom­pa­ny her to sup­port.

I haven’t seen Eng­land play live for a very long time so it will be nice, espe­cial­ly at Wem­b­ley.