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Interview

Benatia: It was a very big step

Mehdi Benatia’s debut season with Bayern yielded 24 appearances, two goals and one winner’s medal. The Moroccan centre-back was the best tackler at the club after winning 66.2 percent of his challenges en route to claiming the first league title of his career. However, the campaign both on and off the field was not always an easy one for the 28-year-old, he told fcbayern.de, although the player’s summary of the season was upbeat: “I can be pleased.”

Interview: Mehdi Benatia

fcbayern.de: Mehdi, you’ve won your first league championship. How does it feel?
Mehdi Benatia: It feels good. It’s my first title, and after all, I came to Bayern to win titles. I can be pleased, even though I struggled with injuries throughout the season and we’d have liked to reach the DFB Cup final as well. Losing on penalties was a real shame. But I’ll still remember the season fondly, with the party at the stadium and the balcony presentation at the end.

You were also knocked out of the Champions League in the semi-finals.
I’m still bothered by our exit. I really wanted us to make the final in Berlin, but it all became very complicated after the first leg in Barcelona. It’s a shame, because one of my reasons for coming to Bayern was to be in with a shout of winning the Champions League.

How big a step was it when you left Roma for Munich?
It was a very big step. The language, country and climate are all very different, so the settling-in process was tough for me and my family. We had to get used to a totally different life. Other players had the same problems at first, Franck Ribéry for example, but they overcame them. I’m sure we’ll do the same, and it’s a lot better now anyway.

What are the big differences between football in Italy and Germany?
The Italian game is much more tactical, and the pace is different. It’s all very quick in the Bundesliga and you have a lot of running to do. It takes some getting used to. And Bayern are expected to win every game. If not, a storm of criticism follows at once. I hadn’t seen that to anything like the same degree.

You scored seven goals in your last season with Roma, a lot for a defender. Are you looking for more than the two you scored in your debut campaign with Munich?
I was generally Roma’s target man in most dead-ball situations, so I was in scoring positions more often. It’s different at Bayern where we have plenty of strong headers of the ball - Jérôme Boateng, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dante, Robert Lewandowski... But it’s not a problem. I’m always totally at the team’s disposal. I scored against Barcelona and Augsburg, and I had a good goal disallowed against Freiburg.

The Bundesliga and Bayern are different, and so is Pep Guardiola. What are the things he values most?
Pep Guardiola isn’t only concerned about the result. The way we play matters to him. He’d rather we won 1-0 and played brilliantly than win 3-0 with three lucky goals. He wants a beautiful game. As for we defenders, he wants us high up the pitch and very involved in the match. Italian defenders are there to defend, but Pep Guardiola wants defenders to defend and also play a bigger part. I like it.

How has your public persona changed as a result of moving to Munich?
The people in Morocco have always supported me and respected what I achieve on the field, whether I was with Udinese, Roma or the national team. They’re even more supportive now I’m with Bayern. I think they’re proud of a Moroccan being at such a big club and appearing in the semi-finals of the Champions League.

You mentioned your persistent injury problems. Why did that happen?
I do everything I can to avoid injury, because injury is a catastrophe for every player. Overall, I think we didn’t get a lot of luck last season. I didn’t, and nor did we as a team. My transfer came quite late in the day so I had a complicated pre-season, and I arrived with a minor injury in any case. I was carrying a calf problem for my debut against Manchester City, and then I pulled something in my back. A muscle injury interrupted my mid-season training programme, but I’m hoping to be free of injury next term, so I can play regularly and finally recover my rhythm.

You’re off on vacation now. What are your plans?
First of all I have national team duty and an important match against Libya. After that I’ll just enjoy the time with my wife and kids. We’ve been on the road a lot this season, with bus transfers, flights and hotels every three days. It doesn’t leave much time for the family, but we’ll make up for that now. I’m looking forward to it.

Do you exercise while you’re on holiday?
I play a lot of tennis and squash. I’m not the kind of guy who does nothing, eats a lot and piles on five kilos, so I’ll be keeping myself fit.