MUMBAI CITY FC have entered the station with a mission this season.
After a mediocre performance in the inaugural ISL, the Ranbir Kapoor-owned franchise has taken their time to re-group over the year and entered the transfer market with their intent written all over their team-building strategy, and the latest fruition of that is their signing of France-born Tunisian football legend Selim Benachour.
After retaining Anelka, winning Sunil Chhetri in an auction and adding Sony Norde as well as Andre Moritz to the lot, Mumbai City are already one of the best teams on paper, with a deadly front end. With the addition of Benachour's attacking midfield skills, their ranks have strengthened even further.
Born and brought up in Paris, Selim Benachour learned to ply his trade at the Paris Saint-Germain academy. It was for PSG that he made his professional debut in 2001. But after some struggles to break into the first team in his first season, he was sent to Championnat de France amateur (4th tier) club FC Martigues on a season long loan spell. He played regularly for the Martigues first team, scoring one goal in 28 appearances. Next season he was sent on loan to Ligue 2 side Troyes FC, who had just narrowly avoided bankruptcy and were just trying to survive for the time being. Benachour had trouble getting into their team, making 9 appearances over the season, scoring twice. He went back to PSG after this, playing on and off for them over the next two seasons. Overall he earned 28 caps for his childhood club, scoring one goal.
He left the Saints in 2005, moving on to Portuguese Superliga (the old top division) side Vitória Sport Clube. Struggling due to dispute over club management, Vitória had still managed to put up a strong performance on the field. But unfortunately the 2005-06 season was where it all fell apart and they went down to the Segunda Division after nearly 50 years. Selim played regularly, notching up 4 goals in 25 matches, but could not help them avoid the relegation.
In 2006, however, he went to a club leading towards its revival. Russian Premier League side FC Rubin Kazan had just come under a new president, and they had amassed a strong enough team to go through the initial stages of UEFA Cup. That season they finished 4th, making it to the UEFA Intertoto Cup. Next season they put up a strong title challenge, and eventually went on to become the Russian Champions. Unfortunately, Selim was not central to their plans. He left them in the summer for Qadisa. In his 23 appearances for Rubin, he had scored 3 goals. Rubin would go on to assert themselves in Europe by upsetting Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League in 2009-10.
At Qadisa Sporting Club - based in Hawalli, Kuwait - Benachour instantly gelled into the team and led a very successful season. He played in 25 matches and scored thrice, helping them bag the Kuwait Premier League and Kuwait Federation Cup double. His performance did not go unnoticed as he got a chance to play in the La Liga, at Málaga Club de Fútbol, on a two year contract. He featured prominently for them that season, as Málaga fought tooth and nail to avoid relegation. In the end, they finished 17th on the league table, one point above the relegation spots. Less than impressed with Selim's performance in the 22 matches he played for them, he was not registered in Málaga's La Liga squad next season. In October 2010 he left the club.
Next season he returned to Portugal. He signed for Primeira Liga (new top division) side Club Sport Marítimo, from Madeira. A habitually mid-table club, Selim's season here was nothing special. But he became a core part of the team, playing in 33 matches and netting 5 goals.
But next year the tide turned after his arrival at Cyprus First Division club APOEL FC. He immediately became a fan favourite by scoring in the Europa League play-off round match against Neftchi Baku. That season APOEL won the league. Next season, they pretty much dominated Cyprus football by bagging the treble: League, Cup and Super Cup. He left the club in 2014, at age 32, after scoring 3 goals for them in 38 appearances.
But it was his national career that was to earn him the highest of fames. Selim turned down a chance to play for France to wear the colours of his country of origin, Tunisia. Soon after making his debut for the national team, he became known as one of the best players ever to turn out for the African nation. He was part of their 2002 World Cup squad which ended in a first round exit. But in the 2004 African Cup of Nations Benachour got to become a part of history. Tunisia hosted the tournament, and after four straight wins against Rwanda, Congo, Guinea and Senegal, faced favourites Nigeria in the semi-final. In a biting encounter, the teams finished 1-1 in regular time, going into penalties. In the end, it was Tunisia who came out on top, beating Nigeria 5-3 in the shootout. Benachour took the fourth spot kick for his country and scored.
The final was against Morocco. Tunisia beat them 2-1, winning their first ever major trophy in international football. And along with it, Selim Benachour sealed his place in Tunisian football folklore.
Known for his sharp eye and quick passes, Selim is a perfect fit for Mumbai City's midfield. His presence in the middle will open up avenues for Anelka and/or Sunil, besides creating a trusty supply line for Sony Norde's darting invasions from the left flank. The only issue that will have player-manager Anelka worried is that Benachour has not had a professional team since summer 2014. But it can be assumed that he knows his former teammate well enough, and bringing him in is just another piece of the title challenge puzzle he is poring over his coaching team right now.