Where are they now? Francis Benali: Free curries all round!
As Southampton prepare to build their challenge for a place in the Europa League proper, their international squad is a far-cry of the mostly British make-up of the mid 1990s.
That being said it seems logical that we focus on a Southampton player of that generation for the latest edition of our Where Are They Now? series.
One man that was a mainstay adorning the Saints back-line in the club’s final years at The Dell was Francis Benali.
The full-back made 311 league appearances in 16 years at his hometown club, finding the net on just one occasion.
After retiring in 2008 it appears he has stayed close to his local roots, and in others brought the Far East to the south coast.
While he has retained an interest in football, appearing regularly as a pundit on television and spending time coaching at the Southampton under-12s, it’s been his exploits away from the game that stand out in his post-playing career.
Benali takes some beating when it comes to charity work.
As well as playing in numerous testimonial matches, raising money for the likes of Great Ormond Street Hospital and local cause Scratch, the now-46-year-old has given his name to a number of other good causes.
A patron of both The Children’s Fire and Burn Trust and The Dave Wellman Cancer Trust, the ex-Southampton defender is clearly one to help those in need.
Just last year, he completed a 1,000 mile challenge to run to each of the Premier League’s 20 grounds, Benali’s Big Run raising over £100k for Cancer Research UK.
For his efforts he was named the inaugural recipient of the Spirit of the Game Award.
Away from his charity work, Benali has been dipping his toes into the world of business since hanging up his boots.
A crack at property development didn’t quite go to plan with his Luken Homes company facing liquidation in 2010, but he was not to be perturbed.
In partnership with another Saints legend Matt Le Tissier, Benali opened up Indian restaurant Kuti Brasserie.
While the cuisine of India was the staple dish on the menu, it was the food of neighbouring Bangladesh that got the critics licking their lips.
In December 2006 Kuti’s picked up the Golden Curry award for the best Bangladeshi food in the UK, as voted for by the Good Curry Guide.
Benali has since sold up his shares in the venture, though we are sure the offerings are still top notch!
He may crack a serious nature with his interest in various businesses and his commitment to charity work, but there is always time for banter for Frannie.
With the jokes about Brendan Rodgers continually pursuit of Southampton’s players, Benali had some interest from Rodgers himself for some furniture he wanted rid of…
And with the transfer window open for another two weeks there could certainly be more of that to come!
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