Francis Benali is a former English left back who was born in Southampton on 30th December 1968. Benali, who also operated at centre back on occasions, went to school at Bellemoor not too far away from the Dell. He was spotted by his hometown club Southampton whilst playing for Winsor United in the Tyro League, where he lined up as a striker. He appeared for England school boys, scoring against Northern Ireland in his first appearance. Benali was part of Southampton's successful youth setup of the late 1980s which also included the likes of Alan Shearer, Matthew Le Tissier and Rod Wallace. He set up Le Tissier's first goal as a Saints apprentice in a 4-2 win over Reading.
Benali made his senior bow for Saints on 1st October 1988 in a 0-0 draw with Derby at The Dell. He also appeared as a substitute in the following three matches against Everton, Lincoln City and Sheffield Wednesday. Benali then started games at Tottenham and Norwich up front, before dropping back into the reserves. He featured far more frequently during 1989/90 as manager Chris Nicholl converted him into a left back following injury to Mickey Adams. Benali was never the most technically gifted footballer, but he became a cult hero among fans for his tough tackling/no nonsense style. Matt Le Tissier described him in his autobiography as 'an excellent man marker and very disciplined.' Benali was not first choice during 1990/91 in Nicholl's last season as boss, but saw much more playing time in 1991/92 following the arrival of Ian Branfoot.
Benali was famous for his ill discipline on the pitch, picking up 11 red cards over the course of his career, not to mention countless yellows. He was sent off for elbowing Norwich's Ruel Fox in the face on 1st January 1994 and also received his marching orders on 24th August 1996 at Upton Park when he smashed West Ham's Paulo Futre into the advertising hoardings. Benali was no stranger to an own goal either. He put through his own net on 30th March 1994 in a dismal 3-1 home defeat to Oldham. His commitment could never be called into question however. He was a mainstay in the Southampton side during the 1990s, and helped the club avoid relegation from the Premiership on numerous occasions.
Benali appeared in less than half of Southampton's games during 1996/97 under Graeme Souness. On 13th May 1997 he was handed a testimonial for his services to the club, scoring a 7-8 defeat against an ex-Saints eleven. At that time Benali had gone 10 years and hundreds of games without a competitive goal. That changed on 13th December 1997 when he was found unmarked in the box against Leicester. Benali looped a header over keeper Kasey Keller to help secure a 2-1 win, much to the surprise of his teammates and the fans in attendance. Benali had started the 1997/98 season on the bench after Dave Jones signed Lee Todd from his former club Stockport, but it soon became apparent Todd wasn't up to the required standard and Benali reclaimed his place in the side.
In late 1998 Dave Jones signed Patrick Colleter, another left back, who displaced Benali during 1998/99. Benali won his spot back in the team at the start of the 1999/2000 season, but fell out of favour following the arrival of Glenn Hoddle. Youngster Wayne Bridge made the left back spot his own, and was a far more accomplished player than Benali ever was.
After one cameo appearance in a 5-0 thrashing at Manchester United during 2000/01, Benali was loaned to Division One outfit Nottingham Forest for a three month spell. He returned to Southampton at the end of the season, and made three substitute appearances following the departure of Hoddle. He replaced Hassan Kachloul on 19th May 2001 for what was the last ever competitive match at The Dell.
Benali made three substitute appearances at the start of the 2001/02 season, as Southampton moved into their new St Marys home. When Gordon Strachan arrived at the club in October 2001 it looked like his career was all but over. First choice left back Wayne Bridge was an ever present who never got injured. That was until January 2003 when Benali made a shock return to the Sains starting eleven. He lined up against Millwall in a 1-1 draw and acquitted himself reasonably well. Benali started the following few matches, before new signing Danny Higginbotham took his place. His final appearance for the club came on 5th February 2003 against Millwall in an FA Cup replay win. He remained on the clubs books until July 2004, lining up in a friendly against Bayern Munich in January 2004.
After leaving Saints Benali had a two year spell at local non-league side Eastleigh. He was invited to train with Southampton in the summer of 2005 by Harry Redknapp, but a full time return was always going to be unlikely. When Redknapp left the club in December 2005 Benali declared his interest in the manager's job alongside former teammate Matt Le Tissier, but received no response from the club. He previously had a spell coaching the club's U12 side in 2003, and also worked as a youth team coach at Romsey Town.
Away from football Benali is a partner in a property development company Luken Homes (Named after his children Luke and Kenzie). He was also a part owner in Kuti's Brasserie, an Indian restaurant in Southampton.
In 2011 Benali announced he had plans to take legal action against Southampton Chairman Nicola Cortese. The former left-back claimed that Cortese still had unpaid bills on a house he had rented from his property company. Responding immediately after Benali's statement the club said they had received no legal correspondence and claimed there is still money owed back from Cortese's deposit. Saints said the dispute had more to do with the fact Benali had been stripped of his club ambassador role.