Ahmad Benali: Libya captain wants stability on and off the pitch

Ahmad Benali in action for Libya against Tunisia
Ahmad Benali has played 10 times for Libya scoring three goals

Born in England and given his football education in Manchester City's luxurious academy, Ahmad Benali might not seem a natural fit for the captaincy of a country bruised by nearly a decade of conflict.

But as Libya prepare to start their 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualification campaign next month, he has described leading the team as "the biggest honour" of his professional career.

"It's something every boy dreams of, so I feel privileged," he told BBC Sport.

Libya have not participated at a Cup of Nations since 2012 but Benali has high hopes this time around.

"We have to be in qualifiers with intentions to qualify. I don't see our Afcon group as one of the stronger ones and I think if we play how we know we can on a consistent basis we can definitely look to qualify."

The Mediterranean Knights have been drawn in Group J alongside Tunisia, Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea.

With Jalal Damja having been reappointed as head coach earlier this year, Benali says it is important that those in charge of the national team now take a long-term view and create a more stable environment for the players.

"I've always said that this national team is potentially one of the best we've had for a long time because we have young, talented, hungry players.

"But of course the players need to be helped by being put in the condition to do well.

"By this I mean having a coach for the long-term that will have a project and a way of playing, as in recent years we've had too many changes and every coach has his own style so it's getting used to everything all over again.

"We hope that we can stick together and work towards the future together."

Benali
Libya captain Ahmad Benali currently plays for Italian side Crotone

Having been raised in Manchester, where his father still lives, Benali represented England at Under-17 level and also had the chance to play for Scotland.

His club career also took him to Italy, where he has played in Serie A and Serie B for Brescia, Pescara and current club Crotone.

The 27-year-old thinks experience of foreign leagues can bring benefits on the international stage.

"Playing abroad can only help our players and team as a whole.

"It can bring different ways of viewing football and more experience to the team so when put together we can be stronger for it.

"The league in Libya has been very stop-start over the last few years so it's difficult for the players there to be at their best as they're not playing regularly."

Despite having never played in Libya, Benali says he does talk to his team-mates about the problems they face there.

He says any dreams they may have of qualifying for a Nations Cup or World Cup pale in comparison to the bigger challenges facing the country.

"It is very difficult to talk about it because I am not in the current situation.

"Obviously, I would like the safety of people and stability in my country to be the priority before football."

Libya play their first 2021 Nations Cup qualifier on 11 November in Tunisia.

Benali is promising fans that the players will do everything they can do reach the finals in Cameroon.

"I can always promise 100% effort and I'm a supporter like they are so it's my dream to qualify for a major tournament and represent them to the best of my ability.

"I want to thank them for their continued support."