Abdessalam “Benji” Benjelloun (born 28 January 1985 im Fez, Morocco) is a Moroccan footballer, currently playing for Scottish Premier League club Hibernian. He also plays at international level for the Moroccan Olympic (Under-23) team.
Benjelloun trained with Hibs for many weeks during the early part of 2006, while Hibs assessed whether to sign him, and then underwent the complex process of obtaining the documentation (such as a work permit and international clearance) needed to sign him. During this time, rumours grew on Hibs-related internet sites that Hibs had unearthed a major talent, so expectations were high when Benjelloun’s signing was formally announced in March 2006.
He made his debut for Hibernian in the 2006 Scottish Cup semi-final loss to local rivals Hearts on 2 April 2006. Hibs’ manager at the time (Tony Mowbray) later admitted that it was perhaps unfair to Benjelloun to have to make his first appearance in Scottish football in such an important game. Mowbray’s options were limited due to injuries (Chris Killen), suspensions (Derek Riordan), cup transfer rules (Paul Dalglish) and the sale of Garry O’Connor.
Benjelloun demonstrated his potential in the Edinburgh derby on 22 April 2006, when he came off the bench to score the winning goal. ‘Benji’ became an instant hero with the Hibernian supporters, although his goal celebration caused some controversy. He ran wildly towards the Hearts supporters, having scored the goal at the other end of the ground. Fortunately the Hibs goalkeeper, Zibi Malkowski, managed to prevent Benji from reaching the Hearts supporters, or a major incident could have ensued. His appearance also gave rise to the now infamous motto “Benjelloun coming on thnk god hes rubbish” [sic] posted by a Hearts supporter on the BBC Fans Forum message board. The phrase is now used by Hibs fans as an ironic sign of affection towards the Moroccan hitman.
He is currently contracted to Hibernian until 2010 and is regarded as a good prospect for the future. A fellow Moroccan, Merouane Zemmama, has since been signed by Hibs, and it is thought this should help Benji to settle into Scottish football. Recently, he got married, and dedicated his 2 goals against Aberdeen, to his new wife. His improved English, coupled with an impressive increase in form (with 9 goals in eleven appearances for Hibs up to 18th March) have led to his becoming a more relaxed and confident performer. Immensely popular with the Hibernian support, many of whom wear traditional Moroccan ‘Fez’ hats to matches in his honour, Benji has declared himself settled in Edinburgh, and even suggested that he should be known as ‘McBenji.’ The forward wrote himself into Hibernian folklore when he scored two goals in Hibs’s 5-1 win over Kilmarnock in the CIS Cup Final on 18th March, 2007. He also has a four year plan to reach his goal and play for Real Madrid.