Karim Mostafa Benzema is arguably one of the most gifted footballers of his generation, I’d even go as far as to say he’s been a top ten talent of the past decade but it doesn’t go without saying he’s had a few challenges on the way and can be viewed as a divisive figure especially in his home nation of France.
The Lyon born striker made his debut in the 2004-05 season which led to sporadic appearances in his next two seasons as Lyon won 3 major titles within that period of time. It wasn’t until the 2007-08 season in which Benzema got the chance to become a starter, having a breakthrough campaign scoring 30 goals in all competitions and leading Lyon to their seventh straight title. He was awarded the golden boot as the leagues top scorer, named Ligue 1 player of the year and listed in the organization’s team of the year. After one more successful season Real Madrid finally came calling and he made a switch to the Spanish capital on a six year contract worth a transfer fee of over $50 million.
Life in Madrid did not get off to the best start as he had to play second fiddle to Gonzalo Higuain who was preferred to start up front by both Manuel Pellegrini and Jose Mourinho respectively. Added to this, there were a lot of questions asked of him such as his discipline issues and his lack of commitment to fitness regimes. It was not until a meeting between Benzema and Mourinho ahead of the 2011-12 season occurred that a mutual respect was formed between both. Jose noted that Benzema worked on his game and physique during the off season which ultimately secured him the nod ahead of Higuain, a move that yielded tremendous results as Benzema scored a total of 32 goals; his most prolific year in a Real Madrid shirt to date.
Fast forward to the present day and Benzema still commands that first team striker role for Real Madrid seeing of all his would be challengers. Gonzalo Higuain, Alvaro Morata, Emmanuel Adebayor and Javier Hernandez, as well as several academy prospects have gotten the short end of the stick due to under performances or just being unable to raise their game to a level adequate enough to displace the Frenchman from his number 9 birth. It’s a testament to his immense ability that he was able to keep such talents at bay but what makes it more impressive is the fact that he has done so over a span of five different managers; all whom have had very different philosophies and tactics.
His ability to link up play, drop into a number ten role to drag defenders out leaving space for wide players to run into and the killer instincts of a lethal finisher sets him apart from most strikers in the world as of this moment. This is what made his combination with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale so devastating. The trio literally had defenders quaking in their boots. The famous BBC put teams in the Champions League to the sword on a regular basis and Benzema was frequently the man doing what needed to be done to make this front three tick. All this helped Real Madrid to an amazing fourteen major trophy wins (including four Champions League titles) in five short years.
Although blessed with all the brilliance and ability, there does seems to be a mischievous side to him as well. Whether it’s making questionable comments in regards to the national team on different occasions or sex related scandals, Benzema seems to be caught out on more than a few occasions. As early as 2006, he drew criticism when he cited the reasons why he selected France was purely sporting and that his true heart lay with his parents native country of Algeria. On top of this, the fact that he never sang the national anthem before any France international matches hardly did anything to win him support especially with the often critical media. Worse still was the 2010 sex scandal involving an underaged prostitute and three other national team players (Franck Ribéry, Sidney Govou and Hatem Ben Arfa). He was questioned by Paris police and indicted on the charge of “solicitation of a minor prostitute”. The case did go to trail with the first hearing held in June 2013, however the charges against him were dropped in January 2014 due to lack of sufficient evidence that he knew the prostitute was underaged.
You would think going through this ordeal would discourage Benzema from being in the headlines for the wrong reasons but no. Unfortunately his next one would subsequently cost him a chance to win a World Cup medal as he was suspended provisionally from the French national team in 2015 due to his alleged involvement in the blackmailing of fellow french international player Mathieu Valbuena. It’s only fair to mention that he was acquitted of all charges and although he’s had a problematic relationship with the national team, it’s a completely different story for Los Blancos. Benzema is a leader both on and off the pitch, also he’s one of only three players who were in the 2010 squad that still remains at the club ten years later.
Where there’s been drama and scandal with the national team there’s been goals, assists and trophies galore for Benzema and Real Madrid. He’s has had dips in form, particularly a certain 2 year period plagued with injuries which affected his goal scoring resulting in the nickname “Donezema” but he has always been backed fully by both his coach Zinedine Zidane and Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. And Benzema has rewarded their faith in kind especially following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo; Benzema has been a man reborn.
Even amidst all the big money transfers Benzema is still the player the team turns to for goals. His resurgence is why the Los Blancos are en route to yet another title, toppling King Leo’s side to the league title. He may be head strong, disappointing at times and reckless, but for all who have seen him play one thing that can never be denied is that Karim Benzema on the field is a true maestro.