Out of Real Madrid’s iconic Galacticos class of 2009, no one would’ve guessed Karim Benzema would be the only one left in 2020 and currently Los Blancos’ most important player.
Benzema was the third player to join Real Madrid during the summer eleven years ago. The 2007 Ballon d’or winner Kaka was first and 2008 Ballon d’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was second. After the former French international, Xabi Alonso joined. Raul Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa rounded out the crew.
Benzema, the Lyon product, wasn’t as highly regarded as the other signees, but the 21-year-old striker was considered to be a future superstar. As a player on Olympique Lyonnais, Benzema helped the club win four straight Ligue 1 titles from 2004-2008. The 2007-08 season was his best in France as he was the league’s leading scorer and won the National Union of Professional Footballers Ligue 1 Player of the Year. During his first season at Real Madrid, he was mostly a backup to club icon Raul, who was going through his last season at Madrid and Gonzalo Higuain. Eventually, Benzema became the starter but still had competition from Higuain. Benzema’s link-up play, unselfish behavior and tactical awareness helped him to build a great rapport with Ronaldo. Even though Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer most played as a left winger, he would always cut inside with his right foot to score goals and Benzema would play almost as a false 9 to provide the space or play one-twos with Cristiano so he could have a clean shot inside the 18-yard box.
Some people did not enjoy Benzema deferring to his teammates and wanted him to be a ruthless striker like Higuain. His manager at the time was one of them. Jose Mourinho once said in a December 2010 press conference, “If you go hunting and you haven’t got a dog, if you have a cat, you take the cat. You can’t go on your own. And that’s a bit like what we have here. We have a forward, Benzema and we play him but if we don’t have Higuaín, we have a problem.”
The three-time French Player of the Year finally got the balance right when he scored 21 goals and dished out seven assists in 34 appearances to help Real win La Liga in 2011-12. Eventually, Higuain and Mourinho left then Madrid’s dominance in the Champions League began. Los Blancos ended up winning four Champions League titles in five years from 2013-18. One was with Carlo Ancelotti and the other rest was with his main assistant and club icon Zinedine Zidane, who won the last three consecutively. They also won the Copa del Rey, Benzema’s second, and La Liga in 2016-17 during that time span along with three UEFA Super Cups and four FIFA Club World Cups.
Ronaldo eventually left for Juventus, Zidane left the job and returned, but Benzema remained and improved. Last year, he led the team in goals and assists in the league and he is currently doing it again. His 17 goals are second in La Liga to Lionel Messi and his seven assists are tied for the sixth highest total in the league. Messi also leads that category with 19.
The one stain on his legacy are the allegations of blackmail against his former international teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Valbuena was in a sex-tape and claims that Benzema served as a middleman in the situation who encouraged Valbuena to pay the people attempting to extort him. The people who attempted to extort Valbuena are allegedly Benzema’s friends. The case dates back to 2015 and French prosecutors are still attempting to take it to trial. Benzema denies any wrongdoing but has been blackballed from the French national team ever since. Even though France won the World Cup without him in 2018 and are considered the best international side in the world, they would be even better with Benzema.
Real Madrid are currently first in La Liga with 77 points and four matches left in the season. Barcelona are four points behind. Even though he is now 32, Benzema has been outstanding and shows no sign of aging. He arguably has the goal of the year against Valencia when he flicked the ball over a defender with his right foot and volleyed the ball with his left in an incredible display of technique and composure. He also arguably has the assist of the year with his back-heel nutmeg against Espanyol on the edge of the six-yard box in which Casemiro was the beneficiary.
Benzema is currently the fifth all-time leading scorer in Real Madrid’s history with 244 goals and tied for fourth on the Champions League all-time scoring list, with Robert Lewandowski, with 64 goals. Even though he wasn’t the top player in the Galacticos class of 2009, he certainly exceeded expectations and continues to impress.
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