Karim Mostafa Benzema is one of the top five all-time scorers in the Champions League and in over a decade at Real Madrid he has won a long list of trophies. Michael Renouf profiles one of the most gifted players of this generation.
Karim Mostafa Benzema, born on 19 December 1987 in Lyon, France, to Hafid and Wahida, French nationals of Algerian descent, has eight siblings, two of whom are professional footballers. He has had a career of outstanding success at club level whilst courting controversy off the field and with the national side.
After a handful of games for Lyon’s reserves, he made his debut for his hometown team as a substitute in a 2-0 victory against Metz on 15 January 2005. Following a few more appearances from the bench, he made his full debut in a 1-0 win over Lens. At the time Lyon were the dominant force in French football and Karim had his first taste of success as they finished the season champions for the fourth year in a row.
It was the next season (2005/6), on 6 December 2005, that he scored his first goal in the paid rank, against Norwegian outfit Rosenberg in the Champions League – his first appearance in the competition – during a 2-1 triumph.
Used mainly from the bench, he had to wait until March for his first Ligue 1 goal as Lyon successfully defended their title again. The following season, he scored from the spot in a 1-1 draw with PSG in the Trophée des Champions, also netting in the subsequent penalty shoot-out, to lift more silverware.
Each season his appearance and goal tallies were slowly but surely creeping up as he helped Lyon to the inevitable Ligue 1 title. Also during the 2006/7 campaign, he made his debut for France, scoring the only goal of the game against Austria.
Making it into the big time
The 2007/8 season was the one that would bring him to the attention of the football world outside of France’s borders. He finished as the league’s top scorer (20 goals) thanks to a lightning start that included his first hat-trick in a 5-1 demolition of Metz.
Another 11 strikes in other competitions meant he broke the 30-goal barrier for the first time, as Lyon not only held onto the two trophies they had won the year before but added the Coupe de France.
Individually, Karim was recognised by being named Ligue 1 Player of the Year whilst also picking up the Bravo Award – presented to the most outstanding young player plying his trade in Europe.
This is a trophy with some pedigree, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, Wayne Rooney, and his footballing inspiration, the Brazilian Ronaldo are just some of the others to have had this title bestowed upon them. He spent one more season in France before Real Madrid shelled out €35m for his services.
His debut for Los Blancos came against Deportivo La Coruña in a 3-2 home victory alongside Raul, Xabi Alonso, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo. His scored his first goal for his new employers in front of the Madrid faithful in a 5-0 demolition of Xerez a few weeks later.
Despite lining up with this wealth of talent, he would not need the keys to his trophy cabinet again until 2011 when he was an unused substitute in the Copa del Rey final victory against bitter rivals Barcelona.
Although, during this trophy drought, he did manage his first hat-trick for Madrid against Auxerre in the Champions League, on 8 December 2010, and his second a fortnight later against Levante.
The following season (2011/12) he won his first league title since leaving France as Real Madrid swapped places with Barcelona at the top of La Liga for the first time since 2008.
The centre-forward also scored his first goal in El Clásico (the traditional clash between the two Spanish giants, Barcelona and Real Madrid). It was the fastest in the history of the world’s biggest domestic game when after just 21 seconds, he beat Victor Valdes in the Barca goal in what became a 3-1 defeat.
The season also proved to be his most prolific to date, with Benzema finding the net on 32 occasions in 52 games across all competitions, although this season he could eclipse that mark.
On the back of this success, he was selected in the France squad again for Euro 2012, where he failed to score as France were beaten at the quarter-final stage – his second scoreless Euros in a row. Once ensconced back in Madrid, he was on the hunt for more silverware and in 2013/14 they captured the one they had been waiting over a decade for – their tenth Champions League trophy (La Décima), against city rivals Atlético Madrid.
Real had last won the trophy the club craves above all others back in 2002 when another French-Algerian by the name of Zinedine Zidane got himself on the scoresheet with a fabulous strike.
In a trophy-laden year, Real also won the FIFA Club World Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the Copa del Rey. January 2016 saw Zidane join the managerial merry-go-round that is Real Madrid. In his first game in charge Benzema netted twice in a 5-0 victory. The ex-Real player was an instant success as their manager, very nearly repeating the feats of 2014, as the side secured three of the four same trophies –only missing out on the Copa del Rey.
A series of controversies
During this domestic success Benzema played in his first World Cup in Brazil in 2014, where he managed his first goals at an international tournament, before France were dispatched at the quarter-final stage by eventual champions Germany.
This was to prove to be his only World Cup as Raymond Domenech had left him out of France’s squad for the 2010 tournament in South Africa, citing poor club form, at a time when he, along with French international teammate Frank Ribery, was embroiled in a scandal, with the two men accused of having sex with an underage prostitute. They were both subsequently acquitted.
In October 2015 he scored a brace as France eased to a 4-0 victory over Armenia, but after that he was not selected for the national team again for more than five years. Was this due to a career-threatening injury, a severe loss of form or international retirement? No, nothing as mundane.
The following month, he was arrested in a bizarre incident in which he has been accused of being involved in a blackmail plot against his international teammate Mathieu Valbuena, to do with a sex tape, a case that is due in court this October. Benzema denies the charges.
When he was not selected for the 2016 Euro squad, he accused manager Didier Deschamps of giving into pressure from racists. However, in May this year, Deschamps surprised everyone by adding Benzema to his squad.
Under Zidane’s leadership, Real and Benzema have picked up a host of new trophies; in 2017 they accomplished something no other club had managed since the rebranding of the European Cup as the Champions League, by retaining their title – thanks to a 4-1 victory over Juventus.
Karim had now played in three Champions League finals, blanking in all of them, and was substituted late in the game on each occasion.
In 2018 they reached the final again, against Liverpool, and in the 51st minute, he opened the scoring, this time managing 89 minutes in what was Cristiano Ronaldo’s last game for the club.
Since the Portuguese superstar has left, if anything Benzema has improved, netting at least 21 league goals in each season since. He not only has an excellent scoring rate of around a goal every two games, he also assists approximately once every four games, a rate most prolific strikers fall way short of.
In his career he is one of the top five all-time scorers in the Champions League and in over a decade at Madrid he has played with multiple Galacticos and won countless trophies. What with all this and the controversies that have surrounded his private life, if he ever publishes an autobiography it will be an intriguing read to say the least.
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