Karim Benzema looks to be the overwhelming favorite to win the Ballon d’Or after Real Madrid’s Champions League win – so is this the French veteran’s finest hour?
The 34-year-old, who has 44 goals in 46 games this season, would be the second-oldest player to win the title after Blackpool’s Stanley Matthews, who was 41 when he won first prize in 1956.
Goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois was man of the match in Paris and Vinicius Jr scored the only goal of the game 1-0 win over Liverpool. It was a rarely quiet night for Benzema – who had disallowed a goal for offside – in a brilliant season.
“Of course,” Benzema told Canal Plus when thinking about the Ballon d’Or – the prize organized by France Football that is awarded annually to the best footballer in the world.
“Now I’m going to join the national team but I don’t think I can do much more with my club. We’ll see what happens but I’m definitely proud of what I’ve done.”
He added: “Let’s see what happens. I have trophies and nothing else [to prove] on that place. The most important thing is to enjoy it.”
French legend Thierry Henry said on American television: “I just want to say something about France Football or whoever is watching – close the votes. Benzema won. Bye.”
How good was Benzema, who usually wins the Ballon d’Or and what would that mean?
The case for Benzema
There’s a very simple argument for Benzema to win the 2022 Ballon d’Or on October 17 – he was the star player of the best team in Europe.
Real Madrid won La Liga and the Champions League – and Benzema won the Golden Boot in both.
He scored 27 league goals, nine ahead of anyone else, and 15 Champions League goals – one every 74 minutes.
Benzema was also a clutch player, with 10 of those 15 goals in the knockout stages alone – a joint record in a season.
He scored a hat-trick at home against Paris St-Germain and another at Chelsea in the next round – plus the winner against Manchester City in the semis.
“The Ballon d’Or dispute is over,” former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand told BT Sport. “If Benzema doesn’t get it, it’s a farce.”
Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti said: “We depend on Benzema. Karim is a modern striker and [does] what is required of strikers – everything, including defensive work.
“He perfectly embodies what a centre-forward should be in today’s football.”
Benzema’s career renaissance
Benzema’s two top scorers this season were his first since winning the Ligue 1 Golden Boot in 2007/08, when he scored 20 goals for champions Lyon as a 20-year-old.
Since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure from Real in 2018, he has experienced a tremendous career revival. Benzema’s role in this team was mainly to help Ronaldo score goals, but since Ronaldo joined Juventus he has blossomed into his right and has become a star himself.
In Ronaldo’s last two seasons at Real, Benzema has scored 11 and five LaLiga goals respectively. He averaged 23 league goals a season over the following four years, winning his fifth Champions League win on Saturday and returning from the French team last year after a six-year exile to score nine goals in 13 games for Les Bleus.
However, all of this took place against the backdrop of a scandal that stunned the football community in France.
in November 2021, Benzema was found guilty conspiracy to blackmail former French teammate Mathieu Valbuena with a sextape.
A judge gave Benzema a one-year suspended sentence and ordered him to pay a fine of 75,000 euros (£63,000).
Who usually wins the Ballon d’Or?
Ahead of Saturday’s game, there was speculation that the winner of the Champions League final could decide the winner of the Ballon d’Or.
Liverpool’s Sadio Mane won the Africa Cup of Nations with Senegal – and Mohamed Salah won a third Premier League Golden Boot.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was asked before the game whether the winner of the final could lift the singles trophy.
“If you think about how these types of competitions are decided, the answer is probably yes,” he said.
“You’re either Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi or you’ve won the Champions League final. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s been for the last few years. It will definitely increase the odds.”
Klopp is not wrong. You have to go back to 2006 when world champion Fabio Cannavaro was last awarded the Ballon d’Or to anyone other than Messi, Ronaldo or a Champions League winner.
Granted, Kaka in 2007 and Luka Modric in 2018 were the only players besides the big two to win during that period.
It was widely believed Robert Lewandowski, Whoever won the 2019-20 treble with Bayern Munich would have won 2020 but the award was canceled due to Covid.
What would that mean?
Benzema has been nominated several times – and will certainly be on the shortlist announced on August 12 – but he has never made the top three.
He would be the first Frenchman to win since Zinedine Zidane – Benzema’s former Real Madrid coach – in 1998.
BBC Sport went to Benzema’s hometown of Bron, in Lyon, ahead of the game to speak to some of his childhood friends.
Farouk said Benzema, whose parents are both Algerian, gives “hope for youth” to people who share his background.
“Now everyone thinks they can make it as a footballer or at least achieve their dreams,” he said.
“In Bron we support Real Madrid 100%, we watch all the games. When Real Madrid play, everyone watches.
“If he can come to Lyon or Bron he will visit us older boys and play with them and if the kids see him he will stop and talk to them.
“I would say that he inspired many in Terraillon [a neighbourhood in Bron].
“We’re proud of him. We have a dream here – and that’s for him to win the Ballon d’Or and we wish him all the best in the world.”
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