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Ballon d’Or: Just reward for Karim Benzema

Real Madrid forward is the first French player to win the trophy since Zidane in 1998 and fifth after Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini and JeanPierre Papin

Our Bureau Paris Published 19.10.22, 04:32 AM
Karim Benzema.

Karim Benzema. File picture

Real Madrid forward Karim Benzema said he had realised a childhood dream by winning the Ballon d’Or award for the best player in the world on Monday, beating Robert Lewandowski, Sadio Mane and Kevin De Bruyne to the top prize in men’s football.

Benzema, who played a pivotal role in Real’s run to the Champions League title last season, is the first French player to win the trophy since Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and the fifth after Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini and Jean-Pierre Papin.


“This prize in front of me makes me really proud. When I was small, it was a childhood dream, I never gave up... Anything is possible,” Benzema said on stage at the Theatre du Chatelet.

“There was a difficult period when I wasn’t in the French team but I never gave up.

“I’m really proud of my journey here. It wasn’t easy, it was a difficult time for my family as well.”

The France striker, who turns 35 in December, became the oldest Ballon d’Or recipient since Stanley Matthews in 1956.

Benzema scored an astonishing 44 goals in 46 games in all competitions for Real as he helped guide them to a La Liga and Champions League double under Carlo Ancelotti last season. His 15 goals in the Champions League guided Real to a record-extending 14th title.

Real made remarkable comebacks from losing positions in the last-16, quarter-finals and semi-finals against Paris St Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City respectively — with Benzema scoring in each of the second legs.

The highlight of their European campaign was the 3-1 win in the second leg against PSG when the Spanish club were 2-0 down on aggregate, with Benzema grabbing a 17-minute hat-trick in the second half to stun the Ligue 1 side.

The award is also as much for his contributions to the French national team.

Benzema, who made his comeback with Les Bleus after a gap of almost six years over a blackmail scandal, firmed up a partnership with Kylian Mbappe, which, although not perfect, has made the world champions’ forward line one of the most formidable in the game going into the Qatar World Cup.

Benzema, who has a killer instinct in front of goal, revels in making teammates shine and Monday’s trophy was just reward for the selfless forward.

“It’s a collective victory. It’s an individual trophy but without your teammates you can’t score. Sometimes you might get a screamer but, for me, football is a collective sport and I will always be a team player,” Benzema said.

Benzema, who started his professional career at Olympique Lyonnais after being developed in their youth academy, joined Real in 2009 after four years with Lyon’s first team.

“I never surrendered. I was lucky to join Real, the best club in the world, and even if it was hard at the beginning, I stayed focused,” he said.

“I’ve worked on my mental strength, I’ve been courageous and determined.”

Benzema was handed the Ballon d’Or trophy by Zidane. “Zizou is a big brother. He was my coach (at Real from 2016-18 and 2019-21), it means a lot to me. He’s the best French player in history so it makes it even more special,” Benzema said.

The striker will now be hoping to win his first piece of major silverware with France at the World Cup in Qatar, having missed out on the 2018 tournament, which they won in Russia.

“My goal is to continue to enjoy playing football, to score and make my teammates score. The World Cup is the next challenge,” he said.

Although Benzema has had a complicated history with France and coach Didier Deschamps, he insisted his Ballon d’Or triumph did not prove anything.

“Revenge doesn’t help you grow,” he said. “I don’t want to dwell on my failures. They just give me more mental strength. I have no regrets. What happened, happened, but what matters is what is happening today.”

Written with inputs from Reuters

Keepers are overlooked: Courtois

Paris: Thibaut Courtois was named man of the match in last season’s Champions League final, but the Belgian goalkeeper came seventh in the Ballon d’Or rankings on Monday, which drew frustration at how the trophy for the world’s best player is awarded.

Courtois, whose brilliant saves helped Real keep Liverpool at bay before Vinicius Junior scored the only goal in Paris in May, collected the Lev Yashin trophy for best keeper but it felt too little.

“I couldn’t have had a better season, especially with the saves in the Champions League,” Courtois said after the ceremony. “As a keeper you can’t do more, winning the league and the Champions League the way we did.”

Last year, goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma finished 10th in the Ballon d’Or rankings after being named man of the match in Italy’s victory against England after a penalty shootout in the European Championship final.

“Naturally being in the top 10, it’s fantastic, but unfortunately when voting comes keepers are being overlooked with strikers being favoured,” said Courtois. “Keepers are being underestimated although we’ve been participating in the game much more, sometimes almost as playmakers.”

Yashin of the then USSR is the last — and only — keeper to win the Ballon d’Or award, in 1963.


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