When Karim Benzema held up the Ballon d’Or award last month, the crowd rose to applaud him. Now he hopes to lift France fans out of their seats at the World Cup. The crowded theatre seemed fitting for Benzema’s crowning moment of personal glory, considering he was long rejected by the French public following a sex tape scandal that kept him out of the national team for six years, until 2021. France reached the Euro 2016 final and won the 2018 World Cup without him.
“There were times when it was much harder for me. There was a period when I wasn’t in the national team, but I never gave up,” Benzema — only the fifth Frenchman to win the award — said when collecting the Ballon d’Or.
Since his recall to the national team, Benzema has scored 10 goals in 16 games — including four at last year’s Euro — and he enters the World Cup as arguably the world’s most complete forward along with Lionel Messi.
“I don’t just think about scoring... I prefer to help my teammates,” Benzema said.
Jose Mourinho, Benzema’s former coach at Real Madrid, highlights the unselfish streak that the forward has maintained while winning five Champions League titles. “Karim is a team guy,” Mourinho said. “He’s not someone who thinks of himself.”
Benzema will turn 35 the day after this year’s World Cup final.
“I don’t think there’s an age limit. You see more and more players improving after their 30s. It’s a question of determination,” Benzema said.
Now, he spearheads France’s attack alongside Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann, his World Cup teammate from 2014.
Benzema was France’s top scorer in Brazil but missed a last-gasp chance to equalise against Germany in a 1-0 quarter-final loss. Eight years later, he has another shot at glory on the biggest stage.
This time, the nation’s right behind him.