Karim Benzema, the F1 of football, wins the Ballon d’Or


Introduced to his experienced teammates, Karim Benzema, then 18, had to undergo the baptism common to newcomers to the Lyon squad: giving a speech in front of everyone. The young striker stumbled over the words and the older ones such as Sylvain Witord, Elber, Sidney Govou and Florent Malouda started laughing.

“Don’t laugh. I’m here to take your place,” Benzema warned that January 2005.

Seventeen years later, nobody laughs anymore. In one of the biggest comebacks ever recorded in European football, the player who was Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow and became an outcast of French football was chosen the best in the world by France Football magazine. This Monday (17), he won the Golden Ball, award given by the publication to the main star of the season.

“Having this here in front of me makes me proud. I remember when I was very small. All the work I never gave up. It was a childhood dream. I grew up with that in my head and I was motivated by two examples in life. Zidane and Ronaldo. A lot of work, don’t give up anything. Always train more and always keep the dream in your head. Everything is possible”, he said, when he was elected.

The election was no surprise. Benzema was a huge favorite to win after being chosen best by UEFA.

“He will get the Ballon d’Or. Nobody has any doubts,” Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez said last month.

The victory is another blow to the duopoly of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in world football. The Argentine was the winner in 2021 but didn’t even compete for the award in 2022. Ronaldo finished 20th. It’s the first time since 2006 that neither has made the top three list.

In the 2021-2022 season, which ended in May, he scored 44 goals in 46 matches. He was instrumental in Real Madrid’s achievements in the Spanish league and the Champions League. The main moment was in the round of 16 of the European competition, when he scored three times in 17 minutes to eliminate Paris Saint-Germain (FRA).

Benzema became the fifth Frenchman to win the award created in 1956. Before him, Kopa (1958), Michel Platini (1983, 1984 and 1985), Jean-Pierre Papin (1991) and Zinedine Zidane (1998) also won.

Almost a month before the World Cup in Qatar, Benzema, captain of Real Madrid, is a fundamental part of the French national team, current champions and one of the favorites for the title. And anyone who predicted four years ago that the striker would be the best on the planet would be laughed at.

It was in 2018 that the striker mocked the choice of coach Didier Deschamps by Olivier Giroud as the starting centre-forward. The shirt 9 left the World Cup in Russia without scoring a goal, but France lifted the cup. Benzema said there was no comparison. He was an F1 car. Deschamps’ choice would be a kart.

“But I’m a world champion kart,” Giroud returned.

Despite being, by far, the main French scorer, he went five and a half years without being called up to the selection and, in that period, it seemed to have blown all the bridges with the leaders of the country and with the coach.

In June 2015, midfielder Valbuena left Marseille for Lyon (the city where Benzema was born) and asked a person named Axel Agnot to transfer the data from his old cell phone to a new device. Agnot found intimate videos of the owner and, in association with Mustapha Zouaoui, began to blackmail him. The threat was to make the images public if they didn’t receive a payment.

The player approached the police, who began an investigation in secret. The involvement of Karim Zenati, Benzema’s childhood friend, was confirmed. The attacker himself ended up being accused of being an intermediary, asking Valbuena to pay the ransom. The now owner of the Golden Ball was arrested and spent a night at the police station. In November 2021, he ended up sentenced to a year in jail (but the sentence was suspended) and to pay 305 thousand euros (R$ 1.58 million in current values) as a fine, moral damages and legal costs.

Benzema insists he had no role in the crime and says he only tried to help a friend close a case that could be vexing.

The episode became so rumored that the country’s then prime minister, Manuel Valls, said that the striker should no longer play for the national team. Former president François Hollande complained that the footballer was “not a good moral example”.

Benzema fell shooting. He accused Deschamps of bowing to pressure from a “racist part of France”. He claimed that the country’s top hats were associated to exclude him from football. The coach confessed that Benzema’s words became a stain on his life and would never be forgotten. But surprisingly, last year he called him up for Euro.

It was not the first problem outside the field of shirt 9. In 2010, the TV station M6 showed that four members of the team were being investigated for participating in a prostitution ring in Paris. Some of the women would be minors. Benzema was accused of having sex with a 16-year-old girl. The following year, the public prosecutor asked that he be removed from the list of accused for not knowing the girl’s age.

The son of Algerians, Benzema has already said he feels like a citizen of Algeria. His reluctance in the past to sing the “Marseillaise”, the French national anthem, has been questioned by the press, leaders and politicians. He assured that he would always be at France’s disposal.

Revealed by Lyon, he arrived at Real Madrid in 2009, the same year the team signed Cristiano Ronaldo as the most expensive player in the world. Until 2018, when the Portuguese moved to Juventus (ITA), Benzema was a luxury accessory for CR7. Together, they won the Champions League four times.

With the departure of the star, the Frenchman became the de facto centre-forward. He was Real’s best player in winning yet another European title this year. The striker whose idol Ronaldo Phenomenon has averaged 23 goals per season since 2010. He is the athlete who has given more passes for goals in the history of the Madrid team (160) and is their second top scorer, with 328 goals. The leader is Cristiano Ronaldo, with 450.

The next steps for Karim Benzema will be to win the election of the best on the planet from FIFA, with an award date yet to be defined, and to prove that an F1 can also be a world champion.

In the awarding of the best player, the favoritism of the Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas was confirmed. Fifa’s best in the world in 2021, she won the Ballon d’Or for the second year in a row.

At the beginning of the ceremony, Brazilian Raí took the stage to deliver the Sócrates award, in honor of his brother, midfielder for Corinthians and the Brazilian team, who died in 2011. The initiative was created to reward players involved in social causes. The first winner was Sadio Mané, who paid for the construction of schools and hospitals in his home village in Senegal.

“Socrates represents ideals for a fairer world, which values ​​democracy, to create a better world. Football is an important contribution to this. This symbol will be eternal. For that, let’s think about the important decision we will make in the coming days. in our country. We know which side he would be on”, said Raí, who was an idol for Paris Saint-Germain.

After that, he made the sign of the letter L with his hand, symbol of Lula’s candidacy for the presidency.

The Kopa Trophy, for the best under-21 player, went to the Spanish midfielder, Gavi, 18, from Barcelona.

Pole Robert Lewandowski, from Barcelona, ​​was chosen to take the Gerd Muller award for best striker last season.

Unsurprisingly, the beautiful Thibaut Courtoi, from Real Madrid (ESP), took the Lev Yashin award, for the best goalkeeper.

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