Having been criticised by everyone from the fans to the media to even his own manager, the last 9 months have certainly been testing for the Frenchman. At just 23 years old Karim Benzema has divided opinion since arriving at the Bernabéu. Even Jose Mourinho seems to be unsure what to make of him, because just when you completely write him off then he goes and proves you wrong. Adapting to a new club, league and country are always difficult things to accomplish, even more so when relatively young and for a high transfer fee.
Real Madrid is a club like no other, steeped in history, a record nine European Cups. Wearing the famous white shirt in front of 80,000 fans that demand stylish winning football will bring pressure to even the coolest of individuals. It’s fair to say that talent alone won’t suffice, mental strength and consistency being the two key attributes amongst others. The position of a striker or centre forward again adds to the tension, rightly or wrongly they are measured on goals. When a team isn’t scoring the first port of call is their main man up front, when at a big team even when other individuals are scoring plenty of goals people will look for improvements. Win 15 games in a row 5-0 at Real Madrid but no goals for their sole central striker and questions will be asked regardless of what else he brings to the party.
At academy level Benzema was prolific, in Lyon’s U16 team he scored 38 goals in one season. As he broke into the first team, naturally he’s playing time was limited as he looked to gain experience. The season of 07/08 was when he broke through as a regular, starting the term at just 19. Over that season and the one following Karim Benzema scored 54 goals in 101 games in all competitions. Goals against Manchester United, Fiorentina and Bayern Munich in the Champions League helped attract the attention of the rest of the world. In Europe he recorded 9 goals in 15 games across those two seasons, 0.6 goals per game. In the French League 37 goals in 72 games, 0.51 gpg. Even withstanding the strength of leagues argument, Benzema had a tendency to hit the net in the big european nights.
Enter Real Madrid, the second galactico era embarked in the summer of 2009. All the top players from across the major leagues were going to be snapped up, Benzema was signed for an initial €35 million at just 21. Comparisons were made with the great Zinedine Zidane, this wasn’t down to playing styles more the fact they were both very talented and French. But whilst Karim was no Bruno Cheyrou either, he wasn’t short of controversy. He struggled amongst the other big names at first, stories of unrest between him and fellow striker Raul, whether that was a clash of personalities or because they were both wanting to make the same movement when out on the pitch together, it was difficult to see how the both of them and Higuaín would fit in. With the departure of Raul last summer, this season was Benzema’s chance to push on. The season didn’t get off to a sprint start but Higuaín’s injury in December thrust him into the spotlight. Jose Mourinho has both criticised and supported him in the press throughout the year, tellingly though Jose wanted another striker. He got his wish and since Adebayor has entered the scene the demise of Benzema hasn’t gone quite to plan. 8 goals in 7 starts has seen him revitalised, with his goal against his former club Lyon (having been on the pitch less than a minute) a turning point. In his two seasons at the club Benzema has scored 17 goals in 52 games in La Liga, 0.32 gpg but in Europe its 6 goals in 11 games, 0.54 gpg. Once again this underlines his ability for the big stage, at one point this season he went 15 games in a row in the league without a goal. Even when he has hit a drought in the league he has continued to score for either his national team or in cup competitions. This season alone, Benzema has started just 23 games (8 times playing the full 90 mins) in all competitions and has appeared 15 times as a substitute. As a starter he has notched 17 goals and as a sub just twice. Those 19 goals have come in just 12 games, when Benzema is confident he takes advantage scoring braces and hat-tricks. As a starter in the league he has played 1103 minutes scoring 8 times, that’s 137.8 minutes per goal. Starting in the Champions League he has played 239 minutes hitting the back of the net 4 times, 59.7 minutes per goal. Can’t he play in Europe every week ?
Whether Karim Benzema is a Real Madrid player next season may depend on a number of things. The striker has found himself in a political battle which hasn’t assisted him, with Jorge Valdano (Real Madrid’s director general) having signed him and criticised Mourinho when he hasn’t played. Whether the ‘Special One’ is manager or not will make a difference but its difficult to know in which way. As previously Jose was all too willing to part with him, only for Benzema to pop back up with the goods. With his record in the Champions League and 8 goals in his last 6 games. On the eve of a crucial game for Mourinho in the return leg of the Champions League tie with Lyon, it might just pay him to have faith in the former Lyon man to put Real into the quarter finals of the competition for the first time since 2004.