Perhaps there is something in the notion of a lucky Shamrock. Thirteen years after his debut at Real Madrid in a friendly against Shamrock Rovers, Karim Benzema became the world player of the year and deservedly won the Golden Ball.
It was Cristiano Ronaldo who led the scoring at the packed Tallaght stadium in July 2009 by moving to Madrid from Manchester United, but substitute Benzema was the winner of the match that evening, a late goal gave the “creamy” victory by 1 :0.
He kept winning, and winning more even when others were in the spotlight, but the victory was almost ruthless. And that was the theme of his career.
Benzema won four Ligue 1 titles with Lyon before, at the age of just 21, he earned himself a move to Madrid, where he won five Champions League titles, four La Liga crowns, four FIFA Club World Cups, four European Super Cups, four Spanish Supercup and two medals of the winner of the Spanish Cup.
Now 34-year-old Benzema is garnering personal recognition, long playing the patient wife of the garlanded Ronaldo and even Gareth Bale.
As he ascends to that particular throne, Stats Perform looks into how Benzema reached such a high level, and what the Ballon d’Or result means more broadly.
Brilliant Benz Merks Its Rivals
This time it had to be him. Kareem harvest. Last year, it was hard to tell which was more embarrassing: the constant campaign for Benzema’s Ballon d’Or by Real Madrid luminaries past and present, or the fact that Lionel Messi won the prize again, ahead of Robert Lewandowski.
Messi’s seventh Ballon d’Or seemed like a reward for long service. Benzema’s triumph is also a reflection of the best season of his career.
This year the rules for the Ballon d’Or have changed and the time period has been set from August 1, 2021 to July 31, 2022, rather than a calendar year.
During this time, Benzema’s most common captaincy was 44 goals in 46 games, and his shot conversion rate was the highest of his career at 24.18%.
He scored 27 of those goals in 32 La Liga games, earning his first Pichichi – the award that goes to the league’s top scorer – and in doing so, led Madrid to the title.
Messi has won Pichichi eight times and Ronaldo three times, while Luis Suarez (2015-16) was the only other player to win the trophy in the 2009-10 to 2020-21 seasons.
Benzema scored one goal every 96.15 minutes, and in Spain he surpassed this figure only once (2015-16: 24 goals in 27 games, one goal every 83.04 minutes). Notably, he was also the league’s supplier, with the best 12 assists of his career.
His 15 Champions League goals in Madrid’s glorious campaign came in 12 games, one goal every 73.73 minutes. He far outperformed his expected goal rate of 8.2, a figure that reflects the quality of a player’s chances and likelihood of scoring a goal.
He made a career beyond all expectations. When he moved from Lyon for 35 million years ago, even Benzema could not have imagined that he would be in his thirties.
Benzema also equaled Raúl, who scored 323 goals for Real Madrid last season, finishing second in the club’s history behind only Ronaldo (450).
Benzema has since taken second place and goals are still ahead. He probably won’t catch up with Ronaldo, but he might not be far behind.
324 – Karim Benzema became @RealMadridsecond all-time leading scorer in all competitions with 324 goals, overtaking Raúl González Blanco (323). Only Cristiano Ronaldo (450) has scored more than the Frenchman with the Whites. Myth. pic.twitter.com/DT4NsHHJDp
— OptaJose (@OptaJose) August 10, 2022
Is the game no longer for boys?
Since Benzema received the award just two months before he turns 35, it’s another example that the younger generation isn’t doing enough yet to challenge the old guard.
The last player under the age of 30 to win the Ballon d’Or was Messi, who received the award in 2015.
This time around, Kylian Mbappé could have been a worthy shout-out if Paris Saint-Germain didn’t go down against Madrid and Benzema in last season’s Champions League, but other serious contenders were in the top 30: the likes of Lewandowski, Kevin De Bruyne , Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.
Next year will likely be a different story, with Manchester City’s Mbappe and Erling Haaland sure to be aiming for the trophy. The World Cup could also influence the 2022-23 vote, and Qatar 2022 could still bring more glory to Benzema in France.
— OptaJean (@OptaJean) October 11, 2022
The end of an era when GOATS go out to pasture
This year 1-2-3 clearly lacked GOAT. Neither Messi nor Ronaldo made it to the podium, which was the first time they had voted for the Ballon d’Or since the 2006 award.
In fact, there were 11 occasions when both were in the top three, such was their superiority.
Messi has been on the podium 13 times and won 7 times, ahead of Ronaldo on 12 podiums and five awards.
Ronaldo received four awards while he was Benzema’s teammate in Madrid. While the great Portuguese made the shortlist this time around with a 20th-place finish, Messi didn’t and it would be a stretch to expect either of them to threaten a top-three finish again.