Soccer News: It’s Benzema’s moment to crown the glory of the Real Madrid star who left Cristiano Ronaldo’s squad.

    Wow, it’s come to this. The partner takes center stage. The man who carried the water for Cristiano Ronaldo gets a moment of champagne.

    Karim Benzema went from ridicule to applause at Real Madrid, and his 13-year odyssey in Spain was at times a tale of survival.

    How many times was he offered to join Arsenal in the era of Arsene Wenger?

    Wenger’s consistent statement that he doesn’t need Benzema because Arsenal already had a lot of quality strikers isn’t particularly dated.

    Today we need to talk about Karim, because it’s hard to imagine a more deserving Ballon d’Or winner.

    His 44 goals in 46 games last season saw Real Madrid win both the Champions League and La Liga trophies. Make it a triple if you count the Super Cup, where Benzema scored from the penalty spot against Athletic Bilbao in the final.

    He spent most of the year as skipper for Los Blancos, given club captain Marcelo was only a minor figure in Carlo Ancelotti’s team, before leaving at the end of last season.

    You may ask yourself: is this the same Karim Benzema who was yelled at the Santiago Bernabéu five years ago? The player who scored five goals in 32 La Liga games in 2017/18 had supporters ready to brush him off?

    What is the use of a 30-year-old striker with five goals?

    Benzema held his own then as he does today, and with Zinedine Zidane and Ancelotti equally convinced, the Frenchman gradually moved into the limelight, the last survivor of a BBC combination that rivaled Barcelona’s MSN.

    Much like Messi-Suarez-Neymar, the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano star trio were irresistible, but there was often a sense that they were two thoroughbreds and a workhorse, with the latter held back by the responsible role he was to fill.

    Benzema knew better than to laugh, swallowed the embellished assurances, and in the end showed himself to be a champion stallion.

    When Ronaldo moved to Juventus in 2018 and Bale’s contribution waned, Benzema found himself a talisman for the first time.

    He was in the shadows his entire first week at the club when his presentation followed three days after Ronaldo’s first big reception at the Bernabéu.

    Ronaldo’s presentation took place on 6 July 2009 in front of a crowd of 80,000. Some of them came back for Benzema’s own bow, but most had other things on.

    Benzema was signed for 35 million euros from Lyon amid extraordinary merriment when Florentino Pérez’s second term as president began with not only Ronaldo and Benzema, but also Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Negredo and Alvaro Arbeloa.

    A difficult first season (nine goals in 33 games) followed, but in each of the next six campaigns he managed to score at least 20. Even in the José Mourinho era, when he and Gonzalo Higuaín usually fought for the same spot.

    No matter that Ronaldo has broken the 50-goal barrier in each of those seasons, Benzema has been the magician’s most trusted assistant.

    In 2015, shortly after losing his job at Madrid, Ancelotti told AS: “For me, Karim is the best player in the world in his position, not just as a scorer. Talk about whether he should score 30 goals is a false argument. He has excellent qualities; he’s a complete player.”

    Ancelotti’s short-lived successor, Rafael Benítez, made similar claims, but also questioned Benzema’s performance and began replacing him regularly, saying, “He’s a phenomenon. Let him get angry. The next day, make sure you score twice and not once.”

    It was tough love from Benitez, who was replaced by Zidane midway through the season. Benzema finished the season with 28 goals in 36 games in all competitions, scoring one goal every 92.75 minutes.

    In 2016-17, as goals began to dry up, Zidane kept his faith.

    A survey by the sports newspaper AS found that 88% of Madrid fans preferred Benzema to start as a substitute, but Zidane said: “We don’t care, he’s having a great season.

    “We know what Kareem has to offer the team, but the fans always want more from their players and that’s something we have to accept. He has the right character, he can take the point of view of the fans. He will not hide and he will always have my support.”

    In April 2018, Benzema spoke out in Vanity Fair’s great soccer bible as he struggled to get the ball into the net. All this time, Zidane was at his side, and, most importantly, another Champions League title was on the way that season.

    “What I don’t like is when people attack me when I play well even if I don’t score,” Benzema said. “I play for people who appreciate what I do on the field.

    “Those who come to the stadium to whistle, let them whistle. I’m not going to change their minds.”

    That season in La Liga, Benzema’s five goals put him in fifth place among the team’s top scorers, along with Casemiro and Toni Kroos. Ahead of him were Ronaldo (26 goals in 27 games), Bale (16 goals), Isco (7) and Marco Asensio (6).

    Benzema was well behind his expected goals total (13.22), reflecting the quality of his chances and scoring potential.

    When Ronaldo left, something clicked. Only in La Liga did Benzema not have consecutive 20-goal seasons while Ronaldo was at Madrid, but four consecutive seasons followed: 21, 21, 23 and 27 goals last season.

    He prospered not only because of the responsibility that was always with him, but also because of fame. He used to be a famous errand boy, but now he has become a favorite.

    And now, with Ronaldo and Bale fading away in Manchester and Los Angeles respectively, Benzema is blossoming as he nears his 35th birthday.

    He is the club’s captain and although Zidane is gone, Benzema would be elated if Ancelotti was recalled to Madrid last year and his old defender returned.

    Benzema has won the Champions League five times and La Liga four times so far, and individual accolades have been pouring in on Benzema ever since Ronaldo disappeared over the horizon.

    He was the UEFA Men’s Player of the Year and the Champions League Player of the Year for the 2021-2022 season, finishing as Real Madrid’s top scorer. He also received the Pichichi Trophy as the top scorer in La Liga last season.

    Despite intense lobbying from Madrid, Benzema only finished fourth in voting for the Ballon d’Or last year, while Lionel Messi won the award for the seventh time.

    Benzema had enough reason to be a strong contender in 2021, but since then, his case has become utterly compelling. In a way, it’s a lifetime achievement award and a season’s award rolled into one.

    Everything was leading up to this moment. The wait was worth it.

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