Spotlights will guide you home: Benzema finally coming of age for Real Madrid

Benzema

Marcelo, as usual, was bombing up on the left flank. The Real Madrid player in context, passed the ball onto him. On a counter attack already, Marcelo returned the ball back to him. The forward then played a one-two with Luka Modric before rifling in a grounded precision shot into the bottom right of the goalkeeper.

No, it wasn’t Gareth Bale or Marco Asensio. Of course, it wasn’t Cristiano Ronaldo. The player at the heart of a very wholesome Real Madrid hug after was French striker Karim Benzema. Exiled from his national side, Benzema has always been a scapegoat for his club. No matter how good Real were playing, every time there was something against him. Be it the media, or certain personnels. Ever since he joined Real, criticism has followed him. When Real were banging the goals in for Jose Mourinho in the 2011-12 season, Benzema was firing on all cylinders.

He ended the season with almost 30 goals, a feat that’s magnificent for a top European striker. But even then, there was a sense of dissatisfaction amongst the Bernabeu faithful. Most of them wanted a ‘fiery’, ‘electric’, ‘Predatory’ Gonzalo Higuain ahead of him in the pecking order. Imagine having your best season for your club and you have to face circumstances like these.

But Karim didn’t break. Higuain left, the main striker role of Real Madrid was his. In came Alvaro Morata after conquering Europe. Fans wanted the young Spaniard, who learnt the skill of scoring goals in Real Madrid Castilla ahead of him. Morata was scoring almost every other match. Whereas Benzema was absolutely underwhelming. He managed just 5 goals in La Liga last season. Morata left for Chelsea for good. But Benzema stayed on.

There are only three active players who have scored a half century of UEFA Champions League goals. We all know the top two. But the other? You’ll be a little surprised to know it’s actually Benzema. So, this stat should be remembered by everyone who says he can’t score. It’s true that Benzema misses a lot of goal scoring chances. It’s also true that he’s somewhat of a ‘lazy’ footballer. Rarely has he been seen to truly press the opposition defense to draw out errors from them. If you’re a striker for Real Madrid, you must have these qualities. You must score at least 20 goals a season, regardless an inhuman Ronaldo is on your side or not.

The centre forward role is somewhat a misunderstood one in football. People only judge you by your goals, assists. But very few sees thee importance of creating space, providing key passes. This is exactly where Benzema doesn’t get the rub of the green. He isn’t fast, he isn’t much of a predator. But he does create space and provide key passes better than any other strikers in the world. But through naked eyes, these can’t be seen much. This is exactly why someone like Robert Lewandowski, who’s an absolutely deadly finisher but isn’t much known to be a link up player, gets praised as Europe’s elite whereas Benzema gets laughed at for those very underwhelming stats.

Benzema is now just three goals shy of completing a double century of goals for Real. He’s netted 197 times for the whites in just over 400 games, which averages roughly to one goal every other match. These were the kind of stats that’d be considered impressive back in the days. But in modern day football, your average has to be higher. Whenever Real were winning big, it was okay to overlook Benzema’s poor showings in front of the goal. But whenever Real didn’t, he was the scapegoat.

In eight of his nine years at Real, Benzema happily played second fiddle to Ronaldo. He went out wide while Ronaldo played in between the lines, as a forward or a winger as he pleased. There’s a reason despite not being lethal, he’s loved by the likes of Ronaldo, Carlo Ancelotti, Zinedine Zidane. There’s a reason a president like Florentino Perez, who sells players in a flash if they fail to perform, once called Benzema a crossover of Zidane and ‘O Fenomeno’ Ronaldo. Because they understand, even for a striker, it’s not just about goals or assists solely.

For the first time in nine years, Benzema is now ‘free’. There’s no Ronaldo to provide the balls for, no need to give up his own space for the mercurial Portuguese. With Bale, Asensio; Benzema has started a journey to revive Madrid. A journey where they know they’ve to perform as a team. They’ve to do so because in the bad days, there won’t be an inhuman goalscorer to save them. And the results are there to be seen. Three La Liga games on, Benzema (4) is now the top scorer alongside a certain Lionel Messi.

Obviously, it’s still early days. No one knows whether Benzema’s purple patch will last or not. But for the moment, Benzema is thriving. Finally out of Ronaldo’s shadows and the freedom to play as he wishes in attack, this might be the season when Benzema proves to his doubters, especially one Didier Deschamps who didn’t call him up for France; he’s still a world class forward.

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