Blog, Blog Post, Clubs, Karim Benzema, Real Madrid, Spanish Primera División

The FC boys talk what the potential signing of Kylian Mbappe would mean for Karim Benzema.
The FC crew discuss how Mbappe’s potential move to Real would affect reported Man United target Gareth Bale’s future.
Zinedine Zidane avoided journalists questions about a move for Monaco’s Kylian Mbappe.

In a summer of transfer activity fueled by the billions in television revenue flowing through the European market, Leicester City signed 20-year-old Manchester City forward Kelechi Iheanacho for £25 million.

The Nigeria international had 64 career senior appearances under his belt and had scored 21 goals, at a phenomenal per-minute rate, which was seen by the Foxes as sufficient promise to part with a fee that fell just shy of the club record £27m forked out a year earlier for Islam Slimani.

Eight summers ago, Real Madrid paid a similar amount to sign Karim Benzema from Lyon. At that time, a 21-year-old Benzema had earned 24 caps for France and scored 66 goals in 148 appearances for the Ligue 1 side, a total that included a haul of 31 in a single campaign in 2007-08.

In the spiralling economic hurricane of football finance it’s not always easy to put a price tag on value. The number of goals that will represent a satisfactory return on Leicester’s investment in Iheanacho depends entirely on the expectations generated by his fee. Slimani, it is not unreasonable to suggest, did not instantly justify his by scoring just eight times last season.

It is though increasingly common for a player to carry a millstone around his neck when a considerable outlay is involved in a transfer, whether it is placed there by outside influences or picked up at the airport in person en route to a new club. It is the nature of the game: What looks like a good match on paper doesn’t always carry over on to the pitch.

Benzema’s move to Real Madrid has been nothing short of an unqualified success by any measure. After scoring only nine during his first season at the Bernabeu, a return of 182 goals and 104 assists in 369 appearances for the club is an incredible display of consistency. 

With that in mind, it seems unfathomable that Benzema is still questioned by some sections of the Madrid support. He may well be the most underappreciated player in the current squad despite sitting eighth place on the list of all-time goal scorers for Real Madrid and fifth in European competition.

The Bernabeu is a fickle arena and the home crowd have turned on just about everybody at some point, even the current manager. Yet despite an ongoing judicial investigation, Benzema has rarely been a source of off-the-pitch headaches for the club. He has never publicly postured for a pay rise a la Cristiano Ronaldo or flirted with other employers in order to secure an improved contract. Interest in his services from Arsenal two years ago was both logical and genuine with the Premier League club in dire need of a proven international level striker at the time. Benzema politely rebuffed the advance and stayed put.

Karim Benzema is maligned by many but his goal record and partnership with Cristiano Ronaldo speak to his importance.

Arsene Wenger perhaps saw in Benzema something that that the Bernabeu has been too blinded by familiarity to fully appreciate: the Frenchman is a player who allows those around him to operate on a higher plane. Ronaldo may claim the lion’s share of the headlines in any Real Madrid success story but no player has provided more assists for the Portuguese during his career than Benzema.

That is one of the biggest reasons he is seen as pivotal to the side by the Bernabeu hierarchy, who have never seriously entertained the idea of selling. It was instructive when Florentino Perez said he could envisage Benzema and Kylian Mbappe playing together at Real Madrid. 

Far from being just a foil for Ronaldo — although Carlo Ancelotti said during his Bernabeu tenure that he is the perfect partner for the Portuguese — Benzema is able to carry the team through the occasional sticky patch on his own, as he did against Eibar last season in the absence of his “BBC” colleagues. After a run of below-par performances from Zidane’s side, Benzema picked up the slack, scoring two and having a hand in two more as Real won 4-1 to steady the ship. 

It is also a double act that works both ways, Benzema recently stating that he has “no words, just admiration” for his teammate. The Real boss once famously bemoaned the loss of his engine in favour of another layer of paint on the Bentley and his Benz is going nowhere while Zidane remains in charge.

Neither is Benzema a forward who feasts purely on the middle shelf of opposition teams. Among his top five victims in La Liga are Barcelona, Athletic Bilbao and Sevilla while in Europe Borussia Dortmund and Schalke have both found themselves breached by the Frenchman as Real chipped away at their historical Bundesliga bogeymen over the past few seasons. On the road to the Decima, it was Benzema who scored the decisive goal in the first leg of the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

It will be interesting to see what sort of legacy Benzema leaves behind him in Madrid. No statue will be raised but perhaps when his playing career is over he will receive the recognition that often seems lacking from the stands. His influence will certainly be difficult to replace: Real have not seriously tried over the course of eight years in recognition of a unique centre-forward who has returned the club’s investment with considerable interest.

Rob Train covers Real Madrid and the Spanish national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.

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