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Is now the time for Karim Benzema to finally get the credit he deserves?

June 12, 2020

REMEMBER that Nike advert from the 1990s, the one that said “’66 was a great year for English football. Eric was born”? Well it turns out that 1987 was a great year for goalscorers to be born. Leo Messi of course, but also the likes of Edinson Cavani, Gonzalo Higuain, Luis Suarez, Jamie Vardy and Darron Gibson. Oh and Karim Benzema too.

In fact players born in 1987 are responsible for more Champions League goals, 550, than any other year this planet has ever seen. So hats off to 1987, the year that brought us Inspector Morse, MTV Europe, Chessington World of Adventures, oh and Karim Benzema.

Has Benzema ever received enough credit for his achievements? Like Gareth Bale, Benzema is a four time Champions League winner who happened to co-exist at Real Madrid at a time when Cristiano Ronaldo scooped up attention and eyeballs like a runaway JCB. But while Bale has struggled for fitness in the two seasons since Ronaldo headed off to Juventus, Benzema has stepped up and provided vital support, like a friend whose loyalty comes to the fore after your glamourous partner has run off to a new life in Turin.

Look at the numbers this season: Benzema has 14 goals in La Liga. Not an industrial haul like Ronaldo in his pomp (an occasional reminder that that CR7 scored 311 league goals in 292 appearances for Real, a ratio Dixie Dean would have found a bit unrealistic) but 14 goals is nine more than any other Madrid player this season.

Next in the list is human red card and penalty despatch unit Sergio Ramos with five and then Toni Kroos, Luka Modric and Casemiro with three apiece. Much has been made of the size and versatility of Real’s squad this season, and if the title race should come down to a body contest due to post-lockdown injuries then the advantage will surely be with the side from the capital. They’ll need to score goals, though, so it seems inarguable that Benzema is the club’s key man for the run-in.

As we were reminded last week, Real Madrid’s strength this season has been their defence. No team in the big five leagues has conceded fewer than Zinedine Zidane’s team (19), meanwhile they have scored nine goals fewer than Leicester City. That speaks of a team who have struggled to find consistent chance creators in 2019-20. And once again: where would they be without Karim Benzema? The Frenchman has six assists, a club high, and his 44 chances created in open play is more than any other player in the Spanish top-flight this season.

The more you look into Benzema’s career the more you become convinced that his great misfortune was to be born in that blessed year 1987. It means he’s a contemporary of Lionel Messi and 1985’s Cristiano Ronaldo. Use Biff Tannen’s sports almanac to engineer a world in which those two players never exist and people would speak about Benzema in hushed tones.

Until Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland came along he was the youngest player to reach 10 goals in the Champions League, he’s battling Robert Lewandowski to overtake Raul to become the third highest scoring player in Champions League history behind you know who, and he had the third highest number of goals and assists in La Liga in the 2010s behind L****l M***i and [email protected] [email protected] It’s not the worst fate in the world, of course, but perhaps as new viewers tune into La Liga this summer, Benzema will get a bit more attention and credit than usual.