French forward Karim Benzema joined Real Madrid's second galactico after being acquired from Ligue 1 club Lyon for 30 million pounds in 2009. He had to play second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo in his early years. No one could have predicted that one day Benzema would take home football’s most prestigious award before Cristiano left Madrid in 2018. Since Ronaldo left, the gifted striker has taken on the role as the main hitman. He had a crucial role in Madrid's success the previous season, which helped him win the Ballon d'Or 2022 award.
How Benzema has transformed himself into a top striker upfront
In football, clutch players often get high value, and not every world-class footballer has the ability to deliver when it matters the most. That is why only a handful of them are considered clutch players.
Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema has turned out to be a decisive player when Cristiano Ronaldo moved to Italian giants, Juventus, in the summer of 2018. Before that, Benzema’s role was largely to support Cristiano in the attacking half. He even had stiff competition with Gonzalo Higuian in the initial few seasons and later with Gareth Bale in Madrid.
Real Madrid initially struggled to cope without Ronaldo, who helped the Spanish giant win three consecutive Champions Leagues from 2016 to 2018. In the 2018-2019 season, the Los Blancos finished third.
Real Madrid soon returned with their best and were crowned La Liga champions in the 2019-2020 season and had strong performances in the 2020-2021 campaign. At the same time, Karim Benzema has continued to shine as a forward, finishing as the top goal scorer for Madrid in each season since Cristiano’s departure, which has also impacted hugely on his growth as a leader.
Taking the main role of scoring goals, Karim initially had to adjust his position upfront and to make a strong connection with other forwards, the likes of Lucas Vazquez and young Vincius Junior and Rodrygo. The French forward soon started to realize that he is Madrid’s main reliance and has to take his game to the next level to become one of the most lethal strikers in the world.
Benzema’s contribution as a clutch player in Real Madrid’s dream run in the 2021–2022 Champions League
When Real Madrid started their 2021–2022 campaign with a newly recruited experienced manager, Carlo Ancelotti, and with an aged squad, the odds didn’t favour them to win La Liga, let alone the Champions League. Atletico Madrid were considered the ultimate favourites to win the domestic title, while a host of European giants were ahead of Real Madrid to clinch the UCL tournament.
However, after finding a new vice captaincy role in the 2021-2022 season, Benzema seemed to rejuvenate even more from the beginning. Head coach Ancelotti should be applauded for his role in injecting motivation into the players and giving them continuous faith when needed. Karim Benzema was the major receiver of Ancelotti’s motivation and became a clutch player for the team. He continued to find the net in the dying moments of the domestic tournaments. But Karim's efforts in the UEFA Champions League's knockout rounds were what had even his harshest critics gushing with adoration.
Karim Benzema wreaked havoc on some of Europe's best teams and snatched victory in the dying moments. The positioning of Benzema in the centre, Vinicius Jr. to the left, Rodrygo or Federico Valverde to the right, and Luka Modric and Toni Kroos in the middle behind them worked out perfectly for the team. Most of the time, Real Madrid were down and out, but in games where Benzema was the difference, they rallied to win them in the final 30 minutes.
In the round of 16, PSG was favourite to advance to the quarter-final after winning the first leg over Real Madrid 1-0 at the Parc des Princes and was even 1-0 up in the second leg until the 60th minute of the second leg at the Santiago Bernabeu. But Paris Saint-Germain’s expectations were dashed when Benzema ran riot on PSG’s defense and earned a hat-trick within 18 minutes. PSG supporters were stunned and in disbelief at what they had just witnessed.
Karim Benzema was devastating against Chelsea in both legs of the quarter-final. He scored a brilliant hat-trick at Stamford Bridge and also scored the decisive goal in extra time to send Real Madrid into the semifinals.
In Real Madrid's semi-final match against Manchester City, the French forward was even more important, and he delivered. He scored twice in Real Madrid’s loss to Man City by 4-3 in the first leg and also scored the decisive goal in extra time in the second leg at the Bernabeu.
Karim Benzema was all but certain to win the 2022 Ballon d'Or trophy after his efforts against PSG, Chelsea, and Manchester City in the Round of 16, Quarterfinal, and Semifinal.
Karim Benzema’s football stats in the 2021–2022 season
Karim Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 appearances for Real Madrid in the 2021–2022 season, including 15 in 12 outings in the Champions League. He helped Madrid win La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
Apart from his performances with the Spanish club, Benzema was brilliant for his national side. Karim scored 9 goals in 13 appearances for the French national team in 2021 and helped them to win the 2020–2021 UEFA Nations League.
Karim Benzema's dream of winning the Ballon d'Or came true on Monday when Zinedine Zidane handed him the trophy. Zizou, who won the prestigious prize in 1998, was the last Frenchman to win it before yesterday. Karim Benzema therefore became the fifth Frenchman to receive the Ballon d'Or trophy, and he was undoubtedly a deserving winner.