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Karim Benzema embracing role as Cristiano Ronaldo’s understudy
No one will soon outshine Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. Not the record breakers, poster boys and unparalleled legends; not the men who have split the FIFA Ballon D’Or award for the past seven years; especially not the men who have shared eight La Liga titles between them, as well as six Champions League trophies. Countless have tried in vain. Even the most expensive transfer in the world, Gareth Bale, hasn’t been able to upstage Ronaldo at the second year of trying. So it seems that Karim Benzema isn’t fighting that battle.
Benzema joined Madrid the same summer as Ronaldo and Kaka in 2009. Any other year, he’d be a marquee signing at €35 million, but from the get-go at Madrid, he was overshadowed by Ronaldo. The Frenchman had a stellar record up-front for Lyon as a youngster, yet as Madrid’s plans focused on Ronaldo, Benzema found himself on the periphery. In his first season at the club, the forward made thirteen of his twenty-seven league appearances off the bench.
So Benzema had to wait in the wings; but gradually, season over season, Benzema started more and more. By the 2011/2012 season, he became Madrid’s go-to poacher. When Ronaldo plays on the wings, Benzema will start up front. Stars have come and gone. Kaka, Mesut Ozil, Angel di Maria to name a few, but Benzema has been a mainstay through numerous managers and fortunes.
He has never captured the headlines like Ronaldo. Benzema will score fifteen league goals a season, while solid, nothing extraordinary, and has averaged around ten assists per season since finding his feet at Madrid, all the time playing in the shadow of the world’s best. Madrid’s team has revolved around Ronaldo and any one year another player might enter the picture, leaving Benzema to pick up the scraps. As a poacher, he is perfectly built for the job. While he may score fewer goals than Ronaldo, Benzema’s average conversion rate on a good year will rival the figures that Ronaldo and Messi put up.
In the world of football, Benzema is somewhat of a rarity. He doesn’t have the face of Ronaldo or Messi and won’t soon be the star of Madrid, Barcelona or Bayern Munich. The twenty-seven-year-old could, however, make the active decision to join a top Premier League or Serie A club, perhaps just a notch below the giants that are Madrid and Barca, and dominate. Indeed, he spearheads the France national team.
Sergio Aguero, for instance, could easily make the cut at any club in the world but chooses to be Manchester City’s number one man and one of the Premier League’s best. Angel di Maria, too, choose to be Manchester United’s poster-boy instead of Ronaldo’s understudy.
Not Benzema. The Frenchman will take his €8 million-a-year salary, win all the trophies there are to win and generally stay out of the headlines. For numerous years, he has been courted by other European powers, particularly Arsenal, but has actively remained unfazed at Madrid. He could accept Arsenal’s offers, as there is no doubt he would become one of the Premier League’s best. But Benzema doesn’t seem to mind spending the best years his career as Ronaldo’s understudy.
Photo credit: Chirs Deahr, via Flickr