La Liga player profile – Karim Benzema

Age – 21

Club – Real Madrid

Position – Forward

Nationality – French

Karim Benzema is the latest in a flurry of signings by the reinvigorated Spanish giants, Real Madrid. Benzema joins world class attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka, which in a sense makes his task to succeed at Madrid even more difficult. Born in Lyon in 1987, Benzema joined the Lyon Youth Academy at the age of nine. A quick rise led to Karim scoring 38 goals in a single season for the under-16 side. A successful run of games for the under-18 squad led to Benzema catching the attention of senior squad manager Paul Le Guen.

On the 20th of January 2005, he signed his first professional contract after performing well in his first performance in Ligue 1. Although his play over the next two years was reduced to just 34 appearances, his tally of six goals for such a young player was a sign of things to come. Like many young players, his ability was compared to older players at the same club. New manager Alain Perrin’s decision to give Benzema the number 10 shirt for the 2007-8 season ahead was down to the likes of more experienced campaigners like John Carew, Sylvain Wiltord and Florent Malouda leaving the club.

An incredible season would place Benzema at the top of Ligue 1’s scoring list with 20 goals and 31 in all competitions. His goal scoring ability was recognised throughout Europe, both in awards and transfer rumours. At the tender age of 20, Benzema was awarded Ligue 1 Player of the Season and a position on the Ballon d’Or shortlist, an award won by future team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo. The rumours ensued with Benzema’s signature apparently costing €100 million – Club President Jean-Michel Aulas placed this price tag on Benzema to put off European clubs such as Real Madrid and Manchester United from attempting to sign his prize asset.

Although Benzema scored an impressive 17 goals in the 2008-9 season, Aulas may have wondered why he placed such a price on a player that could not rescue Lyon from surrendering their Ligue 1 title for the first time in 7 years. After much hoopla between Lyon and Real Madrid, Benzema finally signed for the capital club on the 1st of July 2009 for a fee of €35 million.

Watching Benzema, it is easy to understand why Madrid decided to pay such a fee for a player aged just 21. Claude Puel, the Lyon coach, said. “He’s an exceptional player but we also know the financial figures of the club.” It was made clear by Lyon after the loss of Benzema that the decision was made with financial difficulties in mind and not that they felt they no longer needed the talented forward. After all, the comparisons to world class players, past and present would surely mean that any club would only sell Benzema if it was imperative for their financial stability.

It has been rumoured that Sir Alex Ferguson told Michael Owen that he was not the preferred target. In a phone call between the two, Ferguson is purported to have told Owen: “We are looking for a striker. I’m going to be up front, we went for Benzema and once that was a no-go we looked around for players who are going to score goals.” For Benzema, even though he is eight years younger than Owen, it must be a compliment to have been preferred over one of England’s greatest goal scoring machines. Speaking of complimentary comparisons to great footballers, perhaps France and Madrid’s greatest, Zinedine Zidane, said of Benzema: “he is gradually showing his qualities.”

His career at Madrid has started steadily if unspectacularly. Three goals in his opening nine games may seem a little underwhelming for a player that cost so much, but Madrid paid for much more than goals. Benzema’s movement, something seen in his performances for the French National team, is impressive as he draws other players into attacking positions. As of yet, he has not been given a sustained run in the team, something to be expected in a group with such a plethora of riches in the striking department. If Benzema continues to score at a one in three ratio and assist those around him, it would surely force boss Manuel Pelligrini to give the youngster the run of games his talent undeniably deserves.

Constant substitute appearances will eventually wear down the French star, something that with his immense talent would be a shame. So far in his short career, he has shown all the necessary abilities to become a world class player and a season for Madrid similar to his incredible 31 goal season at Lyon, would do nothing to harm an already glowing reputation.

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