As we are writing these lines, nothing seems to stop Karim Benzema from winning the Ballon d’Or on October 17th in Paris. The ceremony is the football equivalent of the Oscars’ and gathers the top players in the game. Loads of prizes are awarded each year, including the Ballon d’Or, which usually rewards a striker for his previous season, although a few defenders have already managed to win it as well. As La Liga’s top goalscorer, with a total of 15 assists and 44 goals scored during his season with the Real Madrid, the Frenchman has crucified the PSG and Chelsea, providing back-to-back hat-tricks during the Champions League, the top competition which his club has won for the 14th time this year. He also scored an extraordinary goal that helped France win the UEFA Nations League. And above all, at 34, a highly respectable age for a striker, he seems to be at the peak of his career and in full control of his talent.
However, it hasn’t always been easy for the player born in Lyon, who is equally hated and praised. The first obstacle he had to face was to be born in a country that reveled in hating footballers, until they won the World Cup of course. The phenomenon is so specific to France that several books have tackled the subject, such as Pourquoi tant de haines? [Why Some Much Hatred?] written by the director of the French Institute for International and Strategic Affairs (IRIS) Pascal Boniface and published by Éditions du Moment in 2010. Even if today Karim Benzema radiates serenity in his interviews and delights his fans with a (relative) spontaneity that his colleagues are often lacking, his authenticity has made him the far right’s target – especially since he did not sing the national anthem La Marseillaise and mentioned in several interviews his attachment to Algeria, his parents’ homeland. In the 2014 documentary Benzema by Karim, the player already set the record straight: “I don’t spit on the French team’s shirt or on the country, as some might say. I love the French team and I am always delighted to play for it.”
Jewel of technique and agility, Karim Benzema’s game is almost an artistic gesture.
For five years, Karim Benzema has not been called up for the French national team by manager Didier Deschamps. The notorious sex tape gate has tarnished his image for a while. He was suspected of being an accomplice to the blackmail of his teammate Mathieu Valbuena, and the courts sentenced him to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine last June. In an interview with the Spanish daily Marca, the latter did not hesitate to accuse “a racist part of France”, to which his manager had given in according to him, and to recall the (already) stratospheric scores of the French far right party, Le Front National, in the 2016 elections. Yet KB9, as he calls himself, a true phoenix of the modern times, is irresistible. When he came back for the Euro in 2021, the country was jubilant and showed the player its love. For the football lovers, his game is almost an artistic gesture. Drawing his inspiration from the Brazilian player Ronaldo, he is a pure jewel of technique and agility. Karim Benzema has a deep love for football, and that love made him accept to play in the shadow of the great Cristiano Ronaldo for eight years: “You had a rocket [Gareth Bale] and a striker [Cristiano Ronaldo], and then there was me, the piece that made it all work,” he explains. “The finisher was Cristiano. I played a different role. I was more involved in building actions and trying to open up space.”
Over the years, KB9 has revealed how altruistic he is, a rare quality in the reign of supreme egos. He is now a permanent striker for the Real Madrid, but also a true icon of his time, a friend of rapper Booba, and a fashion lover – his Instagram account and his recent collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier on an exclusive pair of glasses are evidence. On October 17th, the world of football should logically decide to join in the perfect alignment of planets shining in Karim Benzema’s sky.