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Patience pays off: Benzema wins the Ballon d’Or

There was no better player than Karim Benzema last season – now he has been awarded the Ballon d’Or for the first time. Real Madrid’s goal ace has been working towards this for a long time

The adolescent Karim Benzema had a great hero: Ronaldo. At the age of 21, the exceptional Brazilian striker was awarded the Ballon d’Or in 1997; no one before or since was younger.

When Benzema was 21, he had just moved from Olympique Lyon to Real Madrid. And met another Ronaldo at the Spanish world club. Cristiano Ronaldo. To a winger who actually played more like a centre-forward and whom the actual centre-forward soon had to work for.

“For Cristiano, I put my goal-scoring soul aside,” the Frenchman once confessed. “I changed my game to play with him. I played for him.” But Benzema’s unselfish role reversal was not immediately apparent to every fan. Goal and success guarantor was CR7, accessory Benzema often flew under the radar.

Since 2009, no one can get past Benzema

Patient and patronising, Benzema stood in the second row whenever Cristiano Ronaldo presented the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu with another Ballon d’Or – while the Frenchman was criticised again and again. Because a centre-forward at Real Madrid should actually score a lot more goals. And yet, from Gonzalo Higuain to Alvaro Morata to Luka Jovic, no centre-forward has been able to permanently pass Benzema since 2009.

Then, in the summer of 2018, it was suddenly time for the now 30-year-old to make a run from the second row right to the front. Because CR7 had left the royals for Turin and there was no replacement for the time being. The first season without the Portuguese, however, went down in Madrid club history as an epidemic season.

Year after year Benzema got better

For just over 100 million euros, Eden Hazard then arrived in the summer of 2019, but never really got on until now. Unlike Benzema in his new old role. Passing player, that was now others. Whenever a cross was made in front of goal, it was to “King Karim”. In 2020, it was above all his goals that brought the royal team the championship once again, and in 2021 he became even better – albeit without a title.

In 2022, in what was supposed to be the autumn of his career, came the final explosion in performance. In La Liga, Benzema scored what felt like every important goal on the way to another championship, and in the Champions League he usually scored more than one per game. Three against PSG, four against Chelsea, three against Manchester City, while an ageing Real Madrid won arguably their most spectacular CL title in a long time.

For these performances, which outshone all his rivals pretty much without discussion, Karim Benzema – ahead of Sadio Mané (then Liverpool FC, now FC Bayern) and Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) – has now been awarded the prestigious Ballon d’Or for the first time. Not at the age of 21, but at 34. Be that as it may, his patience has paid off. Not even the Ronaldos had won it more convincingly.

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