Ahead of the 2022 Champions League final, former Real Madrid midfielder Steve McManaman discusses Karim Benzema and his career-best campaign.
Karim Benzema is not only having the best season of his already-extraordinary career, but has taken his game to new level at the age of 34.
The Real Madrid striker has scored 44 goals in all competitions – already 12 more than his previous best campaign – including 27 in La Liga to claim his first Pichichi Trophy as top scorer and help Los Blancos to a 35th title.
His greatest performances, though, have come in the Champions League, with his 15 goals putting Real Madrid one win away from a record-extending 14th triumph.
“Karim’s having the best season he’s ever had,” says former Real midfielder Steve McManaman.
“The fact that he’s scored 44 goals, along with the assists he’s made, and that Real, with the team they’ve got, weren’t expected to be as successful this year.
“It’s his greatest-ever season and he’s 34 years of age.”
Benzema’s talent has always been clear, scoring 66 goals for boyhood club Lyon to earn a £30m move to Real in July 2009, at the age of just 21.
But for all his achievements in the following 13 seasons with Madrid, including 21 trophies, Benzema hasn’t always got the recognition he deserved.
The presence of Cristiano Ronaldo during his first nine seasons with Real is the main reason for that, although McManaman doesn’t think the lack of limelight ever bothered Benzema.
“He’s been in the shadow of Cristiano to a certain extent, but he was quite happy playing that role,” he says. “If you know the man, he’s always quite quiet and humble.”
Benzema’s willingness to sacrifice himself for the team has been evident throughout his time at Real, even during a season in which he has been the team’s undisputed star.
“I was at a game a couple of weeks ago, funnily enough, when they won the league,” explains McManaman. “They played Espanyol and Carlo [Ancelotti] rested a lot of players but Luka [Modric] and Casemiro played.
“With half an hour to go, they were cruising, they’ve won the league, and Benzema was getting ready. And I’m thinking to myself, ‘What’s he putting him on with half an hour to go for? He’s got Manchester City on Wednesday.’
“Anyway, Benzema comes on, and I’m hoping he doesn’t get injured, but then he sets a goal up for Isco, which gets disallowed, and then scores himself. That just says it all.”
At times this season it’s felt like Benzema can do no wrong, even during games in which he’s not at his best.
Despite scoring the winning goal in extra-time as Real staged a remarkable comeback to dump out Manchester City in the Champions League semi-finals, Benzema actually struggled to make an impact for much of the match.
He ended with just 40 touches – only two more than Rodrygo and three more than Eduardo Camavinga, both of whom came on as substitutes – and played just 20 passes throughout the 103 minutes he was on the pitch.
“Funnily enough, his game against Manchester City when they when they knocked them out, it wasn’t impressive at all. Actually, he was he was on the periphery for a lot of the game,” says McManaman.
“Yet he gets the assist for Rodrigo. And then he scores the winning penalty. Every time he comes on the pitch, he does something spectacular. Whether it’s an assist, whether it’s a goal.
“He’s just in that moment when everything he touches turns to gold.”
Speaking of gold, should Real beat Liverpool to claim their 14th Champions League title in Paris, Benzema will surely be the clear favourite for the Ballon d’Or.
On the other hand, if Liverpool come out on top, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane both have strong claims to win the coveted award.
“I certainly think [Benzema] has done everything he can,” McManaman says. “With Real Madrid winning the league, I wouldn’t have any qualms whatsoever if he won the Ballon d’Or.
“It’ll be interesting to see if any of them do anything spectacular in the Champions League final to edge themselves ahead of the other two.”
It is the Reds who are favoured to win the showpiece in Paris, but with the way his season is going, don’t be surprised if Benzema has something to say about that on Saturday night.
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