Over the last decade, football fans have been witnessing Real Madrid rewrite history by playing dominant football with their counter-attacking style especially since the year 2014. But it was back in 2009 when Fiorentino Perez, the President of Real Madrid, made some of the biggest signings in football history at that time with Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka, Xabi Alonso and Karim Benzema. After years of struggle in the UEFA Champions League in the second half of the 2000s, getting knocked out in the round of 16 or quarterfinals and with their fierce rivals Barcelona having assembled one of the greatest teams of all time with the likes of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Iniesta under the manager Pep Guardiola, it was perhaps time for Real Madrid to rise back on top and bring back the glory days. As a result, they were quite successful in achieving that as Real Madrid brought Pep’s Barcelona’s domestic dominance to an end after winning the Copa Del Rey in 2011 and the La Liga in 2012 and since then, there were trophies galore.
During this phase, Cristiano Ronaldo cemented his legacy as one of the greatest footballers of all time and many offered him bulk of the credit for Real Madrid’s success. However, success rarely has one father.
One superstar at Real Madrid that had and has always been overlooked is Karim Benzema that has regularly started for Real Madrid up front for a decade. Despite not being the fan favourite thanks to having a player of Cristiano’s calibre playing “left” next to him, Karim Benzema has been a very crucial piece in Real Madrid’s success and all credit goes to his unique role in the team and playing style. The French number 9 has not only contributed to the success of Real Madrid but also, one could argue, to the success of Cristiano Ronaldo (the all-time top scorer of Real Madrid) as most of the goals scored by Cristiano for Madrid came from the assists of Karim.
Positioning and Role
Karim started off as an out and out striker playing for Lyon in France where the entire team was based around him and he was very successful in that role as he managed to score a lot of goals from inside the box for Lyon and even won the Ligue 1 top scorer award in 2008 when he scored 20 league goals at the age of just 20, making him one of the best young players in the world. He proved to the footballing world that he was a top striker with great finishing ability.
But it was at Real Madrid where his positioning and role changed drastically, perhaps for the best. It was a bit odd for the fans and the rest of the footballing world as Karim was the first choice striker, yet the goals came in immense numbers from Cristiano Ronaldo while Karim did not find the net that often, in fact, in his first season, he could not even score 10 goals in all competitions. One can argue, even though his goal-scoring rate dropped, Karim had developed into a more complete player at Real Madrid as he was used not only as an out and out striker but mainly as a false 9. One important aspect that many did not realise was Karim’s physical development which saw him become much stronger and more powerful than he was at Lyon.
This particular aspect of his game helped him hold the ball more with his back to the goal, drawing defenders towards him and hence creating spaces for the wingers such as Cristiano in the earlier days and later on Gareth Bale too.
However, this particular aspect that gave Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid so much advantage over the rest of the teams went unnoticed among the fans not only of the general footballing world but also Real Madrid. Karim was constantly criticized for not being able to find the net more often but people did not realise that at one point, his primary role was not to score goals as Madrid already had a goal machine in Cristiano but it was to be the link-up player between the midfield and attack. This was another aspect of Karim’s style of play that was overlooked by many. He proved time and time again that he could play anywhere on the forward line, as an out and out striker, as a winger and mainly as a false 9 and sometimes as a deep-lying forward too, creating chances for other forwards thanks to his excellent passing ability.
Since the departure of Cristiano, Karim has become the primary goalscorer for the team, and even though many would argue that he misses a lot of chances, Karim has proven that he can be a lethal goalscorer as well having scored 31 goals in all competitions last season. Had he been charged with taking penalty kicks or free-kicks he could have contributed to his total tally and might have taken it to 40 for the season which is considered world-class.
Many fans do not seem to realise that Cristiano Ronaldo was able to score as many goals as he did because of Benzema’s excellent link up and hold up play. We seem to overlook Benzema’s off the ball and on the ball work rate as well as his tactical intelligence in the sense that, Karim manages to put himself in the best position possible in every attack which often left Cristiano free and hence the best possible player to pass to (and it made sense because Cristiano was by far the best finisher in the team).
This sacrifice by Karim, choosing to pass more instead of going for glory, proved crucial in Real Madrid’s recent success, especially in the UEFA Champions League. His transition into different roles in a single match also made it difficult for the other teams to mark the players of Madrid as it was easy for Madrid to be fluidic and not just restricted to their 4-3-3 formation in which Cristiano was the Left Winger and Karim the striker. This relationship between Karim and Cristiano made Madrid the scariest team in the mid-2010s as Madrid stopped relying on their defence and managed to win games purely by “outscoring” the opposition, especially in the UCL. Together, Cristiano and Karim played 9 seasons and managed to score 650 goals during that period, which is roughly 73 goals a season. Overall, Karim Benzema has been the most successful signing for Real Madrid in recent years along with Cristiano Ronaldo as he has managed to win 17 trophies with Real Madrid, including 4 UCLs (3 consecutive).
Karim Benzema is undoubtedly one of the greatest players in the history of Real Madrid, he has scored almost 250 goals for the club and still counting, making him the 5th highest scorer in Real Madrid’s history. The fact that Karim has managed to score almost 400 career goals when his primary role was to be the link-up player between the midfield and attack for almost a decade is pretty impressive. Many argue that Karim does not show up on big occasions but do not seem to realise he is also the 4th highest goalscorer in the history of UCL (probably the toughest club competition in the world) and 3rd highest among the active footballers (behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, two of possibly the greatest players of all time). He has also broken the 30 goal barrier for the season 4 times and that too without being the penalty kick or free kick taker of his teams. Apart from his goal scoring ability, Karim is one of the very few footballers in history to provide more than 150 assists throughout his career thanks to his exceptional positioning and link-up play. It is fair to say that Karim Benzema is a generational talent, a player that can do everything, score with both feet and head, play as a number 10, a number 9, a false 9 and sometimes as a winger too. Karim still has a few good seasons left in him but It is about time that fans start appreciating the legends of the game that are soon going to retire.