Karim Benzema has joined fellow squad members Marcelo, Isco and Dani Carvajal in signing a new deal. Real Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane, who has signed a new deal recently himself, has convinced the French striker to stay at the Bernabeu until 2021. The chances of him leaving seem slim, which will frustrate Arsenal fans, as his release clause is a staggering €1 billion. The contract, if seen to its conclusion, will see the serial goal scorer spend a total of 12 years at Madrid after his 2009 move from Lyon. A move that disappointed many a Premier League manager as numerous were keen on Benzema at the time. The question arises – what does the future hold for Benzema at Real Madrid? With young players coming through his time in the first team could fade out.
The Frenchman arrived in Madrid with a great reputation. After a storming five year spell at Lyon he was one of Europe’s most sought after front men representing the French side 145 times in all competitions bagging a magnificent 64 goals. While not blessed with blistering speed Benzema had the abilities of a traditional number 9. His movement sets him apart and forces you to forget his lack of speed by modern footballing standards. He has a deadly eye for goal to the point you expect him to find the back of the net in any situation. He has just enough physical strength to remain elegant and not seem clunky. He is also decent in the air and is good at getting his head up and picking out his team mates. A truly balanced striker.
Then came the offer from Madrid. The fee initial agreed at €35 million but Manchester United were eager to get the striker. After United’s bid Madrid moved to €41 million and the English club pulled out. It was Alex Ferguson who wanted him at this time but every top English club has been linked with a move for Benzema and Arsene Wenger and Arsenal have been after him for a long period of time. It looks very unlikely now that he will leave Madrid in the foreseeable future. Wenger had to settle for Benzema’s Lyon understudy Alexandre Lacazette this summer and it is understood he contacted Madrid prior to signing Lacazette to enquire about Benzema.
The French striker joined with a host of stars. Cristiano Ronaldo, Kaka and Xabi Alonso all joined in the summer of 2009 – quite an expensive one for ‘Los Blancos’ seeing them splash out a total of €259 million. It was a period of chaos for the Spanish giants with 9 players coming in and 15 leaving the club. Contrasting times now for Mardid with Zidane employing a strategy based around stability underlined by this recent flurry of new deals.
Benzema did not set Spain alight when he left France. 27 league appearances returned 8 goals adding 1 more in the Champions League. His slow start was matched by his team as it saw them finish second in the league and trophy-less for the season. A similar story the next season saw Real Madrid, now managed by Jose Mourinho, finish second in the league again. Goals galore for Benzema with 26 goals in 48 outings in all competitions. Unbelievably (or not so) he was still playing second fiddle to Ronaldo who top scored for Madrid.
The 2011-2012 season was the one for ‘Los Blancos’ and it saw them topple the mighty Barcelona and Pep Guardiola to claim the La Liga title. Ronaldo may have grabbed the headlines with a 60 goal season but Benzema again scored a hat full returning 32 goals in 52 games as well as setting up 19. The quality of football Madrid produced this year saw them break the record of most goals scored scoring 121.
After such success it was difficult to swallow a second place finish in the league and only the Spanish Super Cup to show for their efforts the following year. While it was a disappointing season for Real Benzema still scored 21 goals and provided 21 assists in all competitions for the club.
Mourinho went and Carlo Ancelotti arrived in 2013. A lot changed. Gareth Bale arrived, Mesut Ozil, Kaka and Gonzalo Higuain left a long with 7 other squad members. Madrid slumped to third in the league. Some things did not change. One of those was Benzema scoring goals – another 24 in all competitions which contributed to a Copa del Rey win and a famous Champions League victory that signalled their tenth European Cup win – ‘La Decima’ complete.
A stagnant season followed for Ancelotti as Madrid won no major trophies. The brutal standards set by the club saw the famous Italian ousted because of that. However, the French striker carried on scoring. He played 46 times and managed 22 goals and 15 assists, pretty good for an off year.
The appointment of Rafa Benitez in 2015 did not last long and then Zidane came in. The 2015/16 year was a struggle for Benzema – thigh and knee problems saw him sidelined for large chunks of it. When he played he scored. Finishing with 28 goals in 36 games should be seen as a success given the circumstances. Zidane was also able to claim an eleventh European title for the club he once played for. Followed the next year by a La Liga and successful Champions League defence Zidane has started to bring consistency to the club. 48 games in the 2016/17 campaign for Benzema saw a return of 19 goals.
What now? Benzema is facing real threats from the Real Madrid youngsters for his place. The experienced striker will be looking over his shoulders with Marco Asensio seriously putting pressure on the club to play him with recent performances. Lucas Vazquez and Borja Mayoral are also beginning to force their way into contention. Given that Benzema already has to contend with Ronaldo, Bale and Isco for a position in the final third the competition for places is fierce.
The signing of the new contract may have shocked a few. With his advancing years and niggling injuries the football community would have been expecting Madrid to be open to letting Benzema leave. Clearly not. A long term extension and a pay rise as well as a mega money release clause emphasise how much he means to Zidane and his plans.
Stability is at the centre of Zidane’s philosophy after defending the Champions League he sees no point in selling big players who have top quality experience. He does not want to be left with the job of replacing them and taking that risk. Benzema’s 371 games for Real Madrid and 182 goals create a reputation and embody everything Madrid represent. Zidane wants to keep that invincible aura around the club and having Benzema in the starting line up or even on the bench is integral to that process.
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