Karim Benzema’s Ballon d’Or quest has come to a long-awaited end as the 34-year-old claimed the coveted prize in Monday’s ceremony, seeing off competition from Sadio Mane and Kevin De Bruyne to be named the best player in the world.
In fact, this is the result we all expected. Benzema racked up 44 goals and 15 assists in 46 games for Real Madrid as they chased La Liga and Champions League glory, finishing comfortably top of the scoring charts in both competitions. That’s about as emphatic a case as could be won.
For Benzema, it’s the completion of a redemption arc he was never meant to face anyway. After playing second fiddle to Cristiano Ronaldo for years, many questioned whether the Frenchman was ever good enough to be the team’s primary choice, and to paraphrase Michael Jordan, Benzema clearly took it personally.
He scored 21 goals in his first year without Ronaldo and repeated that in 2019/20, before increasing his tally even further and showing the creative side that has made him a complete striker.
“It was an honor to play with [Ronaldo], he’s a beast,” Benzema said after winning the award. “The day he left, the ambition to be more entered my head.
These days, Benzema could hardly be more if he tried.
Without taking anything away from Benzema’s individual achievements, it’s no secret that winning trophies is vital to any player’s aspirations of lifting the Ballon d’Or.
Having ended the 2020/21 campaign without any silverware, Real Madrid parted ways with Zinedine Zidane and rehired the legendary Carlo Ancelotti, who quickly realised that they key to success was allowing Benzema to be Benzema.
The Frenchman scored two goals on the first day of the La Liga campaign and never looked back. In fact, Los Blancos remained top of the table for all but one week – temporarily dropping behind Sevilla after the second round of fixtures before reclaiming their rightful place at the top.
In the end, Real finished 13 points clear of the competition, with Benzema’s 27 goals an undeniably crucial part of that.
The Spanish Supercopa came midway through the campaign as well, but Benzema’s Ballon d’Or triumph was effectively sealed as Los Blancos went all the way in the Champions League back in May – a triumph the team owes almost exclusively to Benzema.
Real were good in Europe but they still ended up losing to PSG, Chelsea and Manchester City across the knockout stages, facing elimination from the competition in each and every round before Benzema hauled his team to victory.
To have played such a crucial role in the Champions League victory, there was never anybody else who could have won the Ballon d’Or.
Promoted to vice-captain following Sergio Ramos’ departure, Benzema signed a new contract at the start of the season to commit himself to the club until 2023.
Benzema was keen to reward the club’s faith in him and would go on to finish as the top scorer of both La Liga and the Champions League, shattering a number of huge records in the process.
He’d become: The fourth Madrid player in history to score 200 La Liga goals, the first player in history to score in 17 consecutive Champions League seasons, the scorer of Real’s 1,000th Champions League goal and the highest-scoring Frenchman ever, all while slowly climbing up the club’s all-time scoring charts.
Benzema climbed into fourth in the Real history books in October and third in March, and he moved into second in August 2022 – although that technically doesn’t factor into this Ballon d’Or victory.
With 44 goals in 46 games, there are obviously a lot of outstanding moments worth celebrating for Benzema, but there are a few which undoubtedly stand out from the rest.
Anyone who doubts Benzema’s credentials clearly did not pay attention in the knockout stages of the Champions League, in which the veteran Frenchman produced some of the all-time great performances to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.
After a 1-0 defeat in the first leg of the last 16 against PSG, Real fell a goal behind in the return fixture and it looked like Kylian Mbappe had wrestled the torch away from him, but Benzema kept himself atop the pile with a 17-minute hat-trick to secure a place in the next round.
He’d need another hat-trick to fire his side past Chelsea in the quarter-final first leg, before scoring the extra-time goal which ultimately saw Real survive another onslaught and book a spot against pre-tournament favorites City in the semi-final.
Benzema scored twice in a 4-3 defeat at the Etihad and then followed that up with a goal and an assist at home, inspiring Real to a 3-1 win and a spot in the final, where Los Blancos would go on to defeat Liverpool.
He may not have scored in the final, but Benzema was involved in 11 of Real’s 14 goals in the knockout stages. Without him, they wouldn’t have even come close.