Karim Benzema’s struggles at Real Madrid are nothing new.
Swept up from Lyon in the summer of excessive spend in 2009, Benzema joined Cristiano Ronaldo, Xabi Alonso and Kaka as Florentino Perez’s new legion of Galacticos, supplementing or completely replacing the players of the old regime.
Benzema was caught in a power struggle between the hierarchy and management at the club, with one pushing for him to start and the other side insisting that Gonzalo Higuain was their man. The Frenchman, however, hardly experienced the kinds of frustrations through a lack of minutes that eventually led to Higuain’s departure for Napoli this past summer. He was seen to have far better command of the ball in build up play, able to operate from the flanks too when Jose Mourinho deployed the irresistible and largely successful Ronaldo-Higuain-Benzema triumvirate in attack.
But that didn’t hide the fact that Benzema could go through scoring droughts and huge dips in form. Uncommitted is the best way t describe him, both on and off the pitch. The Real Madrid brand won’t stand for it, nor will the supporters, all of whom bay for something which they can unleash their fury upon. It’s football but it’s also pantomime. The Bernabeu is a towering coliseum, unlike the comparatively modest Stade de Gerland in Lyon, where a young Benzema was nevertheless the top dog.
[cat_link cat=”arsenal” type=”list”]
Last season, Benzema was among those who didn’t repeat the form of the prior year. Down in his scoring from 21 league goals to 11, he was kept on the bench for much of the start of the campaign; Mourinho, of course, had promised Higuain more playing time in return for a stay in Madrid. It was starting to become a repeat, yes, but not of what the manager wanted. Mourinho had previously talked about the need for more firepower; the Madrid hierarchy told him to make do, ignoring the possibility that either one of his two forwards could fall to injury. Inevitably it happened at the end of 2010.
This season, and much to the annoyance of those who saw what the team needed in the summer, Madrid have gone again with only one senior centre-forward in Benzema. There’s no Higuian now; Ronaldo simply won’t move from his position on the left flank, at least not permanently. The only pressure for Benzema comes from Alvaro Morata.
But it was on Tuesday night against Galatasaray that the Frenchman put forward his best performance of the season thus far. Prior to the Champions League tie in Turkey, Benzema had become quite an obvious target for the Madrid support, despite scoring twice and assisting two more in the league. Against Galatasaray, he was industrious, closing down the opposition and working to the extent that Mourinho had previously desired so much from him. He finished the night with two goals and an assist in a 6-1 thrashing.
The problem is Benzema needs to show more effort, for a lack of enthusiasm to work for the team will result in a fiery backlash from the crowd. Even for France, there are questions over his form. Sure, he may not always be great for Real Madrid, but he is consistently bad, or ineffectual for the national team. It’s a slump with many false dawns, some lasting longer than others, for example the title-winning season of 2011-12.
Real Madrid’s fleeting interest in Luis Suarez and the links to Radamel Falcao that simply won’t go away indicate that the club are holding thoughts about abandoning this particular project. Benzema isn’t quite failing in the way Kaka did, but it’s nevertheless a reality that Perez has been ignoring for a long time. After all, Benzema is his signing, his Galactico.
A move to the Premier League could materialise, with Arsenal said to be interested. At 25, there will be no reduced fees. Kaka, of course, returned to Milan on a free, but those were special circumstances. Benzema may eventually be unwanted, like, in a way, Mesut Ozil was. It doesn’t mean Real Madrid won’t demand big money.
So as always, a large transfer fee forces great expectations. Can Benzema be a hit in England? Of course. He’s hugely talented, there’s no doubt about that. At Arsenal, for example, he would fit the bill of a striker who isn’t just a poacher, such as, say, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Benzema is Arsene Wenger’s type of player, and perhaps had the interest come a little earlier in the window, Real Madrid may have been willing to swap him out for another forward.
Such is the frailty of the situation with Benzema that you feel only the ‘right’ club will do. Yes, he could arrive in the Premier League next year, but would he fit in at every club? Make no mistake, Chelsea is not an option with Mourinho as manager. Manchester United, provided Wayne Rooney stays on, would have no need for him, while the options at Manchester City would negate the need for another forward.
It’s in his best interests to pick the ‘right’ club, but the French national team will more than have an interest in where he goes and who can bring the best out of him on a permanent basis. Though further questions may arise as to the suitability of both Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema playing for the same team. Not at club level, of course, but from those at international level. At the same time, however, it could be the best thing for France.
Benzema is good enough to be the main striker at Real Madrid. But unless his attitude changes and his willingness to work increases, he won’t be playing his football at the Bernabeu beyond this season.
Could Karim Benzema be a hit in the Premier League?
Join the debate below