Benzema a symbol of French Renaissance

June 29, 2014 at 7:08 pm
Posted under: 2014 FIFA World Cup, France, France News, News

France's forward Karim Benzema walks in the Ribeirao Preto airport before boarding a plane to go to Brasilia on June 28, 2014. France will face Nigeria during their Round of 16 match on June 30 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil.  AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE
France's forward Karim Benzema walks in the Ribeirao Preto airport before boarding a plane to go to Brasilia on June 28, 2014. France will face Nigeria during their Round of 16 match on June 30 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. AFP PHOTO / FRANCK FIFE

At the 2010 World Cup in South Africa France were an embarrassment. Four years on, Nicolas Anelka, Raymond Domenech and the Knysna training camp fiasco are long forgotten and Karim Benzema has emerged as the unlikely symbol of the transformation.

The 26-year-old Real Madrid striker has come of age, adding goals to his brilliant all-round play and displaying all the maturity and professionalism that was so missing at the last World Cup.

“His movements destabilise the opposition’s defence,” says coach Didier Deschamps. “We have always appreciated what he does for the team and judged him beyond just his goal scoring, something that has not always happened outside of France.”

Benzema had scored seven goals in the five games before the goalless draw with Ecuador.

He would comfortably be this World Cup’s top scorer if his effort against Honduras had not been given as an own-goal by Noel Valladares and his strike against the Swiss not been chalked off because the final whistle had gone.

But beyond the goals it’s the personality transformation that has been most impressive.

A favourite of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez, Benzema took a long time to establish himself in the Spanish capital.

During his first season at Real Madrid in 2009 he had weight problems, was investigated without charge by French police for having had sex with an under-aged prostitute, and he hit a tree driving away from his first ever Clasico.

“In the dressing room the other players would speak and laugh together and, unable to understand, I would think: ‘Are they laughing at me’?,” he told L’Equipe about his Spanish-speaking colleagues.

Zinedine Zidane tried to defend him and when Jose Mourinho turned up in 2010 he publically criticised the player whose timid, lazy and unreliable traits made him the complete opposite of a typical Mourinho number nine.

Mourinho’s methods had some success but Zidane’s approach won the day. At the start of last season he urged Real Madrid not to sign another striker saying that, with Gonzalo Higuain sold, Benzema now knew he was the main man and he would respond.

Benzema responded with goals and performances that helped make him, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale the most feared strikers in Europe.

They led the attack that won the European Cup and Spain’s King’s Cup. The test was to reproduce that form at the World Cup, something that an exhausted Ronaldo has not been able to do.

But grown-up Benzema is leading from the front, perhaps still inspired by former coach Mourinho.

“If we revolved around you we would have to start training at 12 o’clock because you get here at 10am half asleep and you’re still sleeping at 11,” the Portuguese coach shouted at him during one training session.

Now Benzema is often the man barking the orders. He could be seen remonstrating with World Cup debutant Antoine Griezmann in the game against Ecuador.

Little boy lost has become the father figure and France’s World Cup campaign is benefiting hugely from the transformation.

SAPA


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