For Karim Benzema, winning the most prestigious individual award in football is the ultimate recognition for his remarkable achievements with Real Madrid last season and confirmation that he is a player and a man transformed since his years in exile from the French national. team because of a sextape scandal.
Benzema, fresh off scoring for Real against Barcelona in Sunday’s Clásico, was the overwhelming favorite to win the Ballon d’Or at Monday’s ceremony in Paris.
He is the fifth Frenchman to receive the award, the first since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
His victory was seen in France as such a foregone conclusion that the front-page headline of the newspaper Le Parisien was dedicated to him on Monday. “The revenge of the unpopular,” it said.
It wasn’t that long ago that Benzema, now 34, was an outcast who was banned from the French team for five and a half years for his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sextape involving his former teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
The Lyon resident was on trial late last year and was given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros ($73,848).
In June, he decided not to appeal his conviction, eager to turn the page and keep the focus on football.
By then, he had had a stellar season with his club, propelling Real to victory in both the Champions League and the Spanish title.
– Amazing Season –
Because the criteria for the award had been changed to take into account only the last full season, rather than the calendar year, his performance meant there was little chance of anyone else winning the Ballon d’Or.
The numbers speak for themselves.
Benzema scored 44 goals in 46 appearances for Real last season, including 27 in La Liga, as he finished the season from afar as Spain’s top scorer.
But his best form came in the Champions League, in which he was also the leading striker with 15 goals in 12 appearances.
Benzema wore the captain’s armband and scored five times in the group stage for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, but the best was to get into the knockout rounds.
He scored a stunning hat-trick in 17 minutes of the second half in the spectacular comeback win of the last 16 over Paris Saint-Germain, and once more to Chelsea in the quarter-final of the first leg.
It was also his goal in extra time in the return leg of that draw that nipped a Chelsea comeback in the bud, scoring a further three over both legs of the semi-final against Manchester City, including an extra-time spot kick in the return leg that secured Real’s place in the final.
He didn’t shine in the final, with Vinicius Junior scoring the only goal of the game, but that win over Liverpool in Paris would not have been possible without Benzema’s earlier contribution.
The former Lyon striker has now won five Champions Leagues since moving to the Spanish capital in 2009 at the age of 21.
“The most important thing for me is winning collective trophies. If you do well on the pitch, individual prizes follow,” Benzema recently noted.
This award comes after he was named last season’s UEFA player in a ceremony in August, as he enjoyed more than just success at club level.
Benzema also won his first international title with France in the Nations League, scoring in the final when Les Bleus defeated Spain 2-1.
– Business off the field –
Absent from the victorious 2018 World Cup campaign, he now hopes to close out an incredible year by helping France retain that title in Qatar – his 35th birthday is the day after the December 18 final.
Benzema, whose grandfather emigrated to France from Algeria, grew up in the Lyon suburb of Bron.
He quickly emerged as an exciting talent at Lyon, then France’s dominant club, before moving to Real, where he spent years in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and often involved in affairs off the pitch.
Before the sextape scandal, he and fellow French international star Franck Ribery were swept up in a tacky story involving a prostitute named Zahia Dehar.
The case against them for allegedly having sex with her when she was a minor – Benzema denied ever having done so – collapsed in 2014.
But in recent years, a much more mature Benzema has been letting his football speak.
That’s why Zidane had no doubts in 2020 when asked if he thought Benzema was his country’s best striker ever.
“For me he is clearly the best, yes,” he said.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by DailyExpertNews staff and has been published from a syndicated feed.)