Karim Benzema has declared his determination to win the Ballon d’Or after taking centre stage at Real Madrid since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure.
The France striker has been Madrid’s attacking spearhead and has taken over the captaincy following the exit of Sergio Ramos, reflecting his standing with the Spanish giants.
With three LaLiga titles and four Champions League wins in 12 years, Benzema has accrued plenty of silverware while with Los Blancos.
Now, individual acclaim is regularly coming his way, with Benzema stepping out of Ronaldo’s long shadow and becoming the talisman.
He has topped the 20-goal mark in LaLiga in the last three seasons and has nine strikes in eight games so far this term in the Spanish top flight, with Madrid top of the table.
With Lionel Messi having moved on to Paris Saint-Germain, Benzema has a major claim to be the star turn in LaLiga, and a first Pichichi trophy, which goes to the league’s top scorer, is an obvious target.
Ahead of his 34th birthday in December, Benzema has perhaps never been a more credible contender for the Ballon d’Or, although the likes of Messi, Jorginho and Robert Lewandowski might deny him this time around. They, along with Benzema, were selected on a shortlist on Friday.
“Since I was a kid, it was always a dream of mine to win the Ballon d’Or… it’s the dream for most players,” Benzema told AS.
“It’s true that football is a team game but when you help the side to win, when you’re instrumental in triumphs, when you score winning goals, it’s natural for any player to aspire to win the Ballon d’Or.
“Of course, I’ll work as hard as I can to win that trophy and I hope, someday, fulfil the dream I had when I was a young boy.”
Carlo Ancelotti, in the early weeks of his second spell as Madrid head coach, spoke glowingly of Benzema in August, saying: “He is a very complete player. Now he is more complete than five years ago.”
Benzema feels personal recognition has been hard earned during his time in Spain.
“It’s possible that it has been a struggle at times but the most important thing is that people are enjoying my style of play, that’s something that makes me proud and extremely happy,” Benzema added.
Benzema was an effective foil to Ronaldo as he went on to become Madrid’s all-time record scorer, but the plaudits mainly went to the Portuguese, who departed for Juventus in 2018.
Last season, Benzema’s 23 league goals came at a rate of one every 126.13 minutes, which he has only beaten twice in a full season at Madrid. They also came from an expected goals total of 18.81, indicating he is excelling in taking the chances that come his way.
His shot conversion rate so far in 2021-22 is 26.47 per cent, higher than he has achieved across any full LaLiga campaign since arriving in 2009 from Lyon.
He described his Madrid role as that of “a big brother figure”, helping along the likes of Vinicius Jr.
It remains to be seen whether Benzema is joined at Madrid by his France team-mate Kylian Mbappe, who was targeted by Los Blancos during the last transfer window.
Mbappe is in the final year of his Paris Saint-Germain contract and could move to Madrid for free next year. Benzema has said it is “a question of time”, convinced Mbappe will at some stage in his career pull on the famous white shirt.
Speaking about the 22-year-old striker, who he has played alongside for France, Benzema said: “Mbappe is an amazing talent with his brand of football and more so taking into consideration his age. He’s also a really great guy and I love playing alongside him.”
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