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The Curious Case of Karim Benzema

I'd wanted to write an article on the amazing rehabilitation of Karim Benzema over the last month or so when he had looked essentially dead in the water, but Sid Lowe over at the Guardian seems to have beaten me to it, so go read his excellent piece.

I am not particularly impressed by Lowe's purple prose style nor his habit of presenting Spanish culture in a vaguely imperialist manner (i.e. "Look at these silly Spaniards with their bizarre customs!  Isn't that absolutely mad?") but his work is certainly the best on Spanish football in the English language at the moment, and actually it is better than anything in the Spanish press I've seen.

Lowe's argument is quite interesting, particularly in light of the way we treated Karim Benzema's form earlier in the season.  Back then, Gabe claimed that we shouldn't lose faith in Benzema's ability and that he merely needed a change in mentality, which Mourinho could provide with some coddling.  As it happened, Mourinho didn't do this, giving Benzema opportunities to prove himself and then, having been disappointed, refused to place his trust in the Frenchman.  Lowe argues that this lack of trust was exaggerated as part of Mourinho's political ploy vis-à-vis Valdano and Pérez; for instance, Mou left Benzema on the bench and played with no striker at all in the draw against Almería.

Mourinho eventually forced a concession from the management and got his new striker, with the club bringing in Adebayor in January.  Adebayor is more of a Mourinho type striker - tall, strong, a target man who can play with his back to goal and barrel ahead with the ball - than the elegant, silky Benzema.  This loan signing managed to do what Higuaín's injury failed to do and galvanized Benzema into action, setting him on a phenomenal scoring run and a seismic change in his style of play.

Lowe claims that Mourinho is going to receive the credit for reviving Benzema with his incredible player psychology, and it may be that this is the case (Benzema himself has come out and said this, although Mourinho attributed it to the player himself as well as Zinedine Zidane), but that essentially it has come from a combination of Higuaín's injury and Adebayor's arrival taking the pressure off of the Frenchman.  Mourinho undermined Benzema on a semi-regular basis in the press, perhaps as part of an attempt to shame him into a response, but now that he has served his purpose in getting Mourinho his striker and a win over the hierarchy at the club, the coach is simply picking his team instead of doing so with a particular agenda.  And right now, Benzema is the obvious choice to lead the line.

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