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Karim Benzema: No Longer A Star In The Making

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Karim Benzema has finally reached his potential
Karim Benzema has finally reached his potential

In the summer of 2009 Florentino Pérez decided to sign Karim Benzema from Olympique Lyonnais for a 35M€ deal. That same summer, Real Madrid had the chance to sign Spanish star David Villa for about 40M€, but Valencia refused Madrid's offer.

Benzema spent his first year in Madrid without knowing the language and surviving Higuaín's good season alongside Cristiano Ronaldo and Xabi Alonso, two of the other six reinforcements that Real Madrid added to the roster in Manuel Pellegrini's first (and last) summer with the club.

In his limited playing time during that season, Karim Benzema scored only 11 goals for Real Madrid. He looked very sloppy every time he had the chance to enter the field and most of Real Madrid's fans were wondering why Florentino Pérez insisted on signing him over David Villa, especially because the Spanish player scored 39 goals during that same year.

One of the arguments that Real Madrid's President could have made is that Benzema was a lot younger (22 vs. 28 by comparison). David Villa's price was also higher and Valencia refused to sell their star striker; the fans even pressed the executives to keep him. Valencia usually refuses to sell their players to Real Madrid after the Pedja Mijatovic deal in the late 1990s. Only Mijatovic and Albiol agreed to terms while Mendieta, Ayala, Albelda and David Silva were kept every time Valencia received an offer from the Spanish capital.

This forced Real Madrid to sign Karim Benzema under Portuguese Coach Jose Mourinho, at a time when no one thought he'd ever reach his potential. Higuaín got a back injury that sidelined him for almost six months. Jose Mourinho and Florentino Pérez didn't trust Benzema, so Togolese striker Emmanuel Adebayor was loaned from Manchester City.

In a Copa del Rey game in Sevilla, however, Karim Benzema started to grow as a player. In an interview on the Spanish late-show, Punto Pelota, he said the following.

My job is to score, not to run from one side to another

This was Benzema's response, regarding Mourinho's desire that he press harder on the rival's defensive line. Higuaín used to play that way, but the French striker didn't believe that was going to help him as a pure striker. After Higuaín's injury Mourinho compared Benzema and Higuaín to a cat and a hound, respectively.

Little by little, Benzema clearly showed improvements in his game. He finished the season with 30 goals (including 15 in la Liga and six and eight in Champions League matches). But most importantly, the team played better with him on the pitch. He created a good relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid's new playmaker Mesut Özil, combining with both of them and giving many assists as well.

Last summer, the race for the starter striker on Real Madrid was very competitive. Higuaín had completed a good Copa América with Argentina so Real Madrid didn't feel the need of acquiring another pure striker after Adebayor was gone. Benzema clearly had the edge heading into the first games of the season after Real Madrid's wins in the Spanish Supercup against Barcelona.

Nobody questions Benzema's quality right now. The French player turned Santigago Bernabéu's boos into standing ovations. He now speaks the language decently and looks a lot more comfortable within the roster. He is finally following Mourinho's advice: putting more pressure on the rival team's players.

Real Madrid fans will never know how much of Benzema's recovery lies within José Mourinho's strategy, but it's obvious that the Portuguese coach might have something to do with it.

Karim Benzema || Le phénomène || Real Madrid 11-12 || HD (via HDRafiki)