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Karim Benzema’s Legacy At Real Madrid

This is part three of our mailbag, where Kiyan addresses questions about Benzema’s legacy, Odegaard’s natural position, and more

Manchester City FC v Real Madrid CF - UEFA Champions League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

These observations — where I look at Real Madrid’s history, its players on loan, Castilla, tactical tidbits, and other relevant thoughts -- are now a regular weekly thing. All previous editions can be found here.

The mailbag has blown up. There are more questions than ever before. I’ve decided to release different questions daily (on non-match days). If I answered them all in one go, it would blow up the universe — and no one wants that. Besides, almost no one on earth has the attention span to read 10, 000 words in one sitting.

As always, if you want to ask me a question, best to ask me on Twitter or Facebook.

Here’s a link to Part 1 of this mailbag, where I talked about Kroos’s defensive habits.

Here’s a link to Part 2 of this mailbag, where I talked about Real Madrid’s offense

I wonder how long it will take after Karim Benzema leaves the club for us to shed our recency bias of him. My guess is at least five. There’s been some outrageous takes during his slump, but none more outrageous than the “he was never good for Real Madrid” that was thrown at me on social media a couple months ago. Note: Anyone who actually believes this is either — A) Under the age of 10; B) Started watching football in 2017; or C) A menace to society.

For perspective, here are the best seasons of each of our four best strikers after Raul:

Ronaldo: 2003 - 2004, 31 goals, 0 assists

Ruud: 2006 - 2007, 33 goals, 2 assists

Higuain: 2009 - 2010, 29 goals, 6 assists

Benzema: 2011 - 2012, 32 goals, 15 assists

What’s our measuring stick for “was never good” again? Discuss away at Benzema’s current struggles — we do it daily. But don’t go down this dangerous rabbit hole of grading his entire career based on what you see now. It’s silly. Every player declines. There are no exceptions to this rule. Raul wasn’t himself anymore when he hit his mid-20s, and his legacy still stands. Let’s not pretend Benzema doesn’t have a legacy here.

One way to answer these legacy / ranking questions is to ask yourself: If there was a gun to my head, and I had to rely on one of these strikers to put the team on his back in a Champions League final and score a goal, who would I choose? I’d go: R9, Ruud, Karim, then Higuain. But that’s in a vacuum, and doesn’t take into context their legacy at Real Madrid specifically.

All four of those strikers will have a special place in my heart, and they probably do in yours too. Real Madrid has been blessed with a crazy amount of great strikers. I don’t think Benzema is top-five, but he cracks top-seven:

  1. Raul
  2. Puskas
  3. Hugo Sanchez
  4. OG Ronaldo (none of the three players above him, in a vacuum, were better than him, but we’re looking at this from a Real Madrid output perspective)
  5. Carlos Santillana
  6. Emilio Butrageuño
  7. Karim Benzema

Knowing what to do with OG Ronaldo on this list was tough. We all know his greatness, but he has the least amount of output of the strikers on that list solely based on lack of longevity at the Club. But, you just have to put him there. And his longevity was enough to ensure he gets on the list, at the very least. Ruud’s brief stint was incredible, but he wasn’t around long enough.

Don’t ask Santiago Solari. He’ll tell you it’s as a right winger.

Well, that kind of is his best position — but he shouldn’t be deployed as a traditional winger. Solari had Odegaard hugging the right flank a lot, and the outlets and spacing with that team were generally a nightmare, so Martin would be isolated without much help, and was suffocated by two-to-three players on the flank constantly. Still, he looked good.

It’s the Heerenveen stepping stone that’s gotten us really excited though. There, he plays on the right, but roams a lot. He doesn’t have many defensive duties, but does have high IQ without the ball, knows when to press, and generally tries to stay higher up the pitch to act as an outlet where he can aid his team whip into a lightning-quick counter-attack. I’ll put it this way, in the most cautious way possible: his best position is basically Lionel Messi’s. Odegaard will start a lot of attacks from the right, but cut in with his left foot, eel through players in tight spaces, is the team’s best ball-carrier by a mile, can create space for himself, sling passes vertically, and roam with freedom -- occasionally popping up on the left or centrally.

We’ve mentioned it a lot this season: If Odegaard’s teammates could finish better, he would be leading the league in assists this season. The eye test with him has been a pure joy.

Required Odegaard reading:

‪I’ll be doing a Managing Madrid mailbag (written format) in the next week or so. Ask me questions about anything, and I’ll try my best to get to it in next week’s column. Let’s goooo‬

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Wednesday, January 3, 2018

I have to. I don’t back down from predictions no matter how unlikely they seem — if not for pure delusion then for hope. Reminder:

The 99--00’ team was atrocious for 85% of the season, then flipped an unexpected switch in the last hurdles of the Champions League. Believe me when I say that season was unbelievably bad yet still gave us some of the fondest memories in Real Madrid history. They were getting murdered in La Liga, and then drew Manchester United, then Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively. At the time, Real Madrid were the only team in history to knock out the two finalists of the previous season, and they were severe underdogs in both ties. Three legends carried them during that run: Raul, Roberto Carlos, and Redondo. The team also got a massive lift from an in-form Steve McManaman, Fernando Morientes, Michel Salgado, and even Nicolas Anelka. This current squad doesn’t have any shortage of legends who turn it up a notch either. Just sayin’.

Still, keep your expectations low. I’m just pointing out that more inconceivable things have happened in our history.

‪I’ll be doing a Managing Madrid mailbag (written format) in the next week or so. Ask me questions about anything, and I’ll try my best to get to it in next week’s column. Let’s goooo‬

Posted by Kiyan Sobhani on Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Out of all the things to be upset over with Zidane at the moment, I’m not sure signings are one of them. Whatever is said about the team, the quality of the squad is an overrated problem. The team is still really deep and ridiculously talented. Serious question: If a big name player is signed in this window, where would you slide him in? Let’s be theoretical for a second, and entertain the Hazard rumour that was floating around last week: What happens to Asensio, a player who, arguably, is already too far down the depth chart to begin with?

A striker isn’t coming until the summer, so we can forget about that too.

The reality is there are issues of scheme, rather than issues of personnel. One of the most telling signs that we have to stop blaming individual players so much is that regardless of who Zidane fields, the problems remain constant: lack of offensive creativity, lack of transition defense, disorganized chaos when searching for a goal, etc. When we call for the reserves to play more, we complain about their performance, when we field the A-squad, we complain about their performance.

What leads you to believe Asensio is less talented than an incoming purchase? Ditto Dani Ceballos?

We don’t desperately need new players. We desperately need an efficient way to channel the ridiculous talent we have. Having said that — yes, I’d welcome shedding some fat this summer in favour of fresh, hungry blood. But that’s something to address in the summer time.

More mailbag questions will be released in the coming days.

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