Karim Benzema: La Liga Expert On Why Arsenal Should Break The Bank
Víctor Valdés received the ball and looked comfortable but he fluffed the pass out and the ball found its way to Karim Benzema who slotted the ball home and put Real Madrid one up. The Santiago Bernabeu went mental as just 21 seconds were on the clock. The ecstasy wouldn’t last as Barca would win 1-3 but if Arsenal fans need any proof as to why Benzema would be perfect for The Gunners, that goal is a good start. So who is he and what could he bring to the Premier League?
Born in Lyon, France, the 25-year-old caught the attention of Olympique Lyonnais when he scored two goals for his hometown club, Bron Terraillon SC, against them when he was 8. There were a few clubs looking but a year after that game his father and Lyon reached an agreement that saw him join the youth ranks and he started to make his way up through the various academy levels. When he joined the first team he had to make a customary speech in front of his team-mates. Michael Essien, Sylvain Wiltord, Florent Malouda, and Eric Abidal and the rest of the squad all sat and laughed at his voice. Benzema, just 17, decided he was nothing going to walked on and so he turned and quipped ‘Do not laugh, I'm here to take your place’.
He would have to wait a few years before finally winning a permanent starting spot but once he got it there was no stopping him. In the 2007-8 season he scored 20 goals, the following season he scored 17. He was also doing quite well for himself in the Champions League, scoring 12 in 19 and with Lyon’s star starting to fade and with the player having ambitions to play abroad; he was scouted by some of Europe’s top clubs. After four league titles and a French cup to his name, he had the world at his feet.
Real Madrid President Florentino Pérez had returned and had promised to take Barca on and he spent millions doing so but there was one player he really wanted: Benzema. Apart from his goal exploits, Pérez was quick to point out that Benzema enjoys a great assist record. A fee was agreed and Benzema joined Manuel Pellegrini but the season would end with the Chilean getting the sack. Benzema struggled; Gonzalo Higuaín was picked to partner Ronaldo. The Spanish press felt that the French striker was lazy and started to dub him the ‘new Anelka’ but Pérez stood by his player and when José Mourinho came in, the President made his feelings very clear about Benzema: he was to be kept and shaped into a brilliant forward.
Mourinho admitted that he was talented but he also told the player that he needed to work more. Laurent Blanco also repeated that sentiment. With Mourinho preferring to play Ronaldo and Higuaín at the start of his reign, Benzema was given sporadic starting opportunities but then the Argentine forward picked up a serious injury and Frenchman got a chance. He was part of the Copa del Rey winning team and his work rate won lots of praise from the club’s President, ex players and Coach. Even the Press were praising him.
Before the 2011-12 season, Benzema went to a special clinic to lose weight and build up muscle after being encouraged to do so by Zidane and Blanc. Real Madrid reaped the rewards but whilst the Madrid Press were paying homage to Mourinho for the transformation, the Special One refused to accept any credit, saying that it was the player, and the player alone, who deserved all the praise. Scoring over 20 league goals, Madrid won the league and it was seen as a changing of the guard as Real Madrid were believed to have ended Barca’s era of success but the following season saw the wheels come off for Mourinho and Barca took the league back. This summer Real Madrid have spent well and with Higuaín gone, most expected the player to stay as he looked to become an undisputed starter but reports in England link him with Arsenal. Are they right? It depends on whom you read and believe but lets imagine that he does want to come to the Premier League. What could he bring to the league?
The ambidextrous forward can play as the main forward or in a supporting role on one side of the attack. He can drop back and play behind a main striker, although it isn’t a role he particular enjoys. As mentioned above, his goal scoring record is impressive but he is more than goals. At Real Madrid he has had to play in Ronaldo’s shadow and he has played his role to perfection. Last season he only scored 11 goals but he did supply 12 assists. He is a natural goal scorer and he is the poacher Arsenal need. He showed at Real Madrid that he can be counted on in big games and he also shone in the Champions League. To date he has played 53 games in Europe, scoring 31 times and providing 15 assist.
Of course there will be comments about how Arsenal are changing the profile of their transfer targets. The Vikingo forward is very different to the other forward that Arsenal have been linked with from Liverpool. Benzema isn’t better than Luis Suárez. Suárez is more complete but many football writers agree that maybe Benzema is a better fit for Arsenal than the Uruguayan. Looking at Wednesday’s midweek game, Arsenal need some to convert their chances and the Frenchman ticks those boxes. Some are already comparing the former Lyon striker to Oliver Giroud but the Real Madrid player is a better forward and is sharper in front of goal.
Yet, Benzema doesn’t like to be limited to a ‘No. 9’ role and likes the freedom to roam around the pitch. Mourinho gave him this and that is one of the reasons he shined under the Chelsea boss. His movement and passing is great. Stats show that he had a shot accuracy of 68% last season and that his passing was 78% successful. He isn’t afraid to take on defenders and likes to run with the ball. He has the body strength to succeed in the league but in the air he needs more work. He can score but he isn’t an aerial threat that will put fear into the hearts of defences but that can be worked on. He is arrogant and believes in his own talents and some compare him to Anelka because of that but as he proved with Mourinho, he is willing to listen and respect his Coaches, especially if they can help him develop. When Mourinho had digs at him in the Press, El Gato, knuckled down and proved him wrong.
Some Arsenal fans may think that one of the positives of signing Benzema over Suárez is that the Frenchman has less baggage but that is not necessarily true. He is still involved in a court case with other French players involving an underage prostitute. Earlier this year he caused controversy in France when he said that he preferred not to sing the National anthem and then there are his issues with cars. He has had a few car accidents since he has been at Madrid and earlier this year he was caught doing 216 kph on a Madrid ring road where the speed limit is 100kph. Benzema appeared in court and accepted the charges. Whilst on the pitch he may be an angel compared to Suárez, off the pitch he is a bit of a wild thing.
There are lots of conflicting reports about Wenger’s chances of landing the striker. One journalist says that no offer has been received and that the player has no intention of leaving and even wants to renew his contract. Frédéric Hermel is a very trustworthy source and speaks to the player on a regular basis. Whilst nothing in football is guaranteed and players come and go, Benzema still remains a Florentino favourite. When he about to sign for Real Madrid, Florentino went to his house in France to personally convince him to join. That bond has stayed strong and so Arsenal fans may be left frustrated once again.
Saying that, with the signing of Bale, Real Madrid may be willing to sell but again there are different reasons for this and it depends on if you believe them or not. One report is that they need to balance the books but another one suggests that it is because Suárez is back on Los Blancos agenda and Benzema cash will be used to buy him. There is another story, which is more credible, that with Bale in the team that Ronaldo will play up front alone and that Benzema, despite his relationship with the President, may be pushed back to the bench. If true, then maybe, just maybe, Arsenal may have a chance to nab him. Wenger promised 12 days of chaos, he won’t be proven wrong.
Is Benzema the right player for Arsenal? The answer is simple: Yes. Arsenal need his eye for goal, his ruthlessness and more, his arrogance. There are some in Spain that believed Gonzalo Higuaín was a better option but Arsenal lost out that time. Real Madrid don’t have a lot of depth upfront and so they may be hesitant to let him go but if they are really after Suárez, then they will need to sell fast and buy even quicker. Will Arsenal, and more importantly Wenger, be quick enough to sign him or will another one slip through their fingers.