Karim Benzema "learned a lot" from Cristiano Ronaldo but was also "overshadowed" by his former Real Madrid team-mate, the 2022 Ballon d'Or winner's academy coach told Stats Perform.

Madrid captain Benzema was named the world's best footballer by France Football for the first time in Paris on Monday.

The France forward was a deserving winner, having been Madrid's outstanding performer in scoring 44 goals in 2021-22 as they won LaLiga and the Champions League.

It was by far the most prolific campaign of Benzema's career, although his goalscoring form had already seen an upturn since Ronaldo's 2018 departure.

Benzema scored only 12 goals in 2017-18 as Ronaldo's final season at the Santiago Bernabeu ended with a fourth European crown alongside the former Lyon man. Benzema's fifth followed this year without Ronaldo.

Many might now wonder how Benzema's career could have panned out had he not joined Madrid in the same transfer window as Ronaldo back in 2009.

But Armand Garrido, an academy coach at Lyon between 1989 and 2019, pointed out to Stats Perform the ways in which Benzema also profited from playing with Ronaldo.

"Yes, the fact of playing with Cristiano Ronaldo, he was overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo," Garrido said in an exclusive interview. "But at the same time, yes, he learned a lot with Cristiano Ronaldo.

"He certainly learned how to work, how to train, how to keep a healthy lifestyle.

"Nowadays, there are other players like Cristiano Ronaldo, who are old compared to the kind of players we can be expecting at a very high level, and [Ronaldo] is still playing at top level.

"So, yes, Benzema learned a lot from Cristiano, but he was also overshadowed by Cristiano."

Benzema will now be remembered as a Madrid great, but Garrido added: "When he leaves to sign for Real Madrid, my first thought was that he's crazy; he chose the toughest club.

"Not [crazy] to join Real, of course, but maybe [it would be better] joining before another club superior to Olympique Lyonnais.

"We did not think that it was the best way to earn a place at Real Madrid, but when he does it, it is when we realise that he's a world-class player."

Neymar hailed the "deserved" choice of Karim Benzema as Ballon d'Or winner, after the Real Madrid star claimed the prestigious honour for the first time on Monday.

But the Paris Saint-Germain attacker criticised the eighth-place finish for Benzema's Madrid team-mate Vinicius Junior, with the Brazil international declaring his fellow Selecao star should have finished in the top three at a "minimum".

Benzema was crowned the world's greatest player for the 2021-22 season at a ceremony earlier this week, succeeding Neymar's PSG club-mate Lionel Messi while beating out Bayern Munich's Sadio Mane to top spot.

It came after a campaign that saw him lead Carlo Ancelotti's side to success in LaLiga and the Champions League, scoring 44 goals and adding 15 assists.

Neymar, who was not nominated this year, took to social media a day after the presentation to hail Benzema's victory, but added that Vinicius, another key Madrid star last term, deserved greater recognition.

"Benzema deserved [it - he's the] crack!" the attacker wrote on Twitter. "Now, for Vini Jr to be eighth - it's not possible! Minimum top three!"

After arguably the toughest domestic season of his career to date last term, Neymar looks to be back to his best this season, with nine goals and seven assists in Ligue 1 so far.

Benzema meanwhile has struggled with fitness issues, restricting the 34-year-old to just four goals and one assist in LaLiga.

Neymar hailed the "deserved" choice of Karim Benzema as Ballon d'Or winner, after the Real Madrid star claimed the prestigious honour for the first time on Monday.

But the Paris Saint-Germain attacker criticised the eighth-place finish for Benzema's Madrid team-mate Vinicius Junior, with the Brazil international declaring his fellow Selecao star should have finished in the top three at a "minimum".

Benzema was crowned the world's greatest player for the 2021-22 season at a ceremony earlier this week, succeeding Neymar's PSG club-mate Lionel Messi while beating out Bayern Munich's Sadio Mane to top spot.

It came after a campaign that saw him lead Carlo Ancelotti's side to success in LaLiga and the Champions League, scoring 44 goals and adding 15 assists.

Neymar, who was not nominated this year, took to social media a day after the presentation to hail Benzema's victory, but added that Vinicius, another key Madrid star last term, deserved greater recognition.

"Benzema deserved [it - he's the] crack!" the attacker wrote on Twitter. "Now, for Vini Jr to be eighth - it's not possible! Minimum top three!"

After arguably the toughest domestic season of his career to date last term, Neymar looks to be back to his best this season, with nine goals and seven assists in Ligue 1 so far.

Benzema meanwhile has struggled with fitness issues, restricting the 34-year-old to just four goals and one assist in LaLiga.

Karim Benzema will need to perform well for France at the upcoming World Cup to "justify his status" as Ballon d'Or winner, claims Michel Platini.

Benzema finished a career-best 2021-22 season with 44 goals, while adding 15 assists as he helped fire Real Madrid to a LaLiga and Champions League double.

The 34-year-old's stunning campaign was enough to see off the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Sadio Mane to win his first Ballon d'Or, having previously been nominated 10 times without taking home the trophy.

But Platini, who won Ballon d'Or awards in three consecutive years between 1983 and 1985, believes there is now more pressure on Benzema to perform at the World Cup in Qatar, starting next month.

"He reached the grail with the Ballon d'Or," Platini told RMC Sport. "He has a big responsibility being the best player in the world and the World Cup is coming up.

"He will have to be on top to justify his status."

Benzema returned from a six-year exodus with the national team for Euro 2020, scoring four goals in four appearances as France crashed out at the round of 16 stage.

He will hope to help Les Blues defend their World Cup crown, beginning with their opening group match against Australia on November 22, though Platini believes Benzema is already well on his way to becoming a France footballing icon.

"Benzema is becoming a legend of French football," Platini added. "Winning a Ballon d'Or brings you into the ranks of great footballers."

Didier Deschamps is optimistic Paul Pogba will be fit to feature at the World Cup next month, amid reports the midfielder is set to return to training with Juventus.

Pogba has yet to make a competitive appearance for the Bianconeri since returning from Manchester United in July, and is a doubt for the tournament in Qatar after undergoing surgery to solve a lesion to the lateral meniscus in his right knee.

The 2018 World Cup winner initially opted to treat the injury with conservative therapy, which his doctor Roberto Rossi subsequently said had worsened his condition. 

On Tuesday, with little over a month to go before France's Group D opener against Australia, Italian media reports suggested Pogba's return to Juventus training was imminent. 

Speaking after attending Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony in Paris, Deschamps told Sport Mediaset he was upbeat concerning the midfielder's progress, saying: "His programme is going well. 

"The important thing is that he is cured, I think he will be, and this is already a good thing.

"Then there will be the question whether he looks athletic, since he hasn't played for a long time. 

"But I repeat, before thinking about whether I call him up, he must be healed."

Pogba has won 91 caps and hit 11 goals for France since making his international debut in 2013, and scored Les Bleus' third goal in their 4-2 win over Croatia in the 2018 World Cup final.

Meanwhile, Deschamps saw another of his France stars crowned the best player in the world on Monday, as Karim Benzema won the Ballon d'Or for the first time in his career.

Asked about Benzema's triumph, Deschamps added: "He deserves it. It is an important thing for all of French football, that of the national team and the clubs."

Thibaut Courtois suggested the Yashin Trophy had been "invented" to appease goalkeepers as he struggled to understand his seventh-placed Ballon d'Or finish – scepticism that was shared by Iker Casillas.

Keeper Courtois' Real Madrid team-mate Karim Benzema took the top award in Monday's Paris ceremony, named the best player in the world by France Football.

Benzema was a deserving winner, as Courtois himself acknowledged, having scored 44 goals in 46 games as Madrid won LaLiga and the Champions League in 2021-22. He netted two hat-tricks among a record-equalling 10 goals in the Champions League knockout stage.

But Courtois was also a part of those two triumphs and had an equally vital role in the European success, making nine saves in the final against Liverpool – a record since Opta data was first gathered in 2003-04 and worth 2.5 prevented goals, according to expected goals on target data.

The Belgium international beat Liverpool's Alisson to the Yashin Trophy, awarded to the world's best goalkeeper, yet he felt he should have fared better in the overall ranking.

"First of all, I want to say that I am very happy for Karim Benzema," Courtois told Cadena SER.

"It seems that it is better to score a goal than to stop one. It is a battle that remains to be won. Seeing the logic of the vote, I had no chance of finishing very high, nor of winning it of course.

"I'm not saying I had to win it! But you win La Liga, the Champions League, your team wins thanks to your saves... and you only finish seventh. You're not even on the podium.

"In the top 10, there wasn't even a defender. At least this year they invented the trophy for the best goalkeeper."

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Courtois shared a post from former Madrid keeper Casillas, which read: "I'm happy for Thibaut Courtois! By far he is the best goalkeeper in the world.

"What I'm not happy about is not having put him on the final podium for the Ballon d'Or. I still don't understand what those who choose this award are based on."

Carlo Ancelotti was not put out by Manchester City being named the team of the year in Monday's Ballon d'Or ceremony, saying last season's Champions League glory is proof of Real Madrid's standing.

Madrid finished third in the votes for the team award, despite winning LaLiga and the Champions League last season.

Liverpool finished as runners-up behind City, as they did in the Premier League. The Reds also lost to Madrid in the Champions League final, but won the EFL Cup and FA Cup last term. Indeed, Los Blancos also beat Pep Guardiola's side en route to winning their 14th European crown.

Ancelotti, though, insists Madrid – who won the Super Cup in August and are top of LaLiga after defeating Barcelona in Sunday's Clasico – are still the best.

He said in a press conference: "I don't know the criteria well, because they don't talk about the team. Madrid is the best team and that is why they have won the Champions League.

"I have all the respect for that award. We received the most important award in May."

Madrid did enjoy success on Monday, though, with Karim Benzema taking home the main individual prize after his stunning season in 2021-22, becoming the first French player to do so since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.

Benzema, 34, led Madrid to their success, which came somewhat against the odds – at least in the Champions League.

However, when asked if had been surprised by his achievements since re-joining Madrid from Everton last year, Ancelotti replied: "No, I don't think so. What we have achieved so far has been very good.

"For me it is not so surprising, here you have everything to be successful: history, tradition, competition, quality of the players, atmosphere... At the beginning of last season I had many more doubts than now."

Benzema scored 44 times last season, a tally bettered only by Robert Lewandowski (50) of players in Europe's top-five leagues.

Next on the list after Benzema was Kylian Mbappe, who scored 39 goals for Paris Saint-Germain and appeared all set to join his France team-mate at Madrid until a late change of heart.

Reports last week claimed Mbappe now wanted to leave PSG, though he denied those rumours on Monday. 

Asked if Mbappe would deserve another chance to sign for the club, Ancelotti instead chose to hail the next generation already coming through at the Santiago Bernabeu.

"What is the future? I do not know. On a personal level, I don't know what can happen," he said.

"The future of this club and this team is already written with young players like Vinicius [Junior], Rodrygo, [Aurelien] Tchouameni, [Eduardo] Camavinga, [Federico[ Valverde, [Eder] Militao... who have already written the future of this team.

"The players change, but these players have shown what the future of Real Madrid will be."

Carlo Ancelotti challenged Karim Benzema to launch his bid for back-to-back Ballon d'Or awards when Real Madrid head to Elche in LaLiga on Wednesday.

French striker Benzema captured world football's most prestigious individual annual prize on Monday, finishing ahead of Sadio Mane and Kevin De Bruyne in the podium places.

He was the obviously outstanding candidate after starring – and often captaining – Madrid on their way to LaLiga and Champions League success last season.

The timeframe for the award has changed, shifting from a calendar year gong to one that celebrates achievement from August 1 to July 31.

The new system will continue, so early season efforts in 2022-23 will count towards next year's Ballon d'Or.

Benzema has made a steady start to this campaign, certainly not as eye-catching as Erling Haaland at Manchester City, whose goals could put him in the picture, despite Norway failing to qualify for the World Cup.

Now Ancelotti is urging Benzema to kick on, saying of his prize: "We are very happy. He said that he is very proud of this award and has thanked all his colleagues.

"We have to think about the next Ballon d'Or. He can start tomorrow."

Ancelotti said he felt "proud" of the 34-year-old and also Thibaut Courtois, who landed the prize for the best goalkeeper and finished seventh in the main vote.

Courtois questioned whether a goalkeeper stood any chance of taking the top prize. Lev Yashin, in 1963, is the only keeper to have laid his hands on the trophy.

Speaking after the awards, Courtois said: "It seems that it is better to score a goal than to save one. It is a battle that remains to be won. Seeing the logic of the vote, I had no chance of finishing very high, nor of winning it of course."

At least Courtois could join Benzema in celebrating individual prizes, with Madrid surprisingly pipped to the team award by Premier League champions Manchester City, who Madrid beat in the Champions League semi-finals.

Ancelotti, who will be without the injured Courtois at Elche, saluted Benzema's development into a talisman for the Spanish capital giants.

"He is a player who has much more responsibility and feels much more like a leader than he was eight years ago," said Ancelotti.

"Technically he hasn't changed much, because his technical quality is the same. What has changed is his responsibility and his attitude."

Madrid will hope to follow the individual success with another win on the road, having won all of their five away games so far in LaLiga this term.

They lead LaLiga by three points from Barcelona after winning Sunday's Clasico.

Elche, meanwhile, are winless in their last 12 matches against Madrid in LaLiga (D2 L10), since a 3-1 victory in March 1978.

Karim Benzema said he had realised a childhood dream by winning the Ballon d'Or for the first time on Monday.

The Real Madrid captain was rewarded for an outstanding 2021-22 campaign when he was named the best player in the world at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Benzema scored an astonishing 44 goals in 46 games as Madrid accomplished a LaLiga and Champions League double under Carlo Ancelotti last season.

The France striker, who turns 35 in December, became the oldest Ballon d'Or winner since the great Stanley Matthews way back in 1956.

Benzema was presented with the award by his former Madrid head coach Zinedine Zidane, who had been the last French player to win in 1998, on a special evening in his homeland.

He said: "Seeing this award in front of me makes me really proud of the work I have done. It was childhood dream, to have the motivation... I had two role models, Zidane and Ronaldo [the Brazil legend], and always I had this dream in my mind that anything is possible.

"There was a difficult period where I wasn't in the French team, but I never stopped working hard or gave up.

"Really proud of my journey here. It wasn't easy, it was difficult. To be here today for the first time, I am happy, pleased for my work and want to keep going.

"I want to thank all my team-mates at Real Madrid and France and my coach and the Real Madrid president, who is here this evening, and also the support of Jean-Michel Aulas [Lyon president].

"There are a lot of people to thank. It is an individual prize but still a collective one because of everyone who played a role in it."

Bayern Munich's former Liverpool forward Sadio Mane was the runner-up, with Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne third and Robert Lewandowski fourth after an outstanding final season for Bayern Munich before joining Barcelona.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was ranked fifth and Paris Saint-Germain's prolific France international Kylian Mbappe only sixth.

Benzema added: "Age is just a number for me. People play until their later years now, and I still have this burning desire.

"It is this drive that has kept me going and never allowed me to let up. It kept this dream alive and was the fire behind me. I just want to make the most if it."

Karim Benzema has been rewarded for his career-best 2021-22 season with his first Ballon d'Or in a ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Real Madrid captain Benzema was a strong favourite for the top award on Monday after inspiring the Spanish giants to a LaLiga and Champions League double last term.

Ahead of a November-December World Cup, a change in the format saw the Ballon d'Or awarded based on performances over a regular season rather than the calendar year for the first time.

France international Benzema would have been a leading candidate in either case, but he was the clear winner after scoring 44 goals in 46 matches and earning a fifth European crown in the 2021-22 campaign.

Bayern Munich's former Liverpool forward Sadio Mane was the runner-up, with Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne third and Robert Lewandowski fourth after an outstanding final season for Bayern Munich before joining Barcelona.

Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah was ranked fifth and Paris Saint-Germain's prolific France international Kylian Mbappe only sixth.

Lewandowski won the Gerd Muller Award, presented to the best striker, before Benzema was handed the Ballon d'Or by his former Madrid boss Zinedine Zidane.

Although his haul was topped by Lewandowski (50), 10 of Benzema's goals came in the Champions League knockout stages, tying a Cristiano Ronaldo single-season record.

Vinicius Junior netted the decisive strike in the final versus Liverpool, but Benzema had already established himself as the world's best with hat-tricks against both Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Adding 15 assists, Benzema's total of 59 goal involvements last season fell just shy of Mbappe's Europe-wide high of 60 (39 goals, 21 assists).

Benzema had been nominated for the Ballon d'Or on 10 previous occasions but only cracked the top 10 for the first time in 2021, finishing fourth as Lionel Messi – not nominated this year – claimed a seventh award.

Cristiano Ronaldo finished in 20th place in the Ballon d'Or voting as he headlined an array of stars to fall short of 2022 winner Karim Benzema.

Ronaldo, Benzema's former Real Madrid team-mate, was nominated following a strong season with Manchester United, but he could not come close to adding a sixth Ballon d'Or.

The United forward instead fell to his lowest finish since he last came 20th in 2005, then tied with Liverpool's Champions League winner Jamie Carragher.

Great rival Lionel Messi did not even earn a nomination after his first year at Paris Saint-Germain.

Some of the biggest names of the future came rather closer to troubling Karim Benzema, with Kylian Mbappe sixth and Erling Haaland 10th.

But neither made the final four, where Robert Lewandowski's world-leading 57-goal season for club and country was only enough for fourth place.

Ahead of him, Kevin De Bruyne was in third, with Sadio Mane second, perhaps showing what might have been for the ex-Liverpool forward had the Reds, not Madrid, won the Champions League final.

With Ronaldo 20th and Messi absent, the highest-ranking former Ballon d'Or winner was 2018's Luka Modric, one of Benzema's existing Madrid colleagues.

Modric came ninth, the lowest of four Madrid players in the top 10, as Champions League final winner Vinicius Junior was eighth and Yashin Trophy recipient Thibaut Courtois seventh.

2022 Ballon d'Or:

1. Karim Benzema
2. Sadio Mane
3. Kevin De Bruyne
4. Robert Lewandowski
5. Mohamed Salah
6. Kylian Mbappe
7. Thibaut Courtois
8. Vinicius Junior
9. Luka Modric
10. Erling Haaland
11. Son Heung-min
12. Riyad Mahrez
13. Sebastien Haller
14. Fabinho
14. Rafael Leao
16. Virgil van Dijk
17. Casemiro
17. Dusan Vlahovic
17. Luis Diaz
20. Cristiano Ronaldo
21. Harry Kane
22. Trent Alexander-Arnold
22. Phil Foden
22. Bernardo Silva
25. Joshua Kimmich
25. Mike Maignan
25. Antonio Rudiger
25. Joao Cancelo
25. Christopher Nkunku
25. Darwin Nunez

Siuuuu, it's come to this. The sidekick takes centre stage. The man who carried water for Cristiano Ronaldo gets his champagne moment.

Karim Benzema has gone from jeers to cheers at Real Madrid, with his 13-year odyssey in Spain having been a tale of survival at times.

How many times was he touted for a move to Arsenal during the Arsene Wenger era?

Wenger's consistent message that he did not need Benzema because Arsenal already had plenty of quality forwards has not aged particularly well.

Today, we need to talk about Karim, because it would be hard to think of a worthier Ballon d'Or winner.

His 44 goals in 46 games last season came in a double-winning cause, with Real Madrid carrying off the Champions League and LaLiga trophies. Make it a treble if you're counting the Supercopa, where the final saw Benzema score from the spot against Athletic Bilbao.

He has spent much of the year skippering Los Blancos, given club captain Marcelo was just a fringe figure in Carlo Ancelotti's team before leaving at the end of last season.

You might ask yourself: is this the same Karim Benzema as the player heckled from the Santiago Bernabeu stands five years ago? The player whose five goals in 32 LaLiga games in 2017-18 had some supporters ready to wave him off?

What use was a 30-year-old five-goal striker?

 

Benzema backed himself then as he backs himself today, and with Zinedine Zidane and Ancelotti similarly convinced, the Frenchman has gradually moved into the spotlight, the last survivor of the BBC combination that rivalled Barcelona's MSN.

Just like Messi-Suarez-Neymar, the Bale-Benzema-Cristiano all-star trio was compelling, but there was often a sense it was two thoroughbreds and a workhorse, the latter constrained by the dutiful role he was asked to fulfil.

Benzema knew better than to be a neigh-sayer, swallowed the sugarcoated reassurances, and proved himself a champion stallion after all.

When Ronaldo trotted off to Juventus in 2018, and as Bale's contributions waned, for the first time Benzema found himself the talisman.

He had been overshadowed all the way back to his first week at the club, when his presentation followed three days on from Ronaldo's own first big welcome at the Bernabeu.

Ronaldo's unveiling came on July 6, 2009, in front of an 80,000 crowd. Some of those returned for Benzema's own bow, but most had other things on.

Benzema was signed for €35million from Lyon amid an extraordinary spree, one that saw Florentino Perez's second term as president begin with not only Ronaldo and Benzema coming in, but Kaka, Xabi Alonso, Alvaro Negredo and Alvaro Arbeloa too.

An arduous first season (nine goals in 33 games) followed for Benzema, but in each of the next six campaigns he managed at least 20. Even in the Jose Mourinho era when he and Gonzalo Higuain would typically be fighting for one place.

Never mind that Ronaldo broke the 50-goal barrier in each of those seasons, Benzema was the magician's most trustworthy assistant.

In 2015, not long after losing his job at Madrid, Ancelotti told AS: "To me, Karim is the best player in the world in his position and not just as a goalscorer. Talking about whether he should score 30 goals is a false debate. He has great qualities; he is a complete player."

Ancelotti's short-lived successor, Rafael Benitez, made similar claims but also questioned Benzema's finishing and began to substitute him regularly, saying: "He is a phenomenon. Let him get mad. Next day, make sure you score twice instead of once."

It was tough love from Benitez, who was replaced in mid-season by Zidane. Benzema finished the season with 28 goals in 36 games across all competitions, scoring at a rate of one every 92.75 minutes.

In 2016-17, as the goals began to dry up, Zidane kept faith.

A poll conducted by sports daily AS showed that 88 per cent of Madrid fans preferred Benzema to start games as a substitute, but Zidane said: "We're not concerned, he's having a great season.

"We know what Karim can offer the side but the fans always want more from their players and that's something we must accept. He has the right character, he can accept the fans' point of view. He won't hide and he will always have my support."

In April 2018, Benzema spoke out in that great football bible, Vanity Fair, as he struggled to put the ball in the back of the net. All the while, Zidane had his back, and crucially another Champions League title was on the way that season.

"What I don't like is when people attack me when I play well, even if I don't score," Benzema said. "I play for the people who value what I do on the pitch.

"Those that come to the stadium to whistle, let them whistle. I'm not going to change their opinion."

In that season's LaLiga campaign, Benzema's five goals put him in a tie for fifth among the team's top scorers, alongside Casemiro and Toni Kroos. Ahead of him were Ronaldo (26 goals in 27 games), Bale (16 goals), Isco (7) and Marco Asensio (6).

Benzema was way behind his expected goals total of 13.22, which reflects the quality of his chances and likelihood of scoring.

When Ronaldo left, something clicked. In LaLiga alone, Benzema had not had consecutive 20-goal seasons while Ronaldo was at Madrid, but four followed in succession: 21, 21, 23, and last season's 27-goal league haul.

He was thriving not merely on responsibility, for that had always been there, but on prominence. Previously a glorified gofer, he has become the go-to man.

And now, with Ronaldo and Bale withering in Manchester and Los Angeles respectively, Benzema is flowering as his 35th birthday approaches.

He is club captain, and although Zidane has departed, it would have heartened Benzema to see Ancelotti recalled to Madrid last year, his old advocate returning.

By now five times a Champions League winner and four times a LaLiga champion, the individual accolades have been flowing for Benzema since Ronaldo headed over the horizon.

He was UEFA men's player of the year and Champions League player of the season for 2021-22, having finished as top scorer in Madrid's glory run. He took the Pichichi prize as LaLiga's leading goal-getter last term, too.

Despite intense lobbying from Madridistas, Benzema finished just fourth in Ballon d'Or voting last year, as Lionel Messi took the award for a seventh time.

There was ample reason for Benzema to be a strong contender in 2021, but his case has become utterly compelling since. In a sense this is a lifetime achievement award and a single-season accolade rolled up into one.

Everything has led to this moment. The wait has been overwhelmingly worth it.

Perhaps there's something in the notion of a lucky Shamrock. Thirteen years on from making his Real Madrid debut in a friendly against Shamrock Rovers, Karim Benzema is the world player of the year, a richly deserving winner of the Ballon d'Or.

It was Cristiano Ronaldo who topped the bill at a jam-packed Tallaght Stadium in July 2009, having joined Madrid from Manchester United, but substitute Benzema was the matchwinner that night, a late goal delivering a 1-0 victory for Los Blancos.

He kept winning, and winning some more, even when others took the spotlight, but the winning has been almost unrelenting. And that has been the theme of his career.

Benzema had won four Ligue 1 titles with Lyon before, at the age of just 21, he earned himself a move to Madrid, where he has won five Champions League titles, four LaLiga crowns, four FIFA Club World Cups, four European Super Cups, four Spanish Supercopas, and two Copa del Rey winner's medals.

Now 34-year-old Benzema is harvesting the personal acclaim, having long played the patient consort to the garlanded Ronaldo and, even, Gareth Bale.

As he ascends to this particular throne, Stats Perform has looked at how Benzema reached such a high point, and what the Ballon d'Or result means in wider terms.

 

Brilliant Benz merks his rivals

This time it had to be him. The Karim of the crop. Last year, it was hard to distinguish what was more embarrassing: the constant campaigning for Benzema to take the Ballon d'Or by Real Madrid luminaries past and present, or the fact Lionel Messi took the prize again, ahead of Robert Lewandowski.

Messi's seventh Ballon d'Or felt like a long-service award. Benzema's triumph is both that, and a reflection of the greatest season of his career.

The Ballon d'Or rules shifted this year, with the time span set from August 1, 2021, to July 31, 2022, rather than the calendar year.

In that time, Benzema, more often than not as captain, hit 44 goals in 46 games, with his shot conversion rate at a career high of 24.18 per cent.

He scored 27 of those goals in 32 LaLiga games to earn his first Pichichi – the award that goes to the league's leading scorer – and in doing so led Madrid to the title.

Messi won the Pichichi eight times, while Ronaldo took it on three occasions, with Luis Suarez (2015-16) the only other player to lay his hands on the trophy in the seasons from 2009-10 to 2020-21.

Benzema's league goals came at a rate of one every 96.15 minutes, which he has bettered only once in Spain (2015-16: 24 goals in 27 games, one goal every 83.04 minutes). Significantly, he was a provider in the league too, weighing in with a career-best 12 assists.

His 15 Champions League goals in Madrid's glorious campaign came from 12 games, at one goal every 73.73 minutes. He vastly surpassed his expected goals tally of 8.2, the metric that reflects the quality of a player's chances and likelihood of scoring.

He has made a career of exceeding expectations. When he made a €35million switch from Lyon all those years ago, not even Benzema could have imagined he would be peaking in his mid-thirties.

Benzema also drew level with Raul's haul of 323 goals for Madrid last season, going joint-second on the club's all-time list, behind only Ronaldo (450).

Second place has since become Benzema's outright, with the goals still coming. He probably won't catch Ronaldo, but he might not be far behind.

No longer a young man's game?

With Benzema landing the award just two months before he turns 35, it is another example of the younger generation not yet doing enough to challenge the old guard.

The last player aged under 30 to win the Ballon d'Or was Messi, who took the 2015 award.

Kylian Mbappe might have been a reasonable shout this time around, if Paris Saint-Germain had not perished against Madrid and Benzema in last season's Champions League, but the other serious challengers were on the top side of 30: the likes of Lewandowski, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane.

Next year is likely to be a different story, with Mbappe and Manchester City's Erling Haaland surely pushing for the trophy. The World Cup could also be impactful on the 2022-23 vote, and Qatar 2022 might yet bring Benzema more glory with France.

End of an era as the GOATs go out to pasture

This year's 1-2-3 was conspicuously lacking in GOATs. Neither Messi nor Ronaldo made the podium, which is the first time that has occurred in Ballon d'Or voting since the 2006 awards.

In fact, there have been 11 occasions when both have been in the top three, such has been their preeminence.

Messi has had 13 podium finishes and seven wins, just edging Ronaldo's 12 podiums and five awards.

Four of Ronaldo's awards came while a team-mate of Benzema at Madrid. While the Portugal great made the shortlist this time around, finishing 20th, Messi did not, and it might be a stretch to expect either man to threaten a top-three result again.

Karim Benzema has been rewarded for his career-best 2021-22 season with his first Ballon d'Or in a ceremony at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris.

Real Madrid captain Benzema was a strong favourite for the top award on Monday after inspiring the Spanish giants to a LaLiga and Champions League double last term.

Ahead of a November-December World Cup, a change in the format saw the Ballon d'Or awarded based on performances over a regular season rather than the calendar year for the first time.

France international Benzema would have been a leading candidate in either case, but he was the clear winner after scoring 44 goals in 46 matches and earning a fifth European crown in the 2021-22 campaign.

Although his haul was topped by Robert Lewandowski (50) – then of Bayern Munich and now of Barcelona – 10 of Benzema's goals came in the Champions League knockout stages, tying a Cristiano Ronaldo single-season record.

Vinicius Junior netted the decisive strike in the final versus Liverpool, but Benzema had already established himself as the world's best with hat-tricks against both Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.

Adding 15 assists, Benzema's total of 59 goal involvements last season fell just shy of Kylian Mbappe's Europe-wide high of 60 (39 goals, 21 assists).

Benzema had been nominated for the Ballon d'Or on 10 previous occasions but only cracked the top 10 for the first time in 2021, finishing fourth as Lionel Messi – not nominated this year – claimed a seventh award.

Karim Benzema should collect the Ballon d'Or trophy in Paris on Monday. The votes have been counted, and nobody seriously expects another outcome, even with football's propensity for surprise when it comes to a ballot.

But as if to emphasise his outstanding candidacy for France Football's coveted world player of the year award, Benzema scored and captained Real Madrid to victory over Barcelona in El Clasico, football's biggest domestic game.

One man does not make a team, but without Benzema it was a guileless Real Madrid that took a hideous 4-0 whacking by Barcelona at the Santiago Bernabeu in March.

It was back to normal service on Sunday, the skipper delivering the sort of accomplished centre-forward performance he has repeated time and again in recent seasons, playing a key role in a 3-1 win that sent Madrid three points clear of Xavi's upstart Barca at the top of LaLiga.

This is imperial phase Benzema, at the most revered and most productive stage of his career. Last season, he hit 44 goals in 46 games for Madrid, helping Carlo Ancelotti's team win not only the Spanish league but the Champions League.

Long gone are the days when he was a subordinate to the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and even perhaps Gareth Bale for a time. In his 14th season now at Madrid, Benzema is the great survivor, the man who rises to the big occasions.

He came off in the 88th minute of this game to a standing ovation, having got the better of rival number nine Robert Lewandowski, whose Clasico debut was one to forget.

 

Barcelona's thumping win at this stadium was a curio in Madrid's 2021-22 season and rightly treated as such. With Benzema ruled out by a leg injury, Carlo Ancelotti deployed Luka Modric in a false nine position to which he was spectacularly ill-suited, and Barcelona ran the hosts ragged, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scoring twice in the rout.

El Clasico has not been Benzema's most productive fixture, and it has been the Frenchman's longevity as much as anything that means only Lionel Messi has had more goal involvements in such matches during the 21st century. Messi had 40 (26 goals and 14 assists), and Benzema now has 21 (12 goals and nine assists).

In LaLiga, Benzema had played in 25 of these games before Sunday's encounter, winning only eight (D5 L12) and scoring just seven goals – including just one goal since April 2016.

Considering his overall record for Madrid showed Benzema hitting 327 goals in 614 games, this represented a disappointing tally.

LaLiga newcomer Lewandowski, meanwhile, could point to six goals in eight games on Champions League duty against Madrid, four of those coming for Borussia Dortmund in the first leg of the 2012-13 semi-final. Nobody has scored more against Madrid in the history of that competition.

Would this be a shoot-out between Benzema and Lewandowski? If so, first blood went to Benzema. Toni Kroos, being grappled with by Sergio Busquets, prodded the ball into space for Vinicius Junior down the left, and the Brazilian's acceleration took him clear of the Barcelona backline.

Four Barcelona defenders gave desperate chase, and when Ter Stegen palmed away the winger's shot, it ran only as far as the unattended Benzema.

He had skilfully held his run, and from 12 yards side-footed through that thicket of defenders, who had all but forgotten about him.

Benzema tore away towards the corner flag, kissing the badge on his shirt, arms open wide, a familiar pose in these parts.

Barcelona had conceded just once in their opening eight LaLiga games. Here they were up against it, yet they should have been level in the 25th minute when Raphinha's low ball across goal from the right was scooped over by a stretching Lewandowski at the far post.

It was quite some miss, particularly by the standards of the man who scored 50 goals for Bayern Munich last term.

Madrid's second goal came in the 35th minute and was rather splendid, Federico Valverde slamming into the bottom-left corner from 20 yards for his fourth goal of the season, the most he has managed in a single LaLiga campaign.

Barcelona had twice as many shots as Madrid in the first half (8-4) and 62.3 per cent of possession, but they trailed 3-2 in attempts on target – and by two clear goals.

All the passing accuracy in the world is no assurance of goals (Barca led this metric in the first half too – 91.8 per cent to Madrid's 84.4).

Benzema thought he had added a third for Madrid when he struck in style early in the second half, but he had strayed offside before receiving the ball.

Barcelona had plenty of chances (they finished the game 2.26 to 1.44 ahead on expected goals), and Lewandowski had a strong case for a penalty in the 74th minute when Dani Carvajal barged him over, but that did not even go to a VAR check.

 

Finally, Barca got a goal when Ferran Torres tucked in from close range in the 83rd minute, but hopes of a point were scotched in stoppage time when Rodrygo's penalty, after Eric Garcia trod on his toes, wrapped up the home win.

Benzema by then had a comfortable seat at pitchside, resting up before heading off for what should be a coronation at the Theatre du Chatelet in his home capital city.

Barcelona's unbeaten start in LaLiga is over, and they face likely Champions League elimination before the World Cup rolls around.

This is sweet music to Madrid ears, Benzema conducting the orchestra with aplomb once again.

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