Karim Benzema has been chosen as the best French player of 2021 by France Soccer. The prestigious magazine, which also awards the Ballon d’Or, has interviewed the Real Madrid striker in its January version, acknowledging the great level he has displayed over the last year. The French international has talked about his great moment in form, the way he conceives football and also how he has assumed the leadership of Real Madrid after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.
If you are really being appreciated right now: “Hum… It’s better to say that I’m actually being valued by quite a few people. But apart from the statistics, scoring more goals, I don’t think my football has changed. Move, generate, give assists, play up front, play with one touch… I’ve known how to do it for a long time and I always have. I’m still the same player.”
He was criticized for playing like this: “We don’t consume football like before. We cannot follow a match for 90 minutes. There are social networks. We don’t take the time to look at what a player does on the pitch, we only look at the one who has scored. And the next day we consider the latter as the best. This has already happened to me. I don’t play a good game, I score and I’m seen as the best. I don’t like this type of football, but in the future it will be produced more and more like this. Football has become a sport that we only see the statistics, you have to adapt and I adapt well”.
If a football lover can love the player, what is he: “When I play, I try to respect football. For example, I can’t shoot if I don’t have an angle when a teammate is unmarked. I’m going to pass the ball. There is not the: “Ah, but possibly I am going to score”. Everyone has their way of seeing football, but I try to go in the right direction”.
Make your teammates better “Of course, I try to make the rest better. And this is also respecting football: Make a good support, a good pass, if someone has the ball, do not hinder their space and attract the defenders, but discard yourself to leave them free. Afterwards, I don’t know if I’m the salt, the pepper or the pepper. A bit of everything”.
If you are aware of making others better: “I see it on the pitch. We take the example of Vinicius. I know I have contributed. You have to ask him. Right now, it’s not the same player. He does what he had to do for a long time and you can’t blame him for anything. He is a young player, he is good. I know he was capable of producing quite a few more. You just had to tell him. So, in just two-three sentences on the pitch, in two-three movements, I show him things, especially in the last 20 metres. He must make the decisions for himself, center to assist, not for anything, shoot or score. Raise your head. Look at the one before, he has set all that in motion. Now, yes, it is Vinicius. Nobody should have told me that before. I used to play with the biggest ones when I was little. He had to look at them and collect information faster. I learned to play fast, with my head. I analyze the game of my teammates. Little by little I know what they want to do.”
Single Player: “Yes. We can say something like that clearly. I don’t play like a 9 who stays in the area but he knows how to do it too. I don’t play like a 9 who only knows how to get away, but I know how to do it. This is the fruit of a lot of work. I grew up watching Ronaldo, the Brazilian striker, and in my eyes, he knew how to do everything. I took several things from Zidane and Ronaldo, really almost everything. Zizou, for example, his controls. He knows when to make a good pass, a good dribble with class. Ronaldo, I learned above all to take risks, dribbling and scoring. Afterwards, I am not like them because they are very high up”.
If you know what you are going to do when you receive the ball: “Yes, it is mandatory. In today’s football, you don’t have time. It goes faster than usual. There is more intensity in the game. If you receive and start to reflect for a second or two, you already have two players or three opponents coming, it’s complicated. I have already thought about what I want to do and then I say to myself: “I am going to give this pass to this player and he is going to make this movement”. That’s why I have two advance bodies. The first thing I activate is my brain. When I receive the ball, I don’t need a teammate to ask me for it. Those I play with know this. The ball arrives, you don’t need to say my name. I will always look for the best thing to do. I love football when it’s played with one touch and it’s fluid and when you take risks through movement. The partner who is alone, you pass it to him. He returns it to you. You find yourself alone before the goalkeeper, you try a feint and he gives it to your partner. It’s the football I love. And every time I play, it’s what I do, I’m never going to change. It’s like driving a Ferrari. Football has to be elegant and beautiful”.
If you like generating game more than defining: “No. Building and defining are two different things. The construction generates a collective pleasure. You find it with the movements, you touch the ball and, even when you don’t touch it, you open spaces for the rest. The goal provides a strong sensation individually and important collectively, as a double sensation. So scoring a goal puts you back on accelerations with the Ferrari. I love to play, but I know how to score. In training, you have to put the ball in ten times flush with the post and I put it in ten times. I have this opportunity to love the game, to be a different attacker. But I also love scoring goals. Normally, you can’t do both. But it gets to me.”
“I love to play, but I know how to score. Normally, you can’t do both. But it works for me.”
Your ideal 9: “Someone who knows how to do everything, both to contribute to his team with his movements, decisive passes and supports, as well as goals. The goal I scored against Atlético de Madrid (December 12), I tried to pressure Koke, he lost the ball, we got it back, Casemiro gave it to me, and I finished the play. You cannot do this after 90 minutes because it requires a lot of effort. So, I try to repeat it. I do it for five to ten minutes a game.” They ask him if he is the ideal 9: “Yes, but it has nothing to do with the others. I talk about this role and the attacker that I like. All available players have different abilities. If my son one day plays football in the same position, I would love for him to play the same way as me. And not that he doesn’t know how to score a goal.”
What do you reflect when you do not have the ball and it is around you: “It depends on the situations. Sometimes, I talk to the best. Pressing is fine, but doing it just for a pass, and then distributing it, is not okay. You have to push and move for something. Sometimes, for three minutes, I don’t touch the ball to analyze what’s happening, to see if the defender is going to come for me or free up space for me. I have need of it. If I am going to move, for example on the left wing, even without wanting to recover the ball, to see if the center back follows me. If it is not the case, then when I move, I know that it is not following me and I can return. If that’s the case, I know I’ll be able to play in one or two touches. I take information from the adversary. I am like a computer. It’s the vision.”
If you have an intelligence for the rest: “Can be. I try to get to that point or try to make my team enjoy. If I go to a place it is because the ball is going to pass there. I’ve been thinking like this for a long time and I don’t know if he has an intention.”
“Football has to be elegant and beautiful; like driving a Ferrari”
Interpret and play differently from Cristiano Ronaldo: “It is simple. When he played for Real Madrid, he scored between 50 and 60 goals per year. So, you must adapt to this reality. I had to move to give him an advantage on the field and create spaces for him because he made very good touches in the rival area. He had much more effectiveness than me in the goal. I gave him assists as he gave them to me. When he left, what changed is that I was the one who assumed these responsibilities, scoring the goals and giving assists to the rest of my teammates. I don’t play like Cristiano Ronaldo and he doesn’t play like Benzema. I didn’t go from lieutenant to leader. I wasn’t wondering if I had to give him all the balls. He played, but he scored twice as many goals. My game hasn’t gotten any more natural since he left. I do not want to say that, now, everything passes through my boots, but I am the one who generates and the one who ends. I create chances and finish them. In Lyon, that’s what I did. Now, that’s what I do at Real Madrid. When Cristiano was there, it was rather I who generated and he who scored”.
The players with whom you have enjoyed playing the most: “Cristiano Ronaldo, Juninho, Fred, Özil, Zidane in training too. Players who are coaches and football in which you make a support and the ball comes to you, you return it, they pass it to you again…”.
The 3-2-4-1 in France with Mbappé and Griezmann in attack: “In any case, for the moment it is going well. I am in the best conditions. Then, in the French team, for a week, you don’t train much, you have to recover, but they are good players, so everyone knows how to make moves. It is not a matter of automation. It’s been six years that I hadn’t been summoned, I had to adapt. It didn’t have to take long. It’s not a threesome. A trio is three forwards in the same line. Mbappé and I are taller, Griezmann plays behind both of us. It is he who is in the first pass. He must catch the ball and feed us. We can’t move around much where he is.”
If you try to ridicule defenders with dribbles: “I don’t play for that. When I dribble, I don’t do it to ridicule a defender. The essential thing is to play my game, help my team win. I don’t follow this kind of stuff enough.”
If you think you can improve: “No. Right now I only think about continuing at this level. Everybody says, “You could do a little better, machine.” But I don’t see it. Technically, tactically, mentally, physically… Now, we have to win the collective trophies”.