The Goal.com 50: Karim Benzema (14)

Goal.com's countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with powerful French international forward Karim Benzema, who seems unable to do any wrong as his ascent to becoming one of the game’s superstars continues…

50 - Ashley Young - Aston Villa, Premier League - Score: 1109
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017
37 - Philipp Lahm - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1009
36 - Javier Mascherano - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 1008
35 - Julio Cesar - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 1000
34 - Robinho - Real Madrid, Primera Division / Manchester City, Premier League - Score: 970
33 - Diego - Werder Bremen, Bundesliga - Score: 955
32 - Carles Puyol - FC Barcelona, La Primera División - Score: 915
31 - Wesley Sneijder - Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 887
30 - Daniele De Rossi - Roma, Serie A - Score: 878
29 - Esteban Cambiasso - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 877
28 - Giorgio Chiellini - Juventus, Serie A - Score 870

27 – Emmanuel Adebayor – Arsenal, Premier League – Score 862

26 - Nemanja Vidic - Manchester United, Premier League - Score: 829
25 - Ruud Van Nistelrooy - Real Madrid, Primera División- Score: 827
24 - Sergio Ramos - Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 733

23 - Dougie Maicon - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 729

22 - Alessandro Del Piero - Juventus, Serie A - Score 712

21 - John Terry, Chelsea, Premier League - Score 705

20 - Frank Lampard, Chelsea, Premier League: Score 668

19 - Marcos Senna, Villarreal, Primera Division - Score: 636

18 - Rio Ferdinand, Manchester United, Premier League - Score: 610

17 - Gianluigi Buffon - Juventus, Serie A - Score 589

16 - Kaka, AC Milan, Serie A - Score 587
15 - Wayne Rooney, Manchester United, Premier League – Score 586

14- Karim Benzema, Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score 559

€100 million could buy the house of your dreams, a fleet of expensive sports cars, a yacht and a modestly sized tropical island on which to live and enjoy your wealth. If you’re the owner of a football club, it could also you exciting young forward Karim Benzema – but, be warned, you wouldn’t have any loose change left!

The €100 Milllion Kid


Olympique Lyonnais president Jean-Michel Aulas’ announcement that only €100 million would prise Karim Benzema away from the Stade Gerland was met with a bizarre non-reaction. Nobody really paid a great deal of interest, not even bothering to dismiss the remarks as the ramblings of a dreamer.

Slowly, as Lyon’s campaign in the Champions League has gathered pace, the casual football supporter has realised that there may well have been something in Aulas’ words. The supremo spoke in mid-September after Benzema had scored five times in the opening six Ligue 1 fixtures, two of which he only appeared in as a substitute!

Having turned only 21-years-old less than a month ago, Lyon have always known that they have had a prodigious talent on their hands in the shape of Benzema.

“When he was 15, I saw him training and I said to the president, 'Jean-Michel, there's a phenomenon coming though here',” Bernard Lacombe, a special advisor at Lyon, told UEFA’s website. “And he thought that the next day [Benzema] could turn pro, even though he was only 15. It was extraordinary because with his attitude and his quality he had the lot.”

Six years on, the prodigy is becoming a phenomenon, saving his best performances this season, as so many of the very top players do, for the Champions League. With an impressive tally of five goals in the opening six games of this term’s competition, Benzema finds himself alongside established stars and recognised world class players such as Lionel Messi, Steven Gerrard and Miroslav Klose at the summit of the goal scoring charts.

‘Benzebut’ spearheaded a stunning Lyon performance against Fiorentina away from home that transformed les Gones’ qualifying campaign from one of barely-acceptable mediocrity to one of success. The locally-born forward grabbed the French champions’ second goal, which would ultimately prove decisive, although OL could have had several more as they produced an awesome display of power.

Versatility


The European exploits of Benzema have come, to some extent, at a price as Lyon’s general manager, Claude Puel, recognises him as an essential member of his first team squad. To that end, Benzema has frequently been rested before Champions League fixtures and, as a result, has started only 13 Ligue 1 fixtures this season (although this can also be partly attributed to injury).

A meagre number of starts has not prevented Benzema searching for the summit of the top scoring charts in Ligue 1, finding the net an impressive 10 times already this term and scoring at the rate of one goal for every two hours he is on the park.

What’s more, like Wayne Rooney at Manchester United, Benzema’s versatility has been exploited to the detriment of his goal-getting abilities. Les Gones, without a recognised left-winger for much of the season, have simply stuck their star man in the vacuum.

While admitted that he doesn’t favour the role, Beznema’s performances on the flank remain exceptional, with his pace, power and close control frightening defences Europe-wide and have barely slowed his scoring rate.

Double Trouble


In goal scoring terms, the year started in a sluggish manner for the man freshly out of his teens. After an unstoppable start to season 2007/08 on the domestic front, Benzema was reduced to five goals in 15 league matches, however, he would score important goals in the final weeks of the season as Lyon barely fended off Girondins de Bordeaux to maintain their French crown.

A brace against Caen was enough to earn Lyon an unspectacular point at the Stade Gerland, which kept Bordeaux just out of reach, but his main contribution was a first minute strike against Auxerre on the final day of the season. Alain Perrin’s side needed to win that fixture to secure the title and Benzema’s goal inside 60 seconds helped settle any nerves and set his hometown club up for a routine win.

Seven days later, Lyon were back in trophy-lifting mood as they beat Paris Saint-Germain 1-0 after extra-time in the French Cup. Although it was a largely unspectacular performance from Benzema, he had helped the club achieve what they had never done before – a domestic double.

But there is one achievement that lies just out of reach for the Rhône Valley club; the European Cup. Les Gones were largely criticised for their performances against Manchester United en route to slipping out 2-1 on aggregate last season, but Benzema could only build on his impressive reputation as a troublesome, goal-scoring first-leg performance had the Red Devils in the mire for a spell.

In all, Benzema would finish 2007/08 as Ligue 1’s top scorer with 20 goals and the Coupe de France’s top scorer with six strikes, allied to a further four goals in Europe.

Widespread Recognition


It is this ability to perform supremely well on the highest stage that has caught the attentions of all of Europe’s biggest clubs. Without exception, there is not a team in the world that would not have Benzema on their books, and who can blame them? A career record of 12 goals in 17 Champions League fixtures is outstanding for anyone, let alone for a player essentially still cutting his senior teeth.

A huge fan of Ronaldo (the original one) since childhood, Benzema could well follow his hero’s steps by playing with one of the two great Spanish giants, Barcelona or Real Madrid, both of whom have professed an interest in him. In response, Benzema has suggested that he sees a move to Spain or Italy as ideal, however, reports suggest that, as a childhood fan of Real Madrid, los Merengues are currently in pole position for his signature.

Aulas has suggested that Benzema will not be allowed to leave the Stade Gerland until 2010, although he is contracted to les Gones until 2013. The player, who keeps a surprisingly low media profile given his status, has yet to speak publicly about any opposing desire.

Indeed, Benzema remains largely humble, discussing his desire to improve aspects of his game at the outset of the season. “I must always try to better myself,” he told Lyon’s website in August, “I will not put myself under particular pressure. For me to perform very well I must train hard and play regularly.

“For me to work well, I must be more intelligent and not simply run in all directions. As the coach [Claude Puel] said to me, I must keep more juice for the final 30 meters.”

If Benzema is to improve significantly on his current standard, he will be a truly frightening prospect and will be recognised as one of the world’s elite strikers, which is a status that should probably already be given to him, even at the age of 21. Expect to see his name in the top ten of this list next season!

Team Prizes


Ligue 1 Winner: 2007/08
Coupe de France Winner: 2007/08

Individual Accolades


UNFP Player of the Year: 2007/08
LFP Player of the Year: 2007/08
LFP Team of the Year: 2007/08
Ligue 1 Top Scorer: 2007/08 (20 goals)
Coupe de France Top Scorer: 2007/08 (6 goals)
Ballon d’Or Nominee

Robin Bairner, Goal.com