Recently, Real Madrid extended the contract of Karim Benzema until 2021, with multiple Spanish media outlets, such as Marca, reporting that a 1 billion euro release clause was slapped on to the contract. Yes, you read that right – 1 billion!! You must be wondering what Florentino and co. are smoking in the Spanish capital. I mean, who would want to buy Benzema anyway?
Benzema joined Madrid in 2009 at the tender age of 21, after an impressive spell with French giants, Lyon. After a lackluster first season, Benzema eventually asserted himself into the Madrid starting line-up, fighting off strong competition from Gonzalo Higuain (and more recently from Alvaro Morata).
During his time at Real Madrid, fans, teammates, and coaches have questioned his work ethic, quality, and dedication to the team. Former Real Madrid coach, Jose Mourinho, famously compared the French striker to a “cat”, referring to Benzema’s docile and nonchalant nature on the pitch. However, fast forward 7 seasons later, Benzema has been crowned as the eighth most prolific striker in Real Madrid history, having scored 181 goals and winning three Champion’s Leagues, two La-Ligas, two Club World Cups, and three European Super Cups.
With that said, it is still inconceivable as to why Real Madrid would value the Frenchman so highly. His release clause is apparently the same as Ronaldo’s! Surely, there are better strikers in Europe than Benzema . . . right?
Before passing judgement, it is critical to understand the striker’s role in the team. Benzema is not your traditional center forward, like a Drogba, Diego Costa, or Falcao. It is also worth noting that Ronaldo and Bale, Benzema’s strike partners, aren’t traditional “wingers” either. In fact, that is where Benzema comes in.
A hybrid striker and playmaker, Benzema is an expert finisher, who plays well with his back to the goal. He is a master of the interplay and the most important link between the midfield and attack for Madrid- there is no one in the current Madrid squad that is able to link up play as good as Benzema. Referring to himself as a “modern day forward,” Benzema reiterates that his role is not just about goal scoring, but transcends that to include movement, link up play, and assists for teammates.
Statistically, Benzema has consistently delivered the goods for Madrid. For the past 6 seasons, Benzema has scored 150 goals and dished out a further 70 assists in all competitions-that is more assists than playmakers like Andres Iniesta (56 assists), Luka Modric (30 assists), and Alexis Sanchez (64 assists) during the same timeframe. Benzema’s impact can be seen further when compared with some of the elite strikers in Europe such as Aguero (172 goals, 41 assists), Higuain (165 goals, 44 assists), Lewandoski (205 goals, 48 assists), Diego Costa (114 goals,~30 assists)*, and Cavani (200 goals, 23 assists) for the past 6 seasons.
Furthermore, with more goals than greats like Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Benzema is the number 5 top scorer in Europe’s elite competition, UEFA Champion’s League. There are only two active players with more Champion’s League goals than Benzema – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, which is not bad since they both vie for the title of best player in the world. In terms of assists, Benzema is currently ranked number 7 in the UEFA Champions League.
On the contrary, Benzema does have a tendency to miss easy chances that undoubtedly exasperates his fans, teammates, and coaches. But his track record shows that what Benzema lacks in lethal goal scoring, he certainly makes up in assists for his teammates. His selfless nature makes him a perfect compliment to the likes of Ronaldo and Bale. Real Madrid was right in their decision to secure their crown jewel for as long as possible.
NOTE: Statistics from www.espnfc.com. Statistics does not include games played for National teams.
*Statistics for Loan to Rayo Vallecano not included.