We've all seen the TV detective series where the trusty lieutenant does all the leg work but disappears from the clinching scenes after the ad break. Karim Benzema is the football equivalent to the trusty sidekick who steps aside to allow the star, whose name is the title of the show, to grab the glory.
He was always the subordinate to Cristiano Ronaldo, taking a beating from the baddies, creating leads and covering all bases before disappearing into the shadows at the conclusion. Now, like Taggart and Inspector Morse, the headline act has moved on and he finally gets to play the lead and act the hero.
You could tell how far he’d come when he swaggered off the club jet as it landed in Barcelona wearing his shades and cool headphones. Suddenly there is a full appreciation of the Frenchman’s talents. This is marked by his improved goalscoring record and importance to the Real Madrid storyline.
It has taken a decade for the striker to be truly valued. This season he is the leading scorer with eighteen goals in all competitions.
Bear in mind that when he first signed he played second fiddle to Gonzalo Higuaín in the reign of José Mourinho and his national team manager Laurent Blanc said he was “not used to working”. But he saw off Higuaín and other challengers like Emmanuel Adebayor to secure a role as the ‘legs man’ for the ‘galácticos’ Cristiano and Gareth Bale.
Traditionally he would run himself into the ground and get hooked by the manager in the closing stages. Last season alone he was replaced on twenty-four occasions. But in the summer he knuckled down, lost five kilos and has returned to grasp the limelight.
He’s more vital to the Real Madrid team than even Bale, has new status as one of the club captains and is showing the teenage sensation Vinícius Júnior the ropes.
The reward is measured in more playing time, he’s finished the majority of his Liga starts, he’s already doubled last season’s domestic tally and has a one in two goal scoring ratio across all competitions. He even surpassed the legendary Hugo Sánchez to become the club’s sixth all-time leading scorer.
Just like Ronaldo last winter he’s started the year in sensational form with six goals in his last five games. Unlike Cristiano, though, he’s unlikely to be shipped out at the end of the season.
It’s quite a turnaround for a player who always sought to be accepted in the capital. Every season there was a question raised about whether the club could find a better number nine with Robert Lewandowski annually linked.
Lesser professionals would have taken a pay day in China or sought a lucrative move to a Premier League club but Benzema stayed on the scene and he’s solved the mystery.