Benzema (right)and Pogba. / EFE

Benzema and the Ballon d'Or

The veteran Frenchman would be a brave choice given the star-studded list of global superstars; yet on current form he is the outstanding player in la Liga

ROB PALMER

Whoever would have thought that Karim Benzema would have been right at the top of the candidates list as the judges consider who should win the Ballon d'Or?

The veteran Frenchman would be a brave choice given the star-studded list of global superstars; yet on current form he is the outstanding player in La Liga and carrying Real Madrid.

He has taken his game to a whole new level, thriving since Cristiano Ronaldo departed the Bernabeu and taking on a whole new responsibility since Sergio Ramos handed over the captain's armband.

These days there are two ways to measure a footballer. The traditional method is to sit, watch and judge. The popular new metric is to examine the statistics.

If you watch Benzema you see a driven, international class player who belies his years. He rarely wastes a pass, leads by example and his finishing is masterly. He's a joy to watch and commentate on. You feel that when he receives the ball within 20 yards of the goal – something will happen.

Statistically he's the best in the top European Leagues. Ten goals and eight assists in the opening ten matches speaks volumes. He's managed a hat trick against Celta, braces against Alaves and Mallorca, and even scored in the disappointing defeats to Sheriff and Espanyol.

I'd argue there is no player who is individually more important to his club side.

It's quite a turn around for a player who was regarded as the 'legs man' for Ronaldo for the best part of a decade. His goal return was always good but never compared to his Galactico partner. As soon as CR7 departed Benzema moved from the shadows to the centre stage. A total of eighty-seven goals in three seasons underlines his newfound freedom.

He's the 'Benjamin Button' of world football. If you are not familiar with the film, it's about a man who ages in reverse.

Benzema is now a lean, athletic footballer who is approaching his thirty-fourth birthday and always goes the distance. When he signed as a raw twenty-one-year-old, he struggled with his fitness, often lost his place, and rarely went the full ninety minutes in matches. A few years ago, he shed weight, improved his durability and this has resulted in a remarkable transformation.

He insisted in a recent interview that he's not changed beyond dipping into an ice bath for five minutes post-match. In truth, without him Real Madrid would be battling mediocrity with Barcelona.

Unfortunately, the lack of team success with Real and France will impact on the voting, and he will be a complete outsider for the World Player of the year accolade.

It appears there is a drive for Robert Lewandowski to win the 2021 award, mainly because he was the outstanding candidate for the abandoned 2020 event. He inspired the treble for Bayern Munich and has since gone on to score forty-seven goals in the past twelve months, including seven in the opening five games this campaign with two against Barcelona.

There we go, a discussion about the Ballon d'Or without a mention of Messi or Ronaldo... well almost.