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Ballon d’Or 2022: When Karim Benzema ‘imposed misery’ on the L1 defence

Ballon d’Or 2022: When Karim Benzema ‘imposed misery’ on the L1 defence

At 34, Karim Benzema is on the roof of world football. Before dominating the Champions League but also La Liga with Real Madrid, the 2022 Ballon d’Or also wreaked havoc on Ligue 1 defenses in his younger years. In 112 games in the French championship, the Lyon native scored 43 times and made 23 assists. Not to mention his other ten achievements, the Coupe de France and the Coupe de la Ligue combined.

At the start of 2005, the OL academy striker, who had just celebrated his 17th birthday, was preparing to start in the top division. In front of Sylvain Wiltor, Sidney Gauvo, Florent Malouda and other Freds, Karim Benzema gives a speech that ends with these words that have become famous: “If I am here, it is to take your place“. Month after month, the future best player on the planet will go from words to deeds.

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When wearing the colors of Nancy, Pape Diahate faced him until 2007 before he left for Dynamo Kyiv. Coming into Lyon’s attacking rotation with Fred, John Carew or Milan Barros, Karim Benzema has already attracted the attention of the former Senegal international defender. “Before breaking into Ligue 1, Issar Dia told me about it. They knew each other in the youth team of France. He told me it was a phenomenon on the pitch and we weren’t surprised“, confides the current Royal Excelsior U21 coach.

Pape Diahate is not afraid of words: Karim Benzema”is the best striker ever“that he switched to L1.”Technically and in terms of intelligence, he was already well ahead. It could be seen that he already had a lot of maturity and a cool head. Very cold even. The extras didn’t bother him. He was always focused and a killer in front of the goal‘ she recalls the former Nancéien.

Karim Benzema in a duel with Sebastien Puigrenier in October 2006.

Credit: Imago

At the dawn of his 20th birthday Karim Benzema “it was already seen as milk on fire“of all the L1 defenses. Even Pablo Correa’s locked block was far from calm. Pape Diakhate again.”He was a player who would do anything to avoid a duel. He was smart and knew how to fit in between the line of midfielders and defendershe says. As a central defender, we couldn’t take him so as not to leave spaces behind. That was and still is his strength. In small spaces it also did great. He is the best player I have met in this register. The ball remained stuck to his feet every time he executed checks. Sometimes I felt like the balloon was inflated (laughing). However, he received strong passes that stuck on the ground.”

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In the summer of 2007, Alain Perrin replaced Gerard Houllier on the PR bench. And since the start of the season, the new coach of Goness has placed Karim Benzema in attack, as well as another jewel of the 1987 generation, Hatem Ben Arfa. Winning shot. The future Madrid man scored five goals in six Ligue 1 games before joining Metz on September 15. At Stade Saint-Symphorien, he scored his first L1 hat-trick and knocked out promoted Moselle in 38 minutes (5-1).

Kareem was discreet and didn’t need to say much to tell people that he was going to be very big

He just flew over the meetingrecalls Cedric Barbosa, a midfielder for FC Metz during that 2007-08 season. In the final he was really very skilful for a 19-year-old player. We knew he was promised a very good career“Karim Benzema is becoming the hottest striker in Ligue 1. But not in the style of Kylian Mbappe, ten years later.”Media coverage was less important at the time and we didn’t immediately make a marketing product out of it.emphasizes former Evian player Thonon-Gaillard. Kareem was more discreet and didn’t need to say much to let people know he was going to be very big.”

A future great who knows how to shine even in hot moments. On 27 January 2008, Saint-Etienne dominated (1-0) and looked set to beat the Indian mark against their rivals Lyon, fourteen years after their last victory in the Geoffroy-Guichard derby. 92nd minute, free kick from 25 meters for OL. Karim Benzema grabbed the ball. Injured in the shoulder that night and present in the stands of Saint-Etienne, former ASSE goalkeeper Jérémy Jeaneau tells the rest.

Karim Benzema scored in the last seconds of the derby between ACE and OL (1-1) in January 2008.

Credit: Imago

When he leaves the ball I’m like, “He knows how to do everything, but I’d be surprised if he scores from a free kick.” And there he cheats on Jody (Viviani). Taking charge in such a derby, in the final seconds, has already proven his extraordinary strength of character. It was already a phenomenon. From his first matches in L1 and especially during the derbies, he has always lived up to his reputation. He didn’t need 50 to score“, he emphasizes.

As for Pape Diahate, Karim Benzema is “best striker” which Jeremy Jano encountered in L1. No argument. “What has always impressed me about him is his quickness of execution, dribbling, shootingclarifies the former Stephanois, describing a player “respected and who did not play a role“. Anything could happen to him at any time. At 25 meters he could cause a shot, with a trivial cross he could cross the trajectory of the ball, in standard situations he was often there for second balls. His movements were difficult to read, always moving to the right, to the left, in depth or in retreat. He was elusive.”

He had such a palette that you never knew what to expect from him

OL won their first Coupe de France and a league double in 2008, a performance largely due to Karim Benzema, top scorer in Ligue 1 that season, ahead of Mamadou Niang and Marseille’s Djibril Cisse with 20 goals. A well-deserved throne according to Jérémie Janot.

Of all the strikers I met, he was the most dangerous because his game was so varied. It could be a left leg wrap, right leg kick, dive, hook, head kick. This variety in the game made it difficult for goalkeepershe notes. Sidney Govu was strength and speed. But we knew his registry. Ditto for Pedro Miguel Pauleta, who made several deep payments. Karim Benzema had such a palette that you never knew what to expect from him. He put me in misery, but he also made me burn (laughing).”

In 2008-09, his last season in Ligue 1, Karim Benzema continued in the same vein (note: 17 goals in L1), but did not prevent the French champions from losing the title to Lyon, who had gone unbeaten for seven years. The French international scored his last goal with OL on 23 May 2009 in Guerlain when they hosted Caen (3-1, day 37 of Ligue 1). Former left back Reynald Lemaitre was there.

Before we faced him we knew we were going to have a tough nightrecalls the player who trained in Caen. He already had that ability to not lose the ball, to start outside the zone, to use his teammates to get inside. After that, he always managed to find a good shot position. Back then, even if he was capable of high individual acts, he was a player who needed others and who did extraordinary things thanks to the collective around him. He could change the game at any moment.” A few weeks after that meeting, Karim Benzema changed the course of his career by joining Real Madrid. We know the rest…

Karim Benzema scored his last goal in L1 during Lyon-Caen (3-1) in 2009.

Credit: Imago

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