Karim Benzema: From a cat to a legend

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The summer of 2009 will always be remembered by Real Madrid fans for the incredible transfer window and the spending spree the club went on. With Cristiano Ronaldo, Ricardo Kaka, Xabi Alonso, and Karim Benzema coming into the squad along with several other, Los Blancos looked set to challenge for silverware again.

Of all the arrivals that summer, only Karim Benzema remains 10 years later. After arriving as a talented young striker and having to work hard to cement his place in the starting eleven, he now has been the undisputed starter for the past 6-7 seasons. With Benzema completing 10 years at Real Madrid, here is a small throwback to his time spent in Spain.

In his first season, he started well but by late November started appearing mainly as a substitute as Gonzalo Higuain was preferred more by then-manager Manuel Pellegrini. This period also coincided with a series of criticisms aimed at him mostly for not settling into Spanish life and not yet starting to learn the language

He responded to the hate saying he was adapting to life at Real Madrid and was learning Spanish to understand his teammates better. With Higuain suffering an injury in early January, Benzema was back in the starting eleven but couldn’t use that opportunity to nail down his spot and was promptly relegated to the bench again once Higuain returned for the remainder of the season.

The start of the 2010/11 season brought José Mourinho to the helm at Real Madrid and with it brought an interesting three years for Benzema. Mourinho preferred Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain as his forwards, again restricting Benzema to appearances off the bench.

Mourinho criticized Benzema, stating that he had talent but just being talented is not enough. When Higuain suffered a severe back injury, Mou compared Benzema to a cat, stating that if he could not hunt with a dog he would hunt with a cat.

With Mourinho requesting for another striker, the club brought Emmanuel Adebayor on loan. But, the arrival of another striker seemed to spark a fire in Benzema who soon went on a run of scoring 10 goals in eight matches. He finished the season as the second-highest scorer on the team behind Ronaldo.

The next season, his desire to improve seemed to continue where-in he joined a performance clinic before preseason on the advice of his compatriots Zinedine Zidane and Blanc. His form in the preseason games lead to him being named as the starting striker for the season by Mourinho.

He continued his form for the rest of 2011 which led to him being named as the French player of the year by France Football. His good form continued into 2012 finishing the season as the second-highest scorer again with 32 goals helping Real Madrid win the La Liga title that season.

The 2012/13 season continued in the same vein for Benzema. He was in fine form scoring a bicycle kick goal against Ajax and going on to win the French player of the year for the second time.

He finished the season with 20 goals, much less than the previous year, but still finishing second in the squad. It was also the end of Mourinho at Real Madrid as they ended trophyless.

The 2013/14 season brought Carlo Ancelotti as the manager and the famous BBC trio was formed after the arrival of Gareth Bale.

With two explosive wingers in Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema was now asked to make the attacking trio tick through his movements to create space for the other two and dropping deep to help initiate attacks.

The trio clicked scoring 97 goals in all competitions and ended the season with the elusive La Décima. The trio continued to dominate for another two and a half seasons winning another champions league in 2016. The trio was broken when Cristiano left for Juventus in 2018 after winning three consecutive Champions League titles. Benzema’s most memorable moment came during this three-peat when against Atlético Madrid in the 2016/17 semifinal second leg, Real being down by two goals, he slalomed his way past three defenders near the by-line. The move ended with Isco scoring a vital away goal knocking the fight out of a resurgent Atlético side.

While Benzema was always important to the team, with all his managers and teammates backing him even through his occasional scoring droughts, the fan base was always divided about him. While some always termed him important, others called him lazy and called for a better striker who could score more goals.

He ended the divide in the 2018/19 season where after the departure of CR7, he was the only player who came out of the dismal season without questions raised about his performance. He led the attacking line and scored 30 goals in all competitions. His nearest competitor in the squad? Gareth Bale with 14.

After the terrible season, he’s expected to lead the line again with reinforcements in attack after the arrival of Eden Hazard. Here’s hoping the legend leads Real Madrid back to its glory.

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