Karim Benzema (33 years old) is the man of the moment in France. His return to the national team after six years away from the calls has filled the current world champions with enthusiasm, who are preparing for the European Championship this summer. Before starting the concentration this Wednesday in Clairefontaine, the forward decided to sit down and chat with L´Équipe to concede a extensive interview in which he deciphers the keys to his return to the French team and his great moment of form with Real Madrid.
The coach, Didier Deschamps, was the key to his departure and has also been the key to his return. In 2016, the coach left Benzema off the list for the Eurocup due to the Valbuena case, in which the Madrid forward was accused of participating in a blackmail of his teammate for a sex video. Since then, coach and player had not exchanged a word. Until a few weeks ago, when, in a meeting “between gentlemen”, they managed to resolve their differences. “We had not seen each other since my last selection, in 2015 … It was very good for us to discuss, talk and see that we had a lot to say to each other. I always got along with him well and after three minutes everything was back to normal. Although it had been more than five years since we did not meet, ”explains Benzema, without giving details of the conversation with Deschamps.
Despite being apart for all this time and contemplating the possibility of renouncing his French nationality to play for Algeria, the country of origin of his parents, Benzema feels like a rookie again at 33 years old. “The first game against Wales (friendly, June 2 in Nice) is going to be a bit strange, put on the blue shirt, listen to the anthem …”, he highlights. All these years apart were very painful for the striker, who claims that he never lost hope and that made him work harder and become stronger. In his previous stage in the French national team, since he made his debut at the age of 19 in 2007 until his departure in 2015, Benzema played 81 games and scored 27 goals, becoming one of the captains.
His excellent season at Real Madrid is the great guarantee for Benzema’s return with the national team even though he has not won any title. “We had 60 injured! At no time have we played with the usual team. Everyone has had covid, even Zizou. But despite that, we reached the semifinals of the Champions League, we had a good run, and we fought until the last day in La Liga. We could win everything and we lost everything, that’s how football is ”. The forward has been the absolute leader of the Whites in attack and with 30 goals among all competitions, he is the second Frenchman who has seen the goal more times this year behind Mbappé, who has added 42 goals. Griezmann, the commander-in-chief of the French team during the last major tournaments, has scored 17 goals for Barcelona. Giroud, Deschamps’ regular 9th, has scored just 10 goals this year.
The other great support for Benzema’s return to the national team has been his coach, Zinedine Zidane, whom he considers an older brother. “It gives me a lot of confidence on the field. He’s my coach, but it’s like he’s my older brother. He has always supported me, whether it is good or not, and he has been constantly improving me every year ”, highlights the forward, who is clear that the coach still has a rope for a while at Madrid. “He’s not going to go, you’ll see. If he leaves, he leaves … But for now, I don’t see Real Madrid without Zidane ”.
His Real Madrid teammate Raphael Varane will be one of his great supporters in the star-studded French dressing room. “Rafa told me that everyone was waiting for me, that everyone was very happy. I am not afraid to integrate myself into that wardrobe, “he says. Benzema emphasizes that it does not come to outshine anyone and that players like Mbappé or Griezmann will continue to be the references. “They have already won! They know what it is. I only come to bring what I can do ”.
The forward will wear the 19 on his shirt when in his previous stage he wore the 10 that Mbappé now wears. “I didn’t feel like going back and saying ‘give me your number.’ Anyway, that’s 10 + 9. There you have it, the two numbers I like the most in one! ”Says the forward with a laugh. On June 15, France debuted in the Eurocup with a duel against Germany that faces the last two world champions. Benzema has a clear goal: “I want to win a trophy with the French team.”