Football Features

Ballon d’Or nominees 2021: The arguments for, and against, Karim Benzema

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 10:39, 24 November 2021

Karim Benzema has snatched the throne of La Liga’s king.

For the first time since 2003/04, a La Liga season has begun without Lionel Messi. The Argentine’s departure left a power vacuum and instead of it being filled by multiple players, one man has assumed it almost entirely.

Benzema has been beyond sensational so far this season in La Liga, absolutely devastating almost every opponent he comes across and driving Real Madrid forward with such relentless excellence that any semblance of trouble Carlo Ancelotti has been having with defence has evaporated behind a fluff of Benzema brilliance.

The Real Madrid media are going heavy on Benzema’s case to win the Ballon d’Or. He would be the first French winner of the award since the great Zinedine Zidane in 1998 and keep the award in La Liga for the 12th straight season. But could he win it? Let’s look at the arguments for and against.

Benzema Ballon d’Or winner odds

Bookmaker Odds Bookmaker link
Sky Bet 25/1 Link
SBK 33/1 Link
Unibet 30/1 Link

For: El Rey de La Liga

Karim Benzema has been obscenely good in La Liga this season. It’s hard to put into words just how good, really. It’s not just numbers, whenever you watch him he seems in total control with silky touches and a serene assurance that he will make the right decision.

But it is also the numbers, goodness is it ever the numbers. In just 12 games so far this season, Benzema has 10 goals. He also has seven assists. Both are league-highs. The Frenchman also leads the league in shots (50) and has created the fifth-most chances (26) as well. His non-penalty Expected Goals (npXG) is a league-high 5.87 and at 3.24 only Memphis Depay has a higher xA (Expected Assists) than the Frenchman, so even his underlying numbers are good.

Against: No club titles

It sounds simplistic, but the biggest argument against Benzema winning the 2021 Ballon d’Or is that he won no club trophies in 2021. Despite his brilliance, he didn’t win La Liga. He crashed out of the Copa del Rey against CD Alcoyano despite playing 53 minutes off the bench. He bombed out of the Supercopa at the semi-final stage (although he did at least score there). Finally, he didn’t win the Champions League either. So, well, that’s that.

For: Because Ronaldo and Zidane says so

When one of the greatest strikers to ever play the game praises you, that carries weight. So when the great Ronaldo says: “without a doubt, my candidate for the Ballon d’Or is Benzema,” you have to pay attention.

The best forward in the world,” he went on, “[an] incredibly high level for 10 years and a champion above all. Worthy of the award, don’t you think?” Ronaldo’s praise of Benzema is emphatic and carries intense weight.

And Ronaldo wasn’t the only legend to praise Benzema. His former manager Zinedine Zidane spoke out in his favour as well, saying: “he deserves to win the Ballon d’Or. He is an incredible player,” adding: “I had the great honour of coaching him.”

It’s hard to imagine stronger praise than one of the greatest to ever do it saying it was an honour to coach you, but Zidane continued to pile it on. “He knows how to do everything on the pitch. He’s above the rest,” he said, concluding: “I would give him the Ballon d’Or.”

Against: The Messi issue

Everyone is hot for Benzema right now, largely because Benzema has been flamethrowering everyone in La Liga and the Champions League. But the problem is beyond his hot start to this season, which is not enough to win the Ballon d’Or

Benzema finished the 2020/21 season with 23 goals and nine assists, impressive numbers but not the equal of Leo Messi’s 30 and nine. And neither man actually won the title, with Messi actually winning the Copa del Rey, scoring another wondergoal in the final.

Yes Benzema won the Nations League, but Messi won the Copa América, a bigger, more historic and more prestigious trophy. Essentially, all Benzema has over Messi in his case to win the Ballon d’Or is the dozen league games at the start of this season. In every other argument, the Argentine unfortunately outdoes him.

For: The Naaaaaaations League!

Everyone knows how massively important international success is to winning the Ballon d’Or. Luka Modric in 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo in 2016, Fabio Cannavaro in 2006 and Ronaldo in 2002 all won it off the strength of their international tournament performances.

This summer France bombed out of Euro 2020, but not because of Benzema. The French striker scored back-to-back braces in the last two games, including a spectacular bit of skill for one of his goals against Switzerland.

What’s more, he then followed that up by pulling a barely believable equaliser out of thin air in the Nations League final against Spain. This was a game where France had been completely outplayed by Spain and, having just fallen behind, their defeat looked certain. Then Benzema struck out of nothing and turned the whole momentum of the game that France went on to win.

So Benzema has an international trophy and several brilliant international displays to call on. Is that enough to win the Ballon d’Or?

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How do Benzema’s stats compare to the other favourites?

*Goals and assists are in Europe’s top five leagues, national cups and Uefa club competitions. 

Player Goals Assists Club trophies International trophies
Robert Lewandowski  50  5  2  0
Lionel Messi  32  9  1  1
Karim Benzema  32  12  0  1
Mohamed Salah  31  8  0  0
Jorginho  7  2  1  1
Kylian Mbappe  36  18  1  1
Bruno Fernandes  18  17  0  0
Cristiano Ronaldo  29  6  0  1

Messi’s dominance for both Barcelona and Argentina give him a strong position as do Robert Lewandowski’s obscene goal total. Kylian Mbappé is the only candidate besides Benzema to score more than 30 goals and bag more than 10 assists while, as a midfielder, Jorginho isn’t quite on the same level of production.

Who are the other Ballon d’Or nominees?

Benzema’s brilliance will obviously be pit against Messi, who as mentioned has a big edge on the Frenchman in terms of overall performance and of course finally winning the Copa América for Argentina is a massive achievement.

Robert Lewandowski is the goal machine of the group. And although the Golden Boot exists to reward goalscoring, the game is yet to let go of the idea that goals are the most important thing to consider when debating who should win the Ballon d’Or. So Lewandowski remains a hot favourite to take home his first Ballon d’Or.

Mohamed Salah has started the season in furious form and is the only man who can rival Benzema for the fabulous football he has been putting on this season while Jorginho, who won the Champions League and Euro 2020, is the likeliest candidate if we look at trophies won.

With regards to Benzema’s compatriots; Kylian Mbappé’s rotten Euro 2020 combined with PSG losing Ligue 1 harm him despite his individual excellence. Meanwhile N’Golo Kanté was absurdly dominant as Chelsea claimed the Champions League and had France not debased themselves at Euro 2020 then the beloved Frenchman would probably be the favourite for the award such is his combination of sporting excellence and warm, lovable personality. But thanks to Les Bleus crashing out to Switzerland, Kanté’s chances have been severely hampered.


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