France and the curse of being Karim Benzema | Football News – Times of India

DOHA: Imagine being Karim Benzema. There’s probably always a handful of versions of the man — egos, alter-egos and others — but for matters of context we will summon only two today. So, which Benzema would you want ideally to be? Currently, officially the best player in the world, finally a Ballon d’Or winner, after living out a footballing lifetime that had once seemed destined to wither away unheralded in the large, looming shadows of teammates and other illustrious peers?
Or, the unlikely Les Bleus elder, returning from exile as a reformed, chastened prodigal, wiser, in control of the elements around him and picking up pending responsibility as if he had never been banished? It doesn’t end there, and therein lies the conundrum. If you were Benzema, what would you rather pick – long-awaited, and much-deserved, debate-ending personal glory or that somewhat sweeter emotion of a chance to end it all with a World Cup triumph? In Benzema’s case, you cannot have both. And that is the tragedy of the man. For the first time since 1978, a Ballon D’or winner will not figure in the World. Danish great Allan Simonsen may not have torn tore his left thigh muscle in training as happened to Benzema on Saturday, to be ruled out because Denmark only first qualified in 1986.
As lynchpin of Deschamps title defense in Qatar here, Benzema was supposed to form the apex of a fearsome attacking trio which included the prodigious (and proven!) Kylian Mbappe and the tricky little Antoine Griezmann just behind. It was the troika of dreams, one that had probably made Deschamps wake up at nights and pinch himself to see if it really existed and was not a dream. An idea that was not just a notion as also expressed by defender Lucas Hernandez, two days back: “Now all the teams want to win against France. All the teams want to beat us.”
Today, two days before their opening game against Australia, after his main man was forced to be sat out, Deschamps is seeing nightmares in daytime. What changes this time around, is that Benzema becomes Deschamps fifth player to be ruled out here by injury, lending more heft to the argument against holding World Cups right in between and close to Europe’s busy club season, simply owing to the workload on players.
At 34, this was Bezmena’s best opportunity to cement his place in footballing greatness. It seems unlikely that he would be around for another final salvo four years hence – especially with the talent that French football steadily churns out – and even with Zinedine Zidane, his footballing foster father, probably set to replace Didier Deschamps as France coach, as most reports suggest.
Such has been France’s depth over the past couple of years and enhanced by his return to the fold last year after a six-year exile over a shockingly silly sex-tape cum blackmail scandal, it wasn’t so much that Benzema’s absence would derail the world champions project. After all, Deschamps did engineer a fine, convincing triumph without France’s best striker in his plans in Russia four years ago. Ironically, that victory had all but spelt the death knell for Benzema’s international career as it was becoming increasingly clear that he was not needed and that the squad had moved one. Until it was a stellar two-season spell at Real Madrid, and on gentle prodding of Zidane, Deschamps’s longtime France and Juventus teammate, to reconsider his ban that the manager relented. “There was a difficult period when I wasn’t in the French team but I never gave up,” Benzema had said on his Ballon d’Or victory.
The one reason Deschamps may have yielded was the idea to infuse harmony into a squad and dressing room historically beset by differences and cliques. One notable point of discord was the indifference between rising star Mbappe and old horse, Olivier Grioud. It was a gamble, but one the seasoned Deschamps was ready to play.
There has always been the spectre of dressing room disruption and underhand menace with Benzema. Perhaps it was the forbidding nature of the Real Madrid dressing room, replete with superstars from Casillas, Ramos to a certain Cristiano Ronaldo may have forced him to mellow him a great deal, the other clearly was Zidane’s presence and influence, first as Carlo Ancelotti’s assistant and later, as coach himself. Such was the positive influence that Benzema has come to be identified more as a Real talisman than a Les Bleus star. Perhaps it even showed in the nature of the injury somewhere. As leader and main striker, Benzema was the most overworked player and Ancelotti’s reluctance to rotate him has cost France.
Reinstating Benzema in the Les Bleus line-up may have looked to disrupt the balance almost immediately, but what seemed worse was that immediately on his return, Benzema sought to take Mbappe under his wing, even acting as Real Madrid go-between telling the young star to join him in Spain. It set of the chain of events, the back and forths that has dominated Mbappe’s professional season for two years now, but that somewhat attritional vibe worked as France made the Euros semis and win the Nations League in great fashion.
Now, the focus is once again on his attacking line-up, against Australia on Tuesday. How does Deschamps juggle it, does Deschamps settle for Giroud and Mbappe alongside each other, or is the recently called up Marcus Thuram, son of the great Lilian, a better option? “A team like France with Mbappe is comfortable playing counter-attacking but you have to be good at defending too. In the last World Cup, they didn’t have the highest level of possession but in transition they were most dangerous because they had players who were comfortable with that style,” Arsene Wenger had remarked on Saturday, before Benzema’s injury news broke.
In yet another aspect, this latest reverse to France and his own attacking unit, this provides the greatest opportunity for Mbappe to forever establish himself to an all-time great. Does he become the leader in addition to the goalscoring star that his agents and marketing reps sell him as, or does star-studded France succumb to the defending champions’ curse and make an embarrassing, early exit in Qatar?

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