The Ballon d’Or, which translates to ‘Golden Ball’, is the most prestigious football award. Representing only the best, the trophy is presented annually to the football player regarded as the top in the world.
Lionel Messi has won the award a record seven times. Cristiano Ronaldo owns five Golden Balls. Neymar has won it twice.
And now, joining an exclusive club of greats is the French footballer Karim Benzema.
Karim Benzema: Best in the world
Last night, Real Madrid captain Karim Benzema was awarded the coveted Ballon d’Or and was named the best player in the world. To come up on stage to receive the Golden Ball, he edged out many other star players.
On the official list for the Ballon d’Or, Sadio Mane, Kevin De Bruyne, Robert Lewandowski, and Mohamed Salah made up the remaining top five in line for the award. The 2018 World Cup star Kylian Mbappe was sixth on the results.
But, this year belongs to the Frenchman. At 34 years old, Benzema becomes the oldest recipient of the Golden Ball since the first awardee in history, Stanley Matthews. Apart from this, he also becomes the first French player to win the award since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
And as such, Zidane himself, his former manager at Madrid, presented Benzema with the award.
At the awards ceremony, Benzema gave a heartfelt speech upon receiving the title. “I’m really proud, it’s a lot of work and a kid’s dream come true,” he said.
In the world of football, it is definitely something that every kid dreams of. And it is an achievement that Benzema spent years working towards.
Years in the making
Ever since signing with Real Madrid in 2009, Karim Benzema’s name was known all around the world. But, it wasn’t always smooth sailing on the pitch.
Coming to Madrid to play for one of the biggest clubs, he had a lot to adjust to—a new city, a new style of playing, and a new language. His struggles were apparent in his first few seasons with the club. But it was team owner Florentino Pérez who saw the potential and remained patient.
A few seasons later, things picked up for Benzema. Though he wasn’t exactly a star player just yet, he definitely found his place on the team alongside his other teammates. Under Carlo Ancelotti’s management, Benzema’s main role as a center-forward was to be the playmaker.
With Cristiano Ronaldo and Christian Bale as aggressive as they were during this time, the Frenchman was there with his reliable assists. The team went on to become an offensive powerhouse, pushing them to three straight Champions League titles from 2016 to 2018.
After their historic three-peat, however, the team struggled when Ronaldo left the club and Zidane was replaced by Julen Lopetegui. But through their rebuilding phase, Benzema remained and was expected to step up to take a larger role on the team.
And that’s exactly what he did. Fast forward to today, from being the reliable sidekick, he turned himself into a club hero. He’s scored 44 goals in 46 appearances and 15 goals in the Champions League.
On top of that, he brought two titles back to the Santiago Bernabéu Stadium—both the Champions League and La Liga trophies.
It’s been a long journey, but one worthy of the coveted Ballon d’Or.