Karim Benzema talks Real Madrid, Clasico, Ballon d’Or dreams and how he’s getting better with age

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MADRID — Maybe the solution is in the drink. Karim Benzema has just concluded training at the Ciudad Deportiva, Real Madrid’s coaching floor in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of the Spanish money, not much from Barajas airport. After shifting into a neat black trousers / amber polo designer combo for his job interview with ESPN, he drains a bottle of coconut drinking water.

It’s a ordinarily warm day in Madrid, and his preference of consume could possibly shock you. Not if you know Benzema. Coconut water is filled with potassium, sodium and magnesium, a perfect way to hydrate following training or right after a match. It truly is also low in calories and body fat-free. Every thing the 33-yr-old Frenchman does is to optimise his performances. He has turn into obsessive about health and fitness, recovery, preparation and well-becoming — the self-control of self-treatment. It’s reasonable to say that the older Benzema gets, the improved he is as a footballer.

“Bodily, I feel very good. The far more time goes by, the greater I really feel,” he tells ESPN. “It is a whole lot about practical experience and, from 30 many years old, the invisible operate. Everything you do soon after trainings, when you get dwelling. The seriousness, the professionalism. It is just studying. Understanding to like all the operate, not just the pitch and the football. It is loving the perform in the gymnasium, to relaxation perfectly, to try to eat properly. To work on your working day off.

“You study to like it. You will not drive yourself to do it — you like performing it. I go to the fitness center because I like it. There are moments wherever I am fatigued and I do not actually want to go, but due to the fact I like the get the job done and I know it will make me greater, I do it,” he explains.

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Lionel Messi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain this summer has pushed Benzema even more into the spotlight. He is not only the most recognizable facial area of El Clasico but also the facial area of LaLiga, even at his age (he will change 34 at the conclusion of December). When Genuine Madrid and Barcelona are both navigating challenging transitions, for Benzema, the clashes between the two giants continue to be the major online games in planet soccer.

“For me, it truly is nonetheless the identical. This is the finest video game in soccer in the environment irrespective of the gamers who are listed here, the ones who remaining. It is the history. It is football. [Before Ronaldo and Messi] there was Zinedine Zidane, there was Ronaldinho, there was Ronaldo, there was Samuel Eto’o. The names change, but Serious Madrid vs. Barcelona is nonetheless Actual Madrid vs. Barcelona, regardless of the gamers. The stress is unique.

“I have been participating in Clasicos for a while. This will be my 37th! I technique the match realizing that it is really Barcelona, with all the things encompassing the activity, but I am focused. I want to win it,” he claims.

Benzema has managed Genuine Madrid’s loss of Ronaldo, and LaLiga’s loss of Messi, to place in some of the greatest variety of his life. Not undesirable for a male who turns 34 in December. David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Photographs

There are person prizes in his sights, also, beyond the eyesight of collective glory in Madrid. At this late phase in his vocation, Benzema has hardly ever been as powerful as he is now. He has in no way been as reliable, as effective, as critical he’s under no circumstances been so shut to profitable the game’s maximum particular person honor, the Ballon d’Or.

He is in the functioning with Lionel Messi, of course Robert Lewandowski, who scored for entertaining all 12 months Jorginho, who won the Champions League and the Euros much less than two months aside. But Benzema received the Nations League and boasts a exceptional regularity for club and country. No-one had much more targets and assists than he did in 2021 — 31 goals, 12 assists for club and country when we did the job interview. No-1 had scored far more in the Huge 5 European leagues this year, which is spurring his desire of getting to be the to start with Frenchman given that Zidane, 23 yrs ago, to earn the prestigious award.

“It can be been a desire considering the fact that I was truly youthful,” he claims. “It is a motivation, much too. Just to make it on to the list of 30 nominees is previously satisfying.

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“It has always been an aim, normally in the back of my head. When Cristiano Ronaldo won it in the earlier and bought it on the pitch at the Bernabeu, I was happy for him, of program. Satisfied to be in his staff and then you have to imagine: ah sure, I want to earn it too.

“I can say that I’ve in no way been so near to winning it thanks to my performances, what I have been undertaking in the past 3 or 4 several years listed here,” he continues.

The Ballon d’Or is not an obsession for Benzema it is an ambition. Like actively playing for Actual Madrid, “the major club in the world” was always an ambition of his. Like successful with Actual Madrid was an ambition much too — winning 3 LaLiga titles, 4 Champions Leagues — and cementing his location in the club’s historical past, with 201 ambitions due to the fact arriving at the club in 2009. Like playing for France once more and winning trophies with his place, becoming an idol for the younger technology. The striker born and bred in Lyon has accomplished all of that.

“They are stats, and at present, we discuss a large amount about stats. But me? What I like and what I delight in is that today, we search at my stats but also at what I am accomplishing on the pitch. On passes, on motion, on steps, on controls, on runs, which is what I am loving the most. In the past 3 or 4 yrs there is this regularity, primarily in big games, when my staff wants me, I am always there, encouraging them. Which is what fulfils me the most.

“I participate in freely, I perform the soccer I adore.”

Benzema’s form in 2021, and the results he had upon returning to the French national group, has him eyeing the Ballon d’Or. ‘I can say that I have never been so shut to successful it.’ Courtesy of ESPN FC

The appreciate of the sport is a thing that comes up a great deal — that pleasure will often be the key rationale he is continue to actively playing at the top amount. But potentially most significant in all of this is that Benzema is at last receiving the recognition for everything he’s been doing at Real Madrid for quite a few yrs, usually disregarded in the course of the Cristiano Ronaldo period.

“I understood what I was bringing to that workforce. Now, we can say that I am bringing a lot more in phrases of stats, but my video game has not adjusted,” he suggests. “Of course, I recognize the recognition today. When anyone in the soccer planet acknowledges what I am performing at the minute and I have been undertaking for just one, two, a few or four a long time, the regularity, it helps make me proud.”

As Luka Modric leaves the education ground and walks past Benzema, he could not help himself: “Balon de Oro,” he states, smiling. The Croatian maestro understands what he is talking about. He gained it back again in 2018, at the identical age Benzema is now.

Everybody at True Madrid, from present gamers to previous legends, is backing Benzema in the race for the ultimate solo prize. He is not one of a kind in that he’s receiving better with age glance at Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the two of whom have scored additional because turning 30 than they did before. Benzema is the same.

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Karim Benzema thinks he is “not far” from achieving his dream of profitable the men’s Ballon d’Or.

So what is actually at the rear of his late brilliance? The talent’s always been there. There is the far more “invisible” component of the video game, not calculated by stats, but perhaps the major important for Benzema was the departure of a sure megastar. Ronaldo’s exit from Genuine Madrid in July 2018, served open a path for the French ahead, but he will not discuss about his time with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner with bitterness or annoyance.

“When you play with a person who scores 50 or 60 targets a time, of study course you’re at the provider of the group, but you’re at the provider of the player as well. I experienced to adapt. I had a really superior relationship with him. The moment he still left, it was down to me to just take a phase forward and show that I could make the change much too,” he carries on. Benzema has been carrying this Actual Madrid facet ever because, hitting 74 league objectives considering the fact that the start out of the 2018-19 year.

Of all the players who have at any time performed this video game, if there was a person he could crew up with currently, it would be the Brazilian striker Ronaldo. Benzema grew up idolising Ronaldo, “the finest” in accordance to him.

“Ronaldo is only forward for whom I would take to be on the bench! It is thanks to him that I started performing phase-overs, the identical movements as him even if he did them 1,000 occasions more quickly. He manufactured me like football. There was Zizou [Zidane] as properly, but in my placement, Ronaldo is the a person who revolutionised the job of a ahead. For me, he is the full ahead, a role product, and if you want to study some thing on a striker, you have to observe R9.

“I really don’t consider it is really just me [who feels this way] — it is all people.”

To see Ronaldo putting up a message in aid of him for the Ballon d’Or race with the photo of their very first assembly, in 2009, was special. “Search how younger I am…” Benzema suggests.

Benzema’s variety has also translated to the French nationwide staff. He scored in opposition to Belgium in the Nations League semifinal, then once more vs. Spain in the last as France walked away champions. Sportinfoto/DeFodi Pictures by means of Getty Visuals

“When I arrived here in Madrid, I was a bit on my individual. It was tough. It is definitely hard. It is down to my psychological toughness. For me, as prolonged as I am not an undisputed starter, I am not undertaking or men and women never take pleasure in my game, I is not going to give up — I is not going to let go. We are all extra or considerably less the same [at Madrid], football-intelligent. We can all make a move or rating a purpose. But the psychological component is ending a video game, experiencing it for a bit and then previously wondering about the future activity, how to get ready, how to enjoy. Which is my approach.

“As shortly as I complete a game, whether it was great or bad, I previously believe about my recovery and what I will do in the next match. Straight away. We engage in 1 night at 9 p.m. and the subsequent morning, it truly is forgotten,” he says. “[Real Madrid] is a fantastic club. It is demanding, the stress is at the highest. I can’t relaxation on my laurels and say oh it really is Alright, previous season I scored 30 plans so this season, I will choose it simple. It would not perform like this, and that is what motivates me every single time.”>

So what does the long term hold for Benzema? His contract expires in June 2023. He is bought lots of time to assume about what he will do up coming, though he would not seem to be to be pressured.

“I just take calendar year by 12 months. As extensive as I have this drive, this joy, and I am loving soccer, I continue. I will not search at age or what is taking place. It is all down to how I really feel bodily. I will never ever power it. I am 33 I will change 34 in December. I keep on to enjoy, I feel greater and greater, so I have to keep on. And to make the most of it,” he says.

“I like the United states of america. Football is finding much better and far better there. But am I telling you I will indicator there? Appropriate now, I am in Madrid,” he claims, smiling once more.

Following almost an hour collectively, also conversing about new music, French Television sequence (current favorites: “Validé” and “Household Business enterprise”) and President Emmanuel Macron’s general performance in the charity soccer match he played in the day prior to our job interview, Benzema can at last go for lunch. Later on, he will insert two more fitness center periods at his house, a specific restoration treatment method, a lot more massages and a lot more preparing for the games to come.

Benzema’s path to the top rated, staying there this extensive and having this near to the Ballon d’Or, is not due to the fact of coconut water. It really is mainly because of all of that.