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16th Dec 2017

Why Zinedine Zidane is right to defend Karim Benzema amid criticism

He's not everybody's cup of tea...

Reuben Pinder

He’s not everybody’s cup of tea.

Karim Benzema is a player who divides opinion. His goalscoring record does not match that of other strikers, such as former teammate Gonzalo Higuaín or potential Real Madrid target Harry Kane, for instance.

He has come in for some high-profile criticism this season, most memorably from Gary Lineker, who highlighted the French forward’s unspectacular goals to games ratio given he is the starting ‘striker’ for the back-to-back European champions. It’s difficult to argue with Lineker’s opinion, given his prolific career in front of goal.

But there is a reason Real Madrid have kept him in their starting line up for so long, and manager Zinedine Zidane has come out in defence of his player, saying:

“I don’t agree with the criticism he’s received. It’s no big deal. What I am concerned about isn’t just him scoring all of the time. Karim’s role isn’t only about getting goals. He’s a different player, he’s not going to score 60 goals, but he does other things. I like what he does for the team. Football is a team sport and he is one of the best players in that aspect of the game. And that is what I like in him. I’ll continue to defend him to the death.”

Zidane speaks about Benzema’s value as a team player, which is such an under-appreciated element of why Cristiano Ronaldo has become Zidane’s most important commodity.

As Ronaldo has become less involved in build-up play and developed into more of an out-and-out goalscorer, Benzema’s responsibilities have shifted in the opposite direction.

Forget the numbers they wear on their shirts, in Real Madrid’s team, Ronaldo is very much the number 9, not Benzema. It should therefore come as no shock that Zidane has defended one of his key players.

Last week we wrote about Ronaldo’s reported demand that Isco be dropped from the starting XI. Zidane obliged and Madrid won 5-0. Regardless of whether Ronaldo should wield this much influence on team selection, it is telling that he has never demanded the same of Benzema.

He may have an slightly inferior strike rate than other strikers in the top tier of world football, but he plays alongside the most prolific goalscorer of the modern era, so, as Zidane said: “He’s a different player, he’s not going to score 60 goals, but he does other things.” And boy does he do them well.