It seems as if Real Madrid have resigned themselves to the fact that Karim Benzema will not be winning the Ballon d’Or this year and will have to wait – if it ever happens for him – for this kind of coronation another year. Once again, the competition for the award was stiff, with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski in the running and Barcelona/PSG’s Lionel Messi also in a good position to win.
The consensus is that Benzema will finish third in the race behind these two players, which is both understandable and puzzling. It is understandable because for as good as Benzema was this year, Lewandowski undoubtedly deserves it more. Like Benz, he also has a great legacy in football, which he added to this year by breaking Gerd Muller’s once-untouchable record of goals in a season. And in fairness, Lewandowski deserved the award in 2020, which was not given due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (I guess the ceremony is just one big money-grab and publicity stunt after all.)
So if Lewandowski wins the award over Benzema, it all makes sense. The Bayern Munich star won the Bundesliga, broke a coveted record, and scored more goals than anyone. And he’s yet to win this coveted individual honor either. Furthermore, nobody can hold a Champions League exit against him, because he wasn’t even available when Bayern were knocked out by PSG. It is not a stretch to argue Bayern could have won that tie and even won the final if he were never out.
But now for the puzzling aspect. Messi. It would be disingenuous to argue that he is not a candidate. He had a fantastic year and was the only thing holding Barcelona together in the 2020-2021 season. Messi was a passenger in the Copa America Final, but he was downright brilliant in the prior fixtures.
Karim Benzema’s lack of titles with Real Madrid is not a good enough reason
The problem is that one argument seems to prevail against Benzema. MARCA’s Jose Felix Diaz writes that there is a belief within Real Madrid that the lack of titles with the club is what will lead to Benzema missing out on the award.
If Lewandowski comes out ahead of Benzema, that is an obvious reason, regardless of how uncompetitive the Bundesliga was last season. You cannot argue with Lewa’s success.
But if Messi is ahead and even wins, this is a shocking reason that holds no logic. Real Madrid beat Barcelona head-to-head twice in El Clasico, with Messi never scoring or standing out. Meanwhile, Benzema scored this lovely backheel goal in a 2-1 win in the second Clasico of the season.
On to the team comparison, Real were ahead of Barcelona in La Liga last season, with Los Blancos only losing out on the title on the very last day to a clutch Luis Suarez goal. In the Champions League, Real made it further ahead, with Benzema’s classy goal giving Los Blancos hope after a first-leg draw with eventual champions Chelsea.
Neither Benzema nor Messi can be blamed for a lack of club titles this year
Benzema did not win any silverware with Real Madrid, but, firstly, he can hardly be blamed for his team’s failings and for the lack of attacking quality around him. And secondly, he was always clutch in big La Liga matches. Thirdly, if we are looking at team value, we have never seen Benzema fail to elevate the players around him in attack. His recent link-up with Vinicius Junior is a prime example of his team-oriented style.
Holding a lack of trophies against Benzema is myopic thinking and goes against the idea of the Ballon d’Or rewarding individual excellence. It fails to take into account context. If you think Lewandowski had the better year, then that is a more than valid opinion and is likely based on more than just Lewa’s Bundesliga title. And if you think Messi had the better year, then that’s likely based on the Copa America, overall counting stats, and his individual quality amidst the sheer dysfunction of Barcelona, Ronald Koeman, and the rest of the circus there. Like Benzema, he, too, should not have club titles held against him. That must be made clear.
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Solely using silverware with a club as your reasoning is insufficient, however. But it is an easy crutch for people who do not want to take Karim Benzema seriously, simply because they never have and never want to acknowledge his class or accomplishments. Everyone says they want to honor well-rounded strikers who can make any situation work, but they fall back into the usual tropes when it is all said and done.