Madrid – Perhaps the secret lies in the drink. Karim Benzema has just finished his training at Ciudad Deportiva, Real Madrid’s training ground in Valdebebas, on the outskirts of the Spanish capital, near Barajas Airport. After switching to a sleek black designer/amber polo pants set for his ESPN interview, he filtered a bottle of coconut water.
It’s a typically hot day in Madrid, and his choice of drink might surprise you. Not if you know Benzema. Coconut water is full of potassium, sodium, and magnesium, and it’s an ideal way to hydrate after a workout or post-game. It is also low in calories and fat free. All the 33-year-old Frenchman does is improve his performance. He’s become obsessed with fitness, recovery, prep, and well-being – the self-care regimen. It is fair to say that the older Benzema is, the better a footballer he is.
“Physically, I feel good,” he told ESPN. “The more time goes by, the better I feel.” “It has a lot to do with experience and work unseen from 30 years ago. Everything you do after workouts, when you get home. Serious, professional. It’s just learning. Learning to love all the work, not just the field and football, he loves working in the gym.” Rest well, eat well, and work on your day off.
“You learn how to like it. Don’t force yourself to do it – you love to do it. I go to the gym because I love it. There are moments when I get tired and don’t really want to go, but because I love work and I know it will make me better, I do.”
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Lionel Messi’s move to Paris Saint-Germain this summer has pushed Benzema into the spotlight even more. He’s not only the most famous face classic But also the face of La Liga, even at his age (he will turn 34 at the end of December). While both Real Madrid and Barcelona are going through a difficult transitional phase, for Benzema, the confrontations between the two giants remain the biggest matches in world football.
“For me, it is still the same. This is the best football match in the world regardless of the players who are here, those who have left. It is history, it is football. [Before Ronaldo and Messi] There was Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo and Samuel Eto’o. The names have changed, but Real Madrid against Barcelona is still Real Madrid against Barcelona, regardless of the players. The pressure is different.
He says, “I’ve played Clasicos for a while. This will be the 37th for me! I take on the game knowing it’s Barcelona, with everything surrounding the game, but I’m focused. I want to win it.”
There are individual awards in his sights too that go beyond seeing collective glory in Madrid. At this late stage in his career, Benzema was not as strong as he is now. It was never consistent, efficient and significant; He wasn’t too close to winning the game’s highest individual honor, the Ballon d’Or.
He runs with Lionel Messi of course. Robert Lewandowski, who scored for fun all year long; Jorginho, who won the Champions League and the Euros by less than two months. But Benzema has won the Nations League and can be proud of his impressive coordination for club and country. Nobody had more goals and assists than he did in 2021 – 31 goals, 12 assists for club and country when we interviewed. No one has scored more in the top five European leagues this season, which motivates his dream of becoming the first French player since Zidane, 23 years ago, to win the prestigious award.
“It’s been a dream since I was really young,” he says. “It’s motivation too. Just having her on the 30 shortlist is really satisfying.
“It was always a goal, always on my mind. When Cristiano Ronaldo won it in the past and took it to the pitch at the Bernabeu, I was happy for him of course. Happy to be in his team and then you have to think: Ah yes, I want to win it too.
“I can say I wasn’t even close to winning the title thanks to my performance, what I’ve been doing in the past three or four years here,” he continues.
The Golden Ball is not Benzema’s obsession. He is ambitious. Like playing for Real Madrid, the “biggest club in the world” has always been his ambition. Like winning with Real Madrid he was also ambitious – winning three La Liga titles, four Champions League titles – and cementing his place in the club’s history, with 201 goals since arriving at the club in 2009. Like playing for France again and winning trophies with his country, becoming an idol. for the younger generation. The striker, who was born and raised in Lyon, has achieved it all.
“It’s stats, and nowadays, we talk a lot about stats. But? What I love and what I enjoy is that today, we look at my stats but also at what I’m doing on the pitch. In passes, in movement, in actions, in controls, in running. “That’s what I love the most. In the last three or four years there’s been this consistency, especially in the big games, when my team needs me, I’m always there, helping them. That’s what pleases me the most.”
“I play freely, I play the football I love.”
The love for the game comes a lot – this fun will always be the main reason why he still plays at the top level. But perhaps most important of all is that Benzema has finally earned the recognition for everything he has been doing at Real Madrid for so many years, often overlooked during the Cristiano Ronaldo era.
“I knew what I was bringing to this team,” he says. “Today, we can say I’m bringing more in terms of stats, but my game hasn’t changed.” “Of course, I appreciate the recognition today. When everyone in the football world recognizes what I’m doing right now and I’ve been doing it for a year, two, three or four years, the consistency makes me proud.”
As Luka Modric was leaving the training ground and walking next to Benzema, he couldn’t help himself: “Balon de Oro,” he says with a smile. The Croatian maestro knows what he’s talking about. He got it back in 2018, the same age as Benzema now.
Everyone at Real Madrid, from current players to former legends, is supporting Benzema in the race for the ultimate individual prize. It is not unique in that it improves with age; Look at Ronaldo or Zlatan Ibrahimovic, both of whom have scored more since turning 30 than they did before. Benzema is the same.
Karim Benzema believes he is “not far” from achieving his dream of winning the men’s Ballon d’Or.
So what’s behind his late brilliance? The talent was always there. There is an “invisible” part of the game, not measured by stats, but perhaps the most important thing for Benzema is the departure of a certain big star. Ronaldo’s exit from Real Madrid in July 2018, helped open a path for the French striker, but he does not speak of the time he spent with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner bitterly or frustrated.
“When you play with a guy who scores 50 or 60 goals a season, of course you are in the service of the team, but you are in the service of the player too. I had to adapt. Connect with him. Once he left, I had to take a step forward and show that I can make the difference too”, continues. Benzema has been at the helm of Real Madrid ever since, scoring 74 league goals since the start of the 2018-2019 season.
Of all the players who have ever played this game, if there was a player he could join today, it would be the Brazilian striker Ronaldo. Benzema grew up in love with Ronaldo, “the greatest” for him.
“Ronaldo is a striker only for him I will accept to be on the bench! Thanks to him I started making moves, the same moves he made even if he did them 1000 times faster. He made me love football. There was Zizou [Zidane] Also, but in my position, it is Ronaldo who revolutionized the role of the striker. For me, he is the complete striker, a role model and if you want to learn something about the striker then you should watch R9.
“I don’t think it’s me alone [who feels this way] – everybody “.
Seeing Ronaldo post a message in support of him at the Ballon d’Or with a photo of their first meeting, in 2009, was special. “Look how young I am…” Benzema says.
“When I came here in Madrid, I was a bit lonely. It was hard. It’s really hard. It’s because of my mental strength. For me, as long as I’m not an undisputed key player, I don’t perform or people don’t appreciate my game, I won’t give up – I won’t let her go. We are all alike to a certain extent [at Madrid], football. We can all pass or score a goal. But the mental element is to finish the game, enjoy it a bit and then really think about the next game, how to prepare, how to play. This is my style.
“Once I finish the match, good or bad, I’m already thinking about my recovery and what I’m going to do in the next match. Right away. We play one evening at 9pm and the next morning, I forgot,” he says. “[Real Madrid] It’s a great club. It’s demanding, and the pressure is at its highest. I can’t rest on laurels and say Oh it’s okay, last season I scored 30 goals, so this season, I’ll take it easy. It just doesn’t work like that, and that’s what motivates me every time. “>
So what does the future hold for Benzema? His contract expires in June 2023. He has plenty of time to think about what he will do next, although he doesn’t seem nervous.
“I’m taking year after year. As long as I have this desire, this joy, and I love football, I don’t keep it. I don’t look at age or what’s going on. It all comes down to how I feel physically. I would never force it. I’m 33 years, and I’ll turn 34 in December. I keep playing, and I feel better and better, so I have to keep going.
“I love the United States. Football is getting better there. But am I telling you I’m going to sign there? Now, I’m in Madrid,” he smiled again.
After nearly an hour together, also talking about French music, TV series (recent favorites: “Validé” and “Family Business”) and President Emmanuel Macron’s performance at the charity football match he played the day before our interview, Benzema could finally go to lunch. Later, he will add two more sessions in his home gym, a special healing therapy, more massages and more preparation for the upcoming games.
Benzema’s road to the top, staying there for a long time and getting close to the golden ball, not because of the coconut water. It’s because of it all.