Mourinho praises Benzema's progress

AFP, Monday 28 Mar 2011

Jose Mourinho takes credit for Karim Benzema's recent progress at Real Madrid

Benzema celebrates his goal against Olympique Lyon (Photo: Reuters)

The France striker struggled to establish himself as a regular starter after joining in July 2009 from Lyon, and his departure from the club seemed certain earlier this season.

But Benzema has managed to turn his fortunes around, scoring eight goals in his past five games.

"Everybody can see that he is a better player," Mourinho said in an interview with L'Equipe newspaper published Monday. "He's improved because his coach is a demanding one, and has asked for a different attitude from him -- both at training and on the pitch." Benzema signed a six-year deal worth 35 million euros with Madrid and had a disappointing first season with the Spanish giants, scoring only eight goals in the league and struggling for a place in the starting lineup, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain the first-choice strikers.

Mourinho, who joined Real after winning the Champions League with Inter last season, said Madrid officials had taken the wrong approach with the 23-year-old striker.

"There was almost an obsession about him," Mourinho said. "He had to become a great player, an important player at Real. For that, they were almost tempted to make his life easier: 'OK, you don't play very well, but you will play. You don't work a lot but you have to play because we cannot block the progress of a talent that cost so many millions." Mourinho said he took the opposite view and persuaded Benzema that his success would only come through hard work and perseverance.

"I won't give you anything," Mourinho told the striker.

"If you don't win, you will drown. But if you win, you'll come out of this stronger." Benzema was severely criticized by the Spanish press earlier this season and newspaper Marca even wrote "He's Dead" after the Frenchman failed to impress in a Copa del Rey match against a third division team.

Real then signed striker Emmanuel Adebayor from Manchester City on loan in January, with the move seen as new proof of Mourinho's lack of confidence in Benzema.

"A lot of people thought I wanted a third striker because I didn't like Benzema," Mourinho said. "But I wanted a third striker because I needed one. I definitely didn't want to make things more difficult for Karim or brush him aside." Benzema has scored 21 goals in all competition with Madrid this season. He also carried his form into France's Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, winning the support of coach Laurent Blanc.

"He's improved because he convinced himself that it's important for him," Mourinho said. "I didn't give him anything. The result is that today Karim has not become a big boy, but a man."

Short link: