Benzema takes the Ballon d’Or

Alaa Abdel-Ghani , Tuesday 18 Oct 2022

The French and Real star forward won the award for the world’s best footballer in a cakewalk, writes Alaa Abdel-Ghani

Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema

 

To no one’s surprise, Karim Benzema, the super striker of France and Real Madrid, won the Ballon d’Or on Monday night, solidifying his status as the world’s greatest football player.

At a lavish ceremony in the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris, Benzema claimed the most prestigious individual award in men’s football after a sensational 2021-22 season in which he helped steer Real to the La Liga title and the UEFA Champions League.

Sadio Mane took second place, Kevin de Bruyne third, Robert Lewandowski fourth and Mohamed Salah fifth.

In an inevitable changing of the guard, Lionel Messi, last year’s holder and seven-time men’s winner, was not even nominated for this year’s award. Cristiano Ronaldo, a five-time winner himself, came in at 20.

Messi and Ronaldo had won 12 of the last 13 Ballon d’Ors but the inescapable truth is that they have had to finally pass on the baton.

Even when at their best they would have been hard put to overtake Benzema, for many years playing in the shadow of Ronaldo when they were paired in Madrid,  who had a scintillating season, scoring 44 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions.

His performances in the Champions League in particular were out of this world. He scored hat-tricks in the last-16 second leg against Paris Saint-Germain – in 17 minutes -- and in the quarter-final first leg against Chelsea.

He scored again in the decisive second leg against Chelsea before striking again in both the semi-final first and second legs against Manchester City.

Time and again, when it looked like it was all over for Real, Benzema’s magic would somehow save them from near certain defeat.

As the tournament’s top scorer, with 10 of his goals in the knockout stages, Benzema’s season was one for the ages and had made him for months the overwhelming favourite for the Ballon.

“This makes me really proud, all the work I did, I never gave up,” Benzema said after receiving the Ballon trophy from another former winner and compatriot, the great Frenchman Zinedine Zidane.

“I had two role models in my life, Zidane and Ronaldo as well. I always had this dream in my mind that everything’s possible. There was a difficult period where I wasn’t in the French team but I worked hard and never gave up, kept my head down and enjoyed playing football.

“I’m really proud of my journey here, it wasn’t easy. It was difficult, for me and my family. To be here today, the first time for me. I am just really, really happy, thanks to my teammates, with Real Madrid and the national team.”

In the wake of Messi’s controversial Ballon d’Or victory in 2021, the 2022 edition saw organisers France Football make several changes to the voting process. The number of media voters were reduced to 100 and modifications to the criteria used to judge players were introduced. 

This year’s Ballon d’Or was awarded for performance in the 2021-22 season, rather than the calendar year, meaning for the first time, players were judged on the European club season (August to July). Also, career achievements were no longer taken into consideration by the 100 media voters for the men’s award (one voter each from the top 100 nations in FIFA men’s rankings) and the 50 for the women’s trophy (top 50 nations in the FIFA women’s rankings).

In the other awards, Barcelona’s Alexia Putellas defended her crown to win the women’s Ballon d’Or despite missing out on Euro 22 due to injury.

Gavi of Barcelona won the Kopa Trophy awarded to the best performing player under the age of 21.

Lewandowski, who scored a whopping 57 goals last season, with 50 of those coming in 46 games for Bayern Munich, won the best striker award for the second season in a row.

His heroics in last season’s Champions League final helped Thibaut Courtois pick up the Yashin trophy for best goalkeeper.

Mane took the inaugural Socrates award, a humanitarian prize named after the late Brazilian star midfielder, for his charity work in Senegal.

Back to Salah, his fifth place finish was two steps better than seventh last year.

Just a few years ago it would have been unimaginable to imagine an Egyptian getting within 10 miles of the Ballon award.

But Salah has made near-top finishes routine. In 2018 he finished sixth and in 2019 fifth.

However, the hard reality is that the Ballon still eludes him. Being the top scorer in last season’s Premier League was not enough. Breaking the record for most goals in a Premier League season, in 2018, was not enough. Helping his team Liverpool win the Premier League and Champions League was not enough.

Such feats on the field but defeats off it beg the question: when will it ever be enough?

On a recent visit to Egypt, Pascal Ferry, the editor-in-chief of France Football magazine which presents the Ballon d’Or, made this prediction on a local TV show: “Salah is an exceptional player and one day he will win the Ballon d’Or.”

Of course, Ferry could not pinpoint when that exact day would be but he did say “soon, as he has all the needed qualities”.

However, it does not appear Salah’s date with destiny will be that soon. It will be difficult for Salah to get anywhere near next year’s Ballon. In the Premier League, City’s blond bomber Erling Haaland seems to score every other day. And for Salah this year there is no World Cup, the stage from which the best performer usually bags the Ballon. Now 30, Salah is also no longer a spring chicken.

This past week, Salah at last woke up from his stupor of this season, scoring the fastest hat trick in Champions League history, against Rangers, then netting the only goal in victory over defending Premier League champions Manchester City.

But as Ferry rightly pointed out, Salah’s Egypt continues to negate his club achievements, having failed to win the Africa Cup of Nations and failed to qualify for next month’s World Cup in Qatar.

Still, Salah might take heart that Benzema won this year’s Ballon d’Or, his first, on his 10th nomination, and at the age of 34, the oldest since Englishman Stanley Matthews who won the very first Ballon d’Or in 1956 at age 41.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 20 October, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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