Karim Benzema wasn’t welcome for France and shouldn’t be at Arsenal, where one of their great strengths is their lack of ego – apart from the manager, obviously…
Despite not playing any part in the World Cup, Karim Benzema has made more headlines than most France players this winter. In fact, he’s made headlines because he played no part in the World Cup.
Injured on the eve of the tournament, Benzema was sent home from Qatar by manager Didier Deschamps, despite, according to his agent, only being injured sufficiently to miss the group games.
Asked if he would bring Benzema back for the knockout rounds, Deschamps said no. Asked why, Deschamps said nothing.
But it has since come to light, in reports not dissimilar to further reports which have plagued his stellar career, through which court cases have tried but failed to prove wrongdoing above and beyond this very basic character trait, that Benzema was sent home because Benzema is a bit of a pr*ck.
At club level, his cantankerousness has been hidden for the most part. He joined Real Madrid as a 21-year-old in the same summer as the King of the pr*cks joined from Manchester United. By his own admission, Benzema was “overshadowed” by Cristiano Ronaldo, who certainly encourages, but also can’t help, stealing the limelight – good or bad – from anyone within his massive orbit.
From second fiddle, or even third when Gareth Bale was at his peak, Benzema has become not only the main man at Madrid, but in world football, scoring over 20 goals in each of the four La Liga seasons post-Ronaldo, and claiming the Ballon d’Or at the end of a treble-winning season last term.
He’s gone from undoubted deputy to undisputed alpha in the time it took Ronaldo to hop on a private jet from Spain to Italy. Benzema has never fought for superiority at Real Madrid, because it was as pointless when Ronaldo was around as it was unnecessary when he left. At international level though, it’s been a different story, and not an encouraging one for Arsenal or any other team tempted to integrate Benzema into their squad.
Both Hugo Lloris and Antoine Griezmann were reportedly ‘happy’ to see Benzema sent home from Qatar with an injury as they thought he ‘could put their leadership in jeopardy’. Reports have suggested further members of the France squad, and Paul Pogba, who missed the tournament through injury, had concerns over Benzema’s influence.
That perhaps says more about them than it does Benzema. Certainly claims that Griezmann threw his toys out of the pram over the level of social media coverage Benzema was receiving in comparison to him reflects far worse on the man in the squad than the one they were all so keen to keep out. But for them all, or at least so many of them, not to want Benzema around, the Real Madrid star must at the very least be a powerful presence in the dressing room. Clearly not a positive presence, in their eyes.
And although Olivier Giroud let bygones be bygones after Benzema claimed “you can’t confuse an F1 car with a go-kart”, that’s the sort of comment that will forever grate on the individual and their teammates. That’s the highest-scoring French go-kart in history of course, with a better international game-per-goal ratio than the F1 car.
Arsenal have more to lose than they could gain from Benzema who, given he’s top dog at Real Madrid, would definitely expect to be so at the Emirates; one of the most attractive, and almost certainly critical, factors in the Gunners’ success is an apparent lack of overbearing characters in the dressing room.
Mikel Arteta fought to get rid of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, the ‘star’, whom he couldn’t get to fall into line, before handing the leadership reins to a venerable, yet timid successor in Martin Odegaard. Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus, William Saliba, Thomas Partey are all brilliant, but quietly so, and the risk of bringing in someone loudly brilliant feels like a big risk for potentially little reward.
Arteta is the ego at Arsenal. He’s built a squad based on that being the case. He doesn’t want players to question his authority. And fine; it’s working bloody well as it goes.
The other positive thing about those quietly brilliant players is their youth. Benzema is 35, and may already be in decline after the peak of last season. And if Ronaldo’s return to Manchester United has taught us anything, it’s to be wary of the denouement of a world-class player’s career, when their opinion of their ability fails to change at the speed of everyone else watching.
Even if the reports of Benzema’s ego and attitude are wide of the mark, such a marquee signing would create undue pressure on Arteta, who would be bombarded with questions about why he wasn’t starting, or not scoring, or why he was starting when not scoring.
Arsenal need a striker, and it’s clear why they’re tempted by Benzema – he’s an excellent one – but to completely alter your transfer strategy to sign a player who would likely disrupt the carefully constructed harmony in a dressing room fighting for the Premier League title makes very little sense.