It seemed harsh. As Karim Benzema was substituted with 15 minutes remaining against Athletic Bilbao at the Santiago Bernabeu and made his way to the touchline, the crowd jeered him. Considering this was the player who set up Isco for both of his goals in an eventual 3-1 for Real Madrid, it was un-deserving. Unfortunately for the Frenchman, it was not the first time in his Madrid career, nor even this season.
Against Real Betis he received boos from the home crowd despite scoring in the first half and it is the kind of treatment Benzema has become accustomed to over the years. Ever since his mega-money move to the Spanish capital four years ago, he has often been criticised for either his lack of prolificacy or his perceived sluggish style of play, or both. He has also drawn criticism for his failure to ‘show up’ in crucial games. Yet, the statistics do tell another story.
In 178 games for Real Madrid, Benzema has found the net on 86 occasions. This equates to a scoring ratio of 0.48, a figure superior to that of former club icons Raul and Emilio Butragueno. This season the 25-year-old’s goals-to-shot ratio betters that of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. And, it is not only goals Benzema offers either. As he displayed against Athletic, he is just as adept to creating them as well. Last season, for example, only Andres Iniesta, Messi and Mesut Ozil provided more assists.
All this suggests that, despite the criticism, Benzema is a well-rounded striker who, importantly, delivers in more than one way. Yet, as Carlo Ancelotti pointed out, goals and assists are not enough to appease Madrid’s demanding fans. “Benzema was whistled a bit, while [Angel] di Maria was applauded by the whole stadium. The fans look closely at the players and it's a very clear sign for everyone that hard work is applauded,” said the former Milan boss.
And this is Benzema’s problem. Anyone who closely follows him during a game can be forgiven for thinking he appears slightly disinterested, lacklustre and perhaps even straight out lazy. This is certainly what the fans around the Bernabeu think, hence the jeers. They highly value work rate and it is for this reason Di Maria and Luka Modric, two players who worked off their socks against the Basques, were given such applause.
Benzema’s perceived lack of progress is another bone of contention. While in the 2011-12 season he claimed a season-best total of 31 goals in 50 games, last season he netted ‘only’ 20 times in 48 appearances. As a result, the Spanish giants were tempted to offload him in August, at least according to reports after the Betis game, with his sale seen as a way to fund a move for Luis Suarez.
It was no secret that Madrid were seeking another striker in the summer. A host of top class strikers were linked to the club, from Suarez through to Edinson Cavani to Mario Gomez. In the end nobody arrived but with doubts still surrounding Benzema, the pressure is already on the Frenchman.
On Monday morning Marca reported that Madrid are already preparing January bids for Suarez and Falcao. Should either of them arrive, Benzema’s future at Valdebebas will become even less certain.