Real Madrid’s unsung hero

Karim Benzema bagged his 19th goal of the season against Elche last weekend, yet there are still some who question his importance to this Real Madrid side that is hunting down a first La Liga title for three years. The Frenchman’s value cannot be measured simply in goalscoring stats, however.

It is true that he lags far behind Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible return of 38 goals to date, but take away the Portuguese’s penalty strikes and the difference between the two forwards becomes less than 10. Indeed, as Ronaldo continues to shatter records and hunts down Madrid’s leading scorers of all-time, Benzema is quietly approaching the top 10 in the famous club’s history.

The former Lyon man is now just 25 goals behind Amancio Amaro, while doubling that target would see him reach seventh in the charts and only behind the storied names of Hugo Sanchez, Ferenc Puskas, Carlos Santillana, Ronaldo, Alfredo Di Stefano and Raul Gonzalez.

Having only just turned 27, residing among the most prolific in Los Blancos history is well within Benzema’s reach, which is quite some turnaround considering the struggles he has sometimes faced. Despite commanding a fee of over £30m at the age of 21, his first Coach at Santiago Bernabeu, Manuel Pellegrini, was not entirely convinced by his talents, instead preferring Gonzalo Higuain as his main man up front.

Jose Mourinho was also critical of Benzema and his work ethic when he took up the reigns, a sentiment that was backed up by France boss Laurent Blanc. The striker responded by bringing down his weight and increasing his muscle mass, before returning his best goal tally for a season in the 2011-12 campaign, which saw him on target 32 times.

This time round Benzema has featured in all but two of Madrid’s League games, and his importance to the side should not be underestimated. Ronaldo has the license to roam the pitch in search of the ball and goalscoring positions, while it is Benzema, one of the continent’s leading providers of assists, that often drags defenders away from the No. 7, who can be found in more central positions than ever before.

The France international is the classic team player, seemingly unperturbed by the headlines that invariably go Ronaldo’s way, also shared by the likes of galactico signings Gareth Bale and James Rodriguez. Even when Benzema signed for Madrid as one of Europe’s hottest young prospects, his arrival was overshadowed by the club’s acquisition of Brazilian playmaker Kaka, not to mention the world record fee paid for Ronaldo.

There have been recent reports linking Radamel Falcao with the Bernabeu, due to the Colombian’s struggles at Manchester United and the increasing likelihood the Old Trafford club will not take up the option of signing him permanently. On the face of it this would be a terrible move for Madrid to make, thanks to the harmony that Benzema brings to the side.

Falcao would be in and around the positions Ronaldo loves to arrive at, and the Colombian would not be suited to pulling wide and making space for the Ronaldo to continue in his scarcely believable vein of scoring, as Falcao’s time in Manchester has demonstrated.

Benzema ought to be hitting his peak right at the time Real Madrid have put together an incredible array of attacking talent. It would be to the club’s benefit if they did not hunt out another galactico up top, and appreciate what their current No.9 brings to the side.