Gradually the question arises as to how Kevin De Bruyne is doing. Because the podium of this year Ballon d’Or seems to have been somewhat cursed. Even before the World Cup in Qatar started on Sunday, the biggest football stage of the year was bereft of two of its greatest performers: Frenchman Karim Benzema, the winner of this year’s Footballer of the Year award, withdrew on Saturday. 48 hours earlier, the Senegalese Sadio Mané from FC Bayern had to cancel – and thus the runner-up in the same jury choice. De Bruyne was a cause for concern after Manchester City’s Belgian had finished third in the election.
The news of Aus Benzemas came on Saturday night, after the French team’s first training session on Qatari soil. In the past few weeks, Benzema had only concentrated on the trip to Qatar, even skipping nine games with his club Real Madrid because his muscles had been tired since mid-October. His last start-up was on October 19th. As France’s coach Didier Deschamps announced on Sunday, Benzema’s old injury had not resurfaced. Rather, Benzema suffered a new muscle injury during training. “Something like that happens,” said Deschamps. Benzema spoke up on a social network. “I never gave up in my life. But tonight I had to think about the team like I always have…” wrote the Frenchman.
However: During Benzema’s “Destiny” (L’Equipe) caused greater despair in various media – “La catastrophe”, wrote the posh newspaper Le Figaro – the dismay in the quarters of the French should have been limited. It is more likely that one or the other castanets unpacked and tap-dance for joy. “I’m extremely sad for Karim, this World Cup was a big goal for him,” said France coach Deschamps. This, in turn, can be taken at face value. Benzema turns 35 the day after the World Cup final. The World Cup in Qatar was probably his last chance to win the world title – and to be accepted into the pantheon of French football, to join the ranks of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane.
At the 2018 World Cup, when France defeated Croatia in the final in Moscow and won the second title in the history of the Equipe de France secured, Benzema was not there. At the time, the famous “sextape affair” of 2015, for which Real Madrid’s flagship striker was sentenced to a one-year suspended sentence, was far from over.
The relationship between Benzema and Mbappé is considered complicated
She circled around a video recording of national player Mathieu Valbuena’s copulatory actions with a partner. The “sextape” got into the hands of Benzema’s friends. And he thought it would be a good idea to mediate between blackmailers and Valbuena. As a courtesy to Valbuena, as Benzema put it. A French court nevertheless cracked it – in mid-2022 Benzema waived an appeal against the verdict.
At that point, a year had passed since Deschamps had pardoned Benzema. That happened amid grumbling from various executives on the team, who saw Benzema’s group compatibility in question because he had, well, betrayed a teammate. The really big frost was considered to be over after the 2021 Nations League tournament. But how great the reservations about Benzema still were, was also shown by the fact that he was refused the captain’s armband.
Recently there were new irritations – when Kylian Mbappé stayed at Paris Saint-Germain and excluded the move to Real Madrid and Benzema. Benzema had campaigned for a change at Mbappé on behalf of Madrid club boss Florentino Pérez – and probably felt Mbappé’s whereabouts as a breach of word. After the Mbappé decision, he published a photo of US rapper Tupac Shakur on his social networks; and Mabppé took it so personally that it was said that Mbappé and Benzema needed couples therapy. Tupac was the victim of a betrayal by a close friend – and was shot dead in 1996.
But not only in terms of atmosphere, but also in terms of sport, the French should have got rid of a problem. As great as Benzema had been last season, his current form was a great unknown. The failures of midfielders N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba are likely to have hit the French far harder, because coach Deschamps is less spoiled for choice in the attack – despite the absence of Christopher Nkunku (RB Leipzig).
The movements of Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Mbappé may be a little easier to coordinate without Benzema than with him; Marcus Thuram (Borussia Mönchengladbach) and replacement Randal Kolo Muani (Eintracht Frankfurt) are also available. Either way, Benzema’s absence for France is far less serious than Sadio Mané’s loss for Senegal, who are already playing their first World Cup game on Monday, against the Netherlands. And Kevin De Bruyne? He’s fine for now.