PARIS – Karim Benzema was honored on Monday for his remarkable success with Real Madrid by winning the Ballon d’Or at a star-studded ceremony in Paris, while Spain’s Alexia Putellas retained the women’s award.
Benzema, France’s first winner of football’s most prestigious individual award since Zinedine Zidane in 1998, scored 44 goals in 46 games for his club last season as Real won the Champions League and La Liga.
Fifteen of his goals have come in the Champions League, including hat-tricks in knockout wins over Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea, and three more in both games in a stunning semi-final loss to Manchester City.
The 34-year-old, who also won the UEFA Nations League with France, succeeds Lionel Messi with the Argentine, who was not nominated this year after winning the award for the seventh time in 2021.
“The Ballon d’Or may be individual, but it’s always a collective award. It’s the people’s Ballon d’Or,” Benzema explained.
“Winning this trophy has always been on my mind,” he added.
Benzema edged out Sadio Mane in second place, although the Bayern Munich and Senegal star was recognized for his work off the pitch when he received a new award named after former Brazil star Socrates.
‘PROUD OF MY JOURNEY’
Winning the prize, organized by France Football magazine, caps a remarkable career boost for Benzema, who was banned from the France team for five and a half years for his involvement in a sex tape extortion scandal involving his teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
He was later given a one-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of 75,000 euros ($73,848).
He returned to the national team for the European Championships last year and will now travel with France to Qatar for the World Cup next month.
“There were times that were much more difficult for me, like when I wasn’t in the national team, but I’m really proud of my journey,” he added.
Benzema will turn 35 on December 19, the day after the World Cup final, and is the oldest Ballon d’Or winner since the very first, Stanley Matthews in 1956.
The former Lyon striker is also the fifth Frenchman to win the trophy, with Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini and Jean-Pierre Papin all getting their hands on the trophy ahead of Zidane.
The award was previously based on a player’s performance over the calendar year.
But the format has changed, with the award now based on a player’s record over the past season.
- Editor/ additional report by AFP