Karim Benzema: The Most Underrated Footballer In History?

Karim Benzema etched himself further into Real Madrid’s history books on Saturday in the Madrid derby as he made his 528th appearance in the Los Blancos white, the most by any non-Spanish player in the club’s history.

The previous record of 527 which was held by Roberto Carlos was equalled by Benzema in the Champions League win against Borussia Monchengladbach on Wednesday, with the French striker scoring both goals to help Real avoid what would have been a first-ever group stage elimination.

Benzema’s goals against Monchengladbach took his tally to 257 for Real Madrid, the fifth highest in the club’s history, which makes one wonder why exactly he does not get the praise he deserves.

A good number of factors could point us to why he is so under-appreciated by the football world in general, perhaps his larger than life attitude, or the several controversies surrounding his career have counted against him, but I personally believe he’s been the victim of the ‘Messi/Ronaldo effect’.

The ‘Messi/Ronaldo effect’ is simply when great players that would otherwise have been considered world class end up being undermined because they are judged by the ridiculously high goal standards set by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

For context, 30 goals a season was the gold standard for strikers for a long time before Messi and Ronaldo came along and started scoring at least 50 per season for 10 straight seasons, and now anyone not hitting those numbers are considered “frauds” regardless of what else they bring to the game.

Strikers like Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Andriy Shevchenko were considered legendary goal machines throughout their careers, how about we take a closer look then.

Shevchenko scored 298 goals in 624 games during a stellar career that spanned a 20-year period and included spells at Dynamo Kiev, AC Milan, Chelsea and the Ukrainian national team.

Feared and respected, Shevchenko was awarded the Balloon d’Or in 2004

Van Nistelrooy, meanwhile, scored 362 goals in 587 appearances over a 19-year period, turning out for the likes of Manchester United, PSV Eindhoven, Real Madrid, Malaga and the Dutch national team.

Van Nistelrooy terrorized defences in his prime

Both strikers command utmost respect from football fans, coaches, media and their colleagues and rightly so: those sort of numbers are impressive regardless of what era they were accrued.

Which makes it all the more baffling that a 32-year-old Karim Benzema who has scored 350 career goals in 757 appearances so far and is in the 17th season of his professional football career is constantly being doubted, derided and questioned.

The only thing that separates Benzema from the likes of Shevchenko and Van Nistelrooy, in my opinion, is the criteria on which they are judged, the bar is so much higher now.

Benzema was in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo for most of his Real Madrid career, mostly being the second and some times third best player on the team, but he’s still somehow managed to rank 5th on the all time goal scorers list, only behind Ronaldo, Raul, Alfredo Di Stefano and Santilana.

Benzema often played second fiddle to Ronaldo at Real Madrid

As if that’s not impressive enough, Benzema is also 5th on the list of all time UEFA Champions league goalscorers list with 68 goals in club football’s biggest competition, 12 more than Van Nistelrooy, 18 more than Thierry Henry, 20 more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Andriy Shevchenko and 14 than Filippo Inzaghi, just to name a few of the strikers people consider to be better than Benzema.

His trophy cabinet is just as impressive as his goalscoring record: he began his career with 4 consecutive Ligue1 trophies between 2004 and 2008 with a Lyon team that dominated French football for 7 straight years, won a Coupe de France in 2008, 2 Trophee Des champions in 2006 and 2007 consecutively.

Benzema gained prominence as part of an all-conquering Lyon side

He moved to Real Madrid in 2009 and the trophies still kept pouring in, 3 La Liga titles, 2 Copa Del Reys, 2 Supercopa De Espana, 4 champions league trophies including the famous three-peat between 2016 and 2018, 3 UEFA super cups, and 4 FIFA club world cups, he’s won it all at club level.

Benzema has won it all at club level

Benzema might just be one of the best centre forwards to ever play the game, his tactical intelligence, positional sense, movement off the ball and ability to link up with those around him are elite level and exactly what distinguishes him from the rest.

Karim Benzema seems like one of those players that are never really appreciated until they are retired and while I hope he eventually gets all the accolades he deserves, I rest assured in that old saying “the Karim (cream) always rises to the top”.