How do Real Madrid prepare for life after Benzema?

Published on: 04 June 2023

Karim Benzema won the Champions League five times with Real Madrid

Karim Benzema leaves Real Madrid as a legend, undoubtedly one of the greatest players in the club's history.

He also leaves a massive hole in a squad that is in the middle a radical transformation, with a series of iconic stars replaced by a new batch of talent.

After the France striker's departure was announced on Sunday, BBC Sport examines the outgoing Benzema's legacy - and the consequences of his exit.

All-round excellence

After joining from hometown-club Lyon as a promising 21 year-old in 2009, Benzema exceeded expectations by winning five Champions League titles, four La Liga crowns and the 2022 Ballon d'Or, plundering 353 goals along the way to trail only Cristiano Ronaldo in Los Blancos' all-time scoring chart.

That figure is even more impressive considering he had to play a supporting role to Ronaldo for the majority of his spell, only really allowed to step out of the shadows and become the focal point of the attack in the last five seasons.

Indeed, Benzema averaged 32.2 goals per season since Ronaldo's departure in 2018, compared to 21.3 during his time alongside the Portuguese ace, clearly showing one of his greatest attributes: his willingness and ability to play for the team when required, rather than chasing personal glory.

Benzema's selflessness has also played a major role in the development of young Brazilian wingers Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo in the last few years, and sees him leave the club with a total of 138 assists.

All considered, he will be remembered as a complete number nine rather than 'just' a goalscorer and as a man who could elegantly link play with midfield and effortlessly create chances for others, as well as taking them himself.

But this season has been a struggle. Benzema - now 35 years old - missed the World Cup through injury, has only been able to start 23 league games and looked a shadow of his former self during the latter stages of the campaign, especially during the Champions League semi-final loss to Manchester City.

So now he is leaving, cashing in on his remaining playing days by accepting a reported 200 million euros offer to join Saudi champions Al-Ittihad. His decision will leave Real with a major summer mission following Sunday's season finale at home to Athletic Bilbao.

Real's next number nine?

Benzema's all-round talent will be very difficult to replace and coach Carlo Ancelotti - who is almost certain to stay despite a tantalising offer to coach the Brazilian national team - currently has no viable alternatives.

Rodrygo has occasionally been tried as a mobile 'false nine' but looks much more comfortable in his usual position on the right flank, Eden Hazard has effectively been written off after a disastrous four seasons in Spain (seven goals in 76 appearances) and the squad's only other genuine centre forward, Mariano Diaz, has been given just 163 minutes by Ancelotti in all competitions this season.

So reinforcements will have to be recruited and Espanyol target man Joselu - formerly of Stoke City and Newcastle - has been heavily linked after netting 16 league goals for the relegated Catalan club this season.

But Joselu was intended to rotate with Benzema, not replace him, and the club will surely be forced to seek a more high-profile heir to the Frenchman's number nine shirt.

Chelsea's Kai Havertz, Victor Osimhen of Italian title winners Napoli and Tottenham skipper Harry Kane have all been linked, as has Roberto Firmino who is seeking a new challenge after leaving Liverpool.

However, the number-one choice could yet again be long-time target Kylian Mbappe.

Despite very publicly rejecting the Spanish giants to stay with Paris St-Germain last summer, rumours that Mbappe will eventually end up at the Bernabeu have refused to go away. He recently claimed to be prepared to complete the final year of his contract in the French capital, but the quick departure of Benzema could see Real president Florentino Perez attempt to persuade a rapid rethink.

One thing is for sure - with a Benzema-size gap to fill, Real Madrid will make a big-name centre forward signing this summer.

Regeneration project continues

Benzema is the latest in a long line of long-serving legends to leave the Bernabeu in the last two years, with the departures of Sergio Ramos, Rafael Varane, Gareth Bale, Isco, Marcelo and Casemiro already giving the squad a very new look.

The departures won't stop there. Luka Modric has also reportedly been offered big money to move to Saudi Arabia this summer, versatile forward Marco Asensio is set to join PSG and Toni Kroos is gradually becoming a more peripheral presence after years of running the midfield.

In their place, the club's poster boys are now a new breed of stars such as Vinicius, Rodrygo, Fede Valverde and Eduardo Camavinga, all in their early twenties and expected to be joined by whoever replaces Benzema along with another major rising talent, England international midfielder Jude Bellingham.

They all have the talent to provide the spine of the team for many years to come but whether they can come even close to matching the impact of Benzema is another matter.


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