With a super talented french squad heading for the World Cup in Russia, many are still claiming Karim Benzema should have been on the plane. Didier Deschamps is being reproached of incompetence and imbecilicity for not picking the Madrid striker. All this criticism against the World Cup winning ex-national team captain is unwarranted. It’s Benzema who ruled himself out of the selection process with a series of bad decisions.
The first scandal Benzema was embroiled in was the famous Zahia Dehar saga in 2010, where he was accused of soliciting a minor prostitute. Also involved in this case was Franck Ribery, who after retiring from the national team tried to come back but was not considered by Deschamps. Coincidentally, Ribery has since been one of the most vocal proponents for Benzema’s re-integration in the national team. Even after this scandal, Benzema was still selected for the national team.
In 2015, Benzema was accused of blackmailing french teammate Mathieu Valbuena, causing both players to be suspended from the national team, a decision taken at the time by FFF president Le Graet. The French Prime Minister at the time also intervened publicly to condemn Benzema.
“A great athlete should be exemplary. If he is not, he has no place in the France team. There are so many kids, so many youngsters in our suburbs that relate to great athletes. They wear the blue jersey, the colours of France, which are so important in these moments.” – Manuel Valls, French Prime Minister from 2014-2016.
As expected, Didier Deschamps proceded to name his Euro 2016 squad the following year, excluding Karim Benzema. Why would you pick a player accused of blackmailing a teammate? How could the other selected French players trust him? At that point in time, Benzema still had the option of waiting it out and leaving the door open for a national team comeback. Instead, he responded immaturely by accusing the coach of racism. In July 2017, the Real Madrid forward was almost exonerated by the Court of Cassation which could have paved the way for a return with Les Bleus but he had already burned bridges with Deschamps. A simple apology from Benzema’s camp would probably have helped his cause. It never came.
After that, through social media, Benzema indirectly reiterated his belief Deschamps bowed to a racist part of France, thereby rendering his claim he is always at the disposal of the national team null and void. The French coach for his part took the high road and used diplomacy to quash rumors he is angry at Benzema but staying true to his philosophy of selecting players for sporting reasons while maintaining squad unity and exemplarity, he never recalled Benzema.
Racism is well present in France and in football in general. However, there is no proof Didier Deschamps is a racist person. There is, however, plenty to show the contrary. It only takes one look at the team he captained to glory in 1998 and the team he is taking to Russia right now. Benzema and his supporters are doing real racism victims no good by blindly accusing Deschamps and ignoring the player’s actions.
France has a fantastic squad, capable of winning the World Cup. We cannot blame Deschamps for not selecting Benzema to preserve unity in a squad so full of potential. If you are looking for a star in the team: Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba and Kylian Mbappe fit the bill.
Even if we ignore all of the above points, in terms of performance Benzema only scored 12 goals and was poor for most of the season. Griezmann, Mbappe, Fekir and even injury-hit Oliver Giroud have all looked better. So why would Deschamps call on a mercurial character, not currently in his best form and risk the team chemistry taking a hit, when he already has a squad with a very realistic chance of being World champions?
As Sir Alex Ferguson rightly said: “The work of a team should always embrace a great player but the great player must always work.”
As a fan of the French national team and also an admirer of Benzema’s prowess as a player, I was hoping Benzema would put his ego aside and apologize to Deschamps and his French national teammates. Until the end, I wished he would at least try to come back, but he never did.
While undeniably a great player for his club, Benzema is not above what the French national team represents and does not deserve to take anybody’s place on the plane to Russia.
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