Real Madrid are battling a problem every club has to at some stage. No amount of money can truly protect against the passage of time, and the need for a transitional phase. But after winning three Champions League titles in succession, and one La Liga title, between 2016 and 2018, Los Blancos have struggled to let go of the past. Less than a year after stepping away and appearing to close the curtain on their most successful modern era, they re-hired Zinedine Zidane and tasked him with ushering in a new dawn.
After a summer of change, with new signings and young players mixing with and replacing some senior stars, the balance isn’t quite right. But where Luka Modric, Marcelo and Gareth Bale have fallen away from the first-team picture, Karim Benzema has remained as crucial as ever.
It isn’t hard to see that the 31-year-old is a favourite of Zidane, and he has built a number of bridges with supporters during his decade-long spell in the Spanish capital.
In April, Zidane lauded Benzema as one of the best forwards in the world: "I know what a player he is, everyone knows it. The number of goals he's scoring is incredible. I'm made up for him.
Everyone can have their opinion on who is the best number nine in the world and for me it's Karim.
With their financial muscle, flexed to the tune of over £300million this summer, it is rather strange that Benzema has remained so crucial, especially with so many opportunities to replace him passing them by.
The former France international is hardly the goal machine required for a top club as big as Real Madrid. Only twice in the last five full seasons has he scored more than 20 La Liga goals, and that issue has only been magnified by the departure of record scorer Cristiano Ronaldo last year.
Benzema has evolved with age, he has worked hard on his game and deserves great credit for that, winning back the respect of many who once wrote him off. But the fact he hasn’t been replaced, or even properly challenged for his position in the side, despite a declining goal record, suggests there have been issues with Madrid’s recruitment for some time. Perhaps it was Ronaldo’s prolific nature that papered over the cracks. The Benzema question has been asked a number of times in the last 10 years, and the consequences of not having answered it are clear.
He is finding his touch again with an impressive start to the season, scoring six in seven league games so far, but Benzema doesn’t impose in the way other strikers across Europe have done, and at his age his impact is likely to decline. At the very least, he needs genuine competition if Real are to reassert themselves as a top European force. Their poor squad balance has been badly exposed in the Champions League so far this season, and a lack of firepower is particularly evident.