Cristiano Ronaldo was a huge influence in helping Karim Benzema fulfill his potential as a player, according to former France manager Raymond Domenech. From Saturday Raymond Domenech is taking charge of Nantes, the struggling French club.
In an interview, the former France boss talked highly about Real Madrid Talisman Karim Benzema.
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Ronaldo arrived at Real Madrid from Manchester United in July 2009 just weeks before Benzema joined from Olympique Lyon. The duo enjoyed a fine partnership in Madrid's attack, winning 171 of the 238 LaLiga fixtures they played in together – a percentage of 71.8%. Together, the pair won LaLiga and the Copa del Rey twice, and the Champions League four times – including three in a row from 2016 to 2018. It was a match made in heaven. It was unlike the friendship of Messi- Suarez at Barcelona or Neymar-Mbappe at PSG. It was a very highly rated partnership with little flamboyance but loads of brutal and ruthless attacking prowess. It was a partnership that hosted tons of criticism but always came on top of it when it mattered the most. They won’t go down in history as one of the greatest duos ever but will go down as the partnership that won accolades other clubs dream of.
Karim Benzema’s development at Real Madrid is co-existent with Ronaldo’s development. Unlike some other great partnership, it didn’t click magically. It took its own time and a lot of sacrifices. Karim Benzema had to change and adapt his style for Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo under Mourinho turned into a goal-scoring machine. The Portuguese transformed his gameplay to score more. Benzema was the catalyst to Ronaldo’s transformation.
How Benzema transformed Ronaldo
Benzema was pivotal to Cristiano Ronaldo's transformation into a goal-scoring machine. Before Real Madrid Ronaldo was a midfielder for most of his time at United and also played in Central Attacking role. But Benzema is a unique brand of player. He perhaps the most selfless player in that Madrid squad. He was a striker but his desire to feed for his compatriots is something admirable. Very few people notice this but Benzema's anticipation of space and time on the field is impeccable. He created these transitory movements from a defensive organization to an offensive counter-attacking transition. Benzema played centrally and dropped deeper than Ronaldo, Ozil, Di Maria, and later on Gareth Bale. His threading with the midfielders and wing backs pushed Ronaldo and bale in a more advanced position to score. He understood his role at Madrid very well. Ronaldo was hungry for goals. When Ronaldo became the goal scoring machine under Mourinho, Benzema was not a regular on the line-up. But when Karim was an undisputed starter under Ancelloti and Zinedine Zidane, he understood his role in the team. He was the feeder and the creator upfront. His in behind runs, diagonal balls on the final third, and intelligent runs behind the defender created ample space for Ronaldo. When BBC (Benzema, Bale, Ronaldo) was in their prime, Benzema was over Shadowed. His goal scoring number went down. People started to criticize him. But the coach and who understood Madrid better knew how important he was to Madrid. Without him, the BBC would have an average trio. His sacrifice made this trio a threat to be reckoned with.
Benzema himself talked about working on his style for the betterment of the team in an interview with Canal Football Club, "Cristiano and I get on well and I like playing with him. He likes to play it the first time. He is more egotistical than me but that's normal, it doesn't bother me. In the end, it's good for the team."
He added: "I score goals but when there is someone beside me who scores 50 goals a year... before, a striker would score 25 goals and he was a good striker, but now..."
Benzema's new role at Real Madrid
Since Ronaldo's exit for Juventus prior to the 2018-19 season, Benzema has taken on much of the goal-scoring burden and has netted 69 goals, provided 27 assists for Madrid. Benzema's form was crucial to Madrid's title success last season, while this season alone he has 8 goals, five assists in La Liga.
Domenech believes not only Benzema helped Cristiano but Cristiano also helped Benzema. Domenech, the man who first called up Benzema for Les Bleus, believes playing alongside a player with the sort of meticulous preparation as Ronaldo has been beneficial to the striker's career. "He had this intelligence to adapt to the situation and to exploit his potential," Domenech told France Football, assessing Benzema. "I saw him come back little by little. He was making efforts, relocations, calls, runs, whereas before he wanted the ball into his feet and just play. Karim was helpful to Ronaldo. And Ronaldo helped Karim, improved him. They absorbed each other."
Prior to working alongside Ronaldo, Domenech believes Benzema was too comfortable happy to coast along on unfulfilled talent. "He believed that it was written and inscribed forever, that he was going to make his career like that and that he could be satisfied with doing little," said Domenech. "Physically, he is monstrous, but he did not exploit this potential, was content to say to himself: 'Me, I'm here to score, the others just have to do the job'. He was in that phase, and he wasn't the only one."
Benzema, the man who idolizes Brazilian Ronaldo Nazario changed the game of Portuguese Ronaldo forever
Benzema talked about his idol Ronaldo Nazario once, “I looked at his movement and I tried to copy what he did. But there was no one like him, I looked up to him so much. Some players had his speed, but not the ball control and skill at the same time.”
“People think he only scored goals, but he could do everything. Strikers need to know how to do a lot of things, not just score goals, and he was the perfect example. I learnt a lot from him and [current Real Madrid coach] Zinedine Zidane.”