Benzema set to shine

Karim Benzema has been unable to dislodge Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain at the head of Real Madrid's attack, but a recent upturn in form has suggested he does have a future with the capital club. By Wayne Gardiner.

When he was paraded as a Real Madrid player in the summer of 2009, Karim Benzema was afforded the same ticker-tape reception that had been given to their other marquee signings of that off-season — Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo.

The three amigos were seen as the answer to Barcelona's increasing dominance at home and abroad, and thousands of Madridistas flocked to the Santiago Bernabeu to welcome them; the new wave of Galacticos.

A year on, it has actually been the arrival of Jose Mourinho as manager that finally seems to have bridged the gap, with the three stellar names of 2009 experiencing vastly different fortunes in their bid to help topple the Catalan club.

Ronaldo has been outstanding, scoring 51 goals in 54 games in a stunning exhibition of match-winning consistency, while injury has dictated that Kaka has rarely had a chance to show the form that had made him the world's best player. For France striker Benzema, his contribution has been somewhere in the middle.

While fit and available, he has been unable to dislodge Ronaldo and Gonzalo Higuain at the head of Madrid's attack, but a recent upturn in form has suggested he does have a future with the capital club. Prior to his GBP30million move from Lyon his name had been linked with nearly all of the continent's giants, but not any more, with him now more likely to be touted as part-exchange bait to bring other players to Real.

When Wayne Rooney's future at Manchester United was in doubt, Benzema was reported to be a possible pawn in a deal to take the England man to Spain. And with Mourinho brought in to turn Madrid into winners once more, it was widely considered that Benzema would be one of the first to go out of the door having failed to shine in his first season.

The Portuguese has kept faith with him, though, using him mainly from the bench with Ronaldo and Higuain starting.

Argentina international Higuain missed last week's UEFA Champions League win over Ajax through injury, allowing Benzema a rare start. He took the chance with both hands, scoring the opening goal.

That was a week after he had scored for France at Wembley, further reminding everyone that while he may have lost a starting shirt, he has misplaced none of his prowess and power in front of goal.

With another transfer window looming, Benzema's name is starting to be linked with a move away from Madrid, but it seems that the player has no interest in doing so now that he knows he is valued by his manager.

“Mourinho is a very different coach to the ones I have worked with before in my young career,” he said. “It is now three months that I have been working with him and I am progressing. He is helping me improve and reach my best level. I am happy here and it is up to me to make him choose me. I feel fine, I am scoring and also helping my teammates to score.”

And while Benzema is happy to wait for his chance under Mourinho, the manager is also prepared to nurture the 22-year-old in a bid to help him maximise his potential. “Karim has to understand that he's not playing by himself, that he has to be more of a team player and work really hard, especially in training,” Mourinho said. “He's doing just that and I'm pleased to see how his attitude has changed. He's starting to get the level of involvement that he deserves. I expect a lot from him, I want him to be as good as or better than the player I first saw at Lyon. I know how gifted he is and that's why I push him.”

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