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PARIS: Karim Benzema in the legend! Crowned Ballon d’Or after a dream season, the Real Madrid striker became the first Frenchman since Zinédine Zidane in 1998 to achieve this consecration, which the Spaniard Alexia Putellas obtained for the second year in a row.

It’s a day of glory for Benzema (34), sometimes unloved scorer who ended up getting everyone to agree, as for Putellas (28), rewarded Monday evening at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, in despite a serious injury that caused her to miss the Women’s Euro last summer.

“This Ballon d’Or is individual, but it remains collective, it’s the people’s Ballon d’Or”, launched Benzema with the prestigious annual trophy awarded by France Football magazine in his hands.

Long in the shadow of Cristiano Ronaldo and his five Ballons d’Or at Real, but finally winner of this 66th edition, here is the Frenchman in the pantheon of his sport, a year after the seventh title won by Lionel Messi.

This places him high, very high in the hierarchy of the best French footballers in history, he who in March 2022 became the best French scorer of all time with more than 400 goals on the clock, in all competitions.

“Deserved”, judge Mbappé

It is also Zidane, mentor and former coach of Benzema at Real, who presented the award to his French successor.

“To see (this trophy) in front of me is a source of pride. I think back to when I was little, all the work, I never gave up. It’s a childhood dream, I grew up with it in the head,” said Benzema, thick beard and thin glasses, wearing a dark suit and a white shirt with a black collar inspired by an outfit of his idol, rapper Tupac Shakur.

His coronation was hailed on Twitter by French President Emmanuel Macron, who tweeted “KB9!”, taking up one of the player’s nicknames. “Two letters and a number that will remain in the history of football. 24 years after Zidane, Karim Benzema brings a new Ballon d’Or to France. Congratulations to him!” Adds the Head of State.

His partner in the France team Kylian Mbappé, only 6th in the final standings, also applauded on Instagram: “Congratulations brother. Deserved!”

Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema (R) receives the Ballon d’Or from former French striker Zinedine Zidane during the France Football 2022 Ballon d’Or award ceremony at the Theater du Châtelet in Paris on October 17, 2022. (AFP)

“Strong minded”

The center-forward of Real was crowned ahead of the Senegalese Sadio Mané (Liverpool), African champion, and the Belgian Kevin De Bruyne, champion of England with Manchester City – the Mancunian team consoling itself with the price of the club of the season.

Benzema has won almost everything in the 2021-2022 season: Champions League and Spanish Championship in club, Nations League in selection, titles of top scorer and player of Spain in 2021-2022 …

He is the fifth tricolor player awarded after Raymond Kopa (1958), Michel Platini three times (1983-1984-1985), Jean-Pierre Papin (1991) and “Zizou” (1998).

Enough to blur a sometimes tarnished image in France, where this altruistic attacker with a licked technique has often been caught up in extra-sporting files, from the “Zahia” affair, where he was released, to the “sextape” affair. , where he received a one-year suspended prison sentence.

“We must not stay on failures,” he reacted to AFP after the ceremony. “You keep them, you think about them, but it’s mental strength for me, not remorse. What happened happened, but the most important thing is today.”

Absent from the France team between 2015 and 2021 due to these disputes, the striker with 97 selections can now project himself with appetite towards the World Cup-2022 in Qatar (November 20-December 18).

Real Madrid's French striker Karim Benzema (L) receives the Ballon d'Or alongside his mother Malika Benzema during the France Football 2022 Ballon d'Or award ceremony (AFP)
Real Madrid’s French striker Karim Benzema (L) receives the Ballon d’Or alongside his mother Malika Benzema during the France Football 2022 Ballon d’Or award ceremony (AFP)

Putellas retains his property

Mané, second, is satisfied with the first Socrates Prize for committed footballer, rewarding his action in Senegal for the equal access of girls and boys to the practice of football.

Robert Lewandowski (Barcelona, ​​ex-Bayern Munich) leaves him with the Gerd Müller Trophy for the best scorer of the season. The Belgian Thibaut Courtois, goalkeeper of Real, wins the Yachine Trophy for the best goalkeeper and the Spaniard Gavi (FC Barcelona) the Kopa Trophy for the best young player.

As for the Women’s Ballon d’Or, Putellas wrote a page of history by becoming the first winner to keep her trophy since its creation in 2018.

Despite the serious injury that deprived her of the Euro won by England, the Catalan dribbled past her English competitors, Beth Mead in the lead, to put her name on the charts again, despite a defeat in the final of Women’s Champions League against Lyon (3-1).

But Putellas has revolutionized Spanish and European women’s football so much in recent seasons that even the jurors have preferred her to her competitors, one year from the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand where the Barcelonan hopes to shine again.

“To stay at the top is much more difficult” than to achieve it, Alexia Putellas told AFP after her trophy.

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