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Benzema's brush with law latest chapter in controversial career

China Daily | Updated: 2021-11-26 09:21
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Karim Benzema. [Photo/Agencies]

French soccer star Karim Benzema provokes passionate opinions, adored and disliked in equal measure. His one-year suspended sentence on Wednesday will only serve to strengthen those polarized views.

The 33-year-old's talent on the pitch is indisputable, he has a swathe of league titles with both Lyon and Real Madrid as well as four Champions League trophies.

Yet his propensity to become embroiled in off-the-field controversies has only fueled the opinion of many in French soccer that Benzema is more trouble than he is worth.

That was certainly the view of France coach Didier Deschamps who, until a surprise call-up for this year's Euro 2020 finals, kept him out in the cold for five-and-a-half years due to the sex-tape case.

The recall was even more surprising given Deschamps had been on the receiving end of unfounded allegations made by Benzema when he was omitted from France's Euro 2016 finals squad.

Deschamps had "yielded to pressure from a racist party in France", railed Benzema, who is appealing Wednesday's sentence over his complicity in the bid to blackmail former France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

The consequences of his words impacted on Deschamps, whose house in Brittany was daubed with paint with the inscription 'racist'.

"It's a stain," Deschamps told radio station RTL in January.

"Even if with time it calms down a bit, I can't forget.

"It's not just about Karim Benzema. There are statements by other people too that have led to this violent act, which affects my family."

It's fair to say the far right in France has led the charge against Benzema since an interview with French radio station RMC in 2006 when he suggested his decision to play for France was based almost entirely on his desire to win silverware.

"It's (Algeria) my parents' country, it's in my heart," said Benzema, whose grandfather emigrated from Algeria and settled in Lyon.

"I will be always present for the French team. Then it's more for the sporting side, because Algeria is my country, my parents come from there."

"After, France ... It's more sporty, that's it," added Benzema who has been in fine form recently, scoring nine times since his return.

'Strength to persevere'

The forward has long credited his parents and his Islamic faith with being his guiding lights.

"My family inspires me. The values and morals my parents gave me helped me stay the same person," he told Vogue Man Arabia in 2019.

"My faith also helps me to be focused every day. It brings me benefits and it's my strength for me, my family, as well as for my work-for literally everything."

Benzema has needed that strength to withstand plenty of criticism after giving his detractors plenty of ammunition down the years.

He and then fellow France international Franck Ribery were swept up in a tawdry tale with a prostitute, Zahia Dehar.

However, the case against them of having sex with her when she was underage-Benzema denied ever doing so-collapsed in 2014.

His timing on the pitch seems in tune with one of his favorite but unlikely passions-watchmaking.

"It fascinates me to see and understand the different mechanisms, the movements, and the designs," he told Vogue Man Arabia.

His greatest passion, though, appears to be parenthood. He describes his kids-7-year-old daughter Melia and 4-year-old son Ibrahim-as his "biggest source of happiness".

He says he wants them to be proud of him but may need to do some explaining to them after Wednesday's sentencing.

However, Benzema is thick-skinned and it may be this quality that gets him through his latest fall from grace, as his mantra on life reflects.

"Without trying, you can never achieve anything," he told Vogue Man Arabia. "Even when you fail, you will always be stronger than if you hadn't tried. Living your life on a 'what if...' is never going to give you the strength to persevere."

AFP

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