Zidane backs Benzema to win Ballon d’Or award


Former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has backed Karim Benzema to win this year’s Ballon d’Or.

Benzema is among the favourites for the award for 2021’s best male player when it is handed out in Paris next month, alongside Lionel Messi, Robert Lewandowski, Jorginho, Cristiano Ronaldo and N’Golo Kante.

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Zidane managed Benzema at Madrid — winning LaLiga together in 2017 and 2020 as well as successive Champions League titles in 2016, 2017 and 2018 — before the coach quit the club that May.

“He deserves to win the Ballon d’Or. He is an incredible player,” Zidane told France’s Telefoot on Sunday. “I had the great honour of coaching him.

“He knows how to do everything on the pitch. He’s above the rest. I hope he can be rewarded with this Ballon d’Or.”

Benzema has had a flying start to the 2021-22 season with Madrid, scoring nine goals and providing seven assists in LaLiga — more than any other player in both categories.

That follows a 2020-21 campaign in which he scored 30 club goals, although Madrid ended the year trophyless, finishing second in LaLiga and were knocked out of the Champions League semifinals by Chelsea.

Benzema returned to the France national team for Euro 2020 after a six-year absence and helped them win the UEFA Nations League this month, scoring against Spain in the final.

“Right now he is on a cloud,” Zidane said. “I would give him the Ballon d’Or.”

Benzema told ESPN last week that he believes he is “not too far” from winning the prize, which was not awarded in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

While Madrid boss Carlo Ancelotti last month backed the 33-year-old to win the Ballon d’Or.

Meanwhile, Zidane has been criticised by Gareth Bale‘s agent Jonathan Barnett over his treatment of the Wales international, who is out of action with a torn hamstring.

“Injuries and disagreements in the last few seasons with Zinedine Zidane have held him back,” Barnett told The Mirror. “He went back to Real Madrid [after a loan at Tottenham Hotspur last season] and he was in the first team immediately.

“Unfortunately he tore his hamstring so it’s a long way back. It’s a shame with Carlo Ancelotti back as manager.”

Bale is expected to be back in action next month.

Real Madrid face Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League on Tuesday, before travelling to Camp Nou on Sunday to play Barcelona in El Casico.

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