Karim Benzema has seen his hopes of winning a first World Cup dealt a bad omen as he was named winner of this year’s Ballon d’Or.
The Frenchman was crowned the world’s best footballer at the awards night on Monday night. He has enjoyed a remarkable year, leading Real Madrid to the La Liga and Champions League double as he scored 44 goals along the way.
His sights will be set on the World Cup, which will be controversially held in Qatar just a month from now. France go into the tournament as the reigning champions, though Benzema was not part of the squad that lifted the trophy in Russia four years ago.
And he could be forced to settle for finishing his career without having won the famous tournament, if history is not on his side. That is because no active holder of the Ballon d’Or has ever won the World Cup.
It is a list that contains the likes of Alfredo di Stefano, Eusebio, Johan Cruyff, Roberto Baggio, Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Michael Owen and Lionel Messi. Cruyff, Baggio and Ronaldo all reached the final of the tournament, but came up short.
Many of those who missed out while reigning winners of the Ballon d’Or did ultimately go on to lift the World Cup title. But with Benzema approaching the end of his career, this year’s tournament is likely to be his last chance.
France are one of the favourites and will take a strong squad to the Middle East. Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane and Antonie Greizmann will all join Benzema in Didier Deschamps’ side.
Benzema is, coincidentally, the first Frenchman to win the Ballon d’Or since Zinedine Zidane in 1998. And following the announcement he had won, he admitted his pride at beating the likes of Sadio Mane and Robert Lewandowski to the title.
“This prize in front of me, makes me really proud. When I was young, I never gave up, it was a childhood dream. I had the motivation, I had two role models in my life in Zidane and Ronaldo. I had always had this dream that everything is possible,” he said.
“There was a period where I wasn’t in the French team but I never stopped working, I’m really proud of my journey here and it was not easy. It was also a difficult time for my family, to be here, my first time, I’m happy and I’m going to keep going.
“I want to thank all my teammates at Real Madrid and the national team, my coach, the Real Madrid president. I always had the support from Jean-Michel Aulas (Lyon president). The Ballon d’Or is an individual prize but it is still a collective one for everyone who’s helped me win it.
“Age is just a number for me. People play until their later years now and I still have this burning desire. It is this drive that has kept me going and never allowed me to let up. It kept this dream alive and was the fire behind me. I just want to make the most if it.”