France’s best striker Karim Benzema tired of being unwanted

Karim Benzema. (Lionel Cironneau/AP)

PARIS — For Real Madrid, Karim Benzema is indispensable.

For France, he is disposable.

The most talented French striker of his generation, Benzema has not featured for the national team since October 2015. Once again, he has been snubbed by coach Didier Deschamps for the World Cup qualifier in Luxembourg on Saturday.

Benzema has missed France’s last 20 games. When he last played with a Tricolor jersey on his shoulders, he netted two goals and set up another as Armenia was beaten 4-0 in a friendly.

There is no doubt he deeply misses the national team.

"When you play in a great club like Real Madrid it’s hard to stay here," Benzema said in an interview with RMC radio, describing his feelings during international breaks. "We are only five or six pros at training, and every time I’m disappointed."

With his biological clock ticking and a crop of new French talent blossoming, the 29-year-old Benzema knows the 2018 World Cup might be his last chance to win a big competition with France.

On sporting grounds, there is no obvious reason justifying his repeated absence in Deschamps’ squads. The former Lyon forward is in his prime, in great physical shape, and has the full backing of Madrid coach and France great Zinedine Zidane. Madrid president Florentino Perez recently said he is "the best No. 9 in the world."

Many fans also crave to see what a partnership between Benzema — who has 27 international goals in 81 caps — and new Monaco sensation Kylian Mbappe could bring to the national side.

"Given what I’ve done at Madrid for eight years now, I’ve proven that I still have some years ahead of me in the France team," Benzema said. "It’s hard for me because I love football."

Although Deschamps has an amazing strike force at his disposal with the likes of Kevin Gameiro, Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann and Mbappe, the reason behind Benzema’s absence has nothing to do with his skills. He is still paying the price for his involvement in a blackmail scandal that rocked French football and ruled him out of the 2016 European Championship.

The story broke in November 2015 when Benzema was charged with conspiracy to blackmail as part of an investigation over a sex tape involving France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. Given that the case is still ongoing, with Benzema suspected of a role in pressuring Valbuena to deal directly with the blackmailers, his return to the national squad would cause turmoil.

"Until now I’ve not been proven guilty," Benzema said. "I have paid. I’ve been out of the French team for a year and a half, that’s enough. At least I would like to have a talk with the coach, so he could tell me whether it’s because of this (case) or because of football. Today, I need to know."

Deschamps and French federation president Noel Le Graet have publicly opened the door for the striker’s return, but it looks like Deschamps has no intention of calling him back into a squad that performs well without him.

"I’m making sporting choices, for the sake of the French team," Deschamps said this week. "He can be selected. We did without him at the Euro, and we made it to the final."

To Deschamps’ defence, Benzema did not help his case with clumsy communication. He accused the France coach of giving in to pressure from racists by deciding not to include him in the squad for the European Championship. In an interview with Spanish sports newspaper Marca last June, Benzema, who is of Algerian descent, said he did not believe Deschamps was a racist, but that he bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France.

Benzema reiterated his comments on Wednesday during his radio interview: "I can’t regret these words, because it’s true," the forward said.

Probably not the best thing to say when trying to make peace.


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