Florentino Perez’s desire to acquire Karim Benzema was so great that he travelled to Bron Terraillon himself in 2009 to convince the striker to sign with Real Madrid from Lyon.
“I saw a black car coming and a small man with a dark suit and glasses got out,” the vice-president of the club explained. “Then he knocked on Benzema’s family home.”
The Real Madrid’s president’s resolve to sign Gareth Bale in the summer of 2013 was equally strong. It was one of the most gruelling back-and-forths in transfer history before he eventually landed the Welsh attacker from Tottenham Hotspur.
Because of that, Perez has always been quick to dispel the idea that either would be sold. Despite the fact that Zinedine Zidane has helped Real Madrid back from a woeful La Liga title defence to have one foot in the Champions League semifinal, someone has to pay the price for Real Madrid’s poor form earlier in the season. It could be that both Benzema and Bale are sold, but Zidane’s insistence on playing an out-of-form Benzema could hurt Real Madrid before he can be offloaded in the summer.
It should be a fair fight for a place between Bale and Benzema, but the former is fighting at a disadvantage given nothing seems to affect latter’s place in the team. Zidane’s cold treatment of Bale is in stark contrast to his treatment of Benzema, who can seemingly do no wrong.
“The criticism of Karim is a disgrace for people inside football. For me he’s the best around,” Zidane said back in October after Gary Lineker criticised the striker, “Karim’s not going to score 60 goals, but he’ll score 30 and be involved in 60.”
Now in the home stretch of the season and Benzema has scored nine goals in 36 games with 11 assists — a far cry from his manager’s predictions. Real Madrid have done everything they can to help Benzema to be the player Zidane seems to think he is too. Cristiano Ronaldo handed him a penalty even though he was on a hat trick late against Alaves in February in an effort to get the striker firing. There was a campaign by Zidane and the players to stop the fans jeering the Frenchman and his virtues, such as his movement, are explained to those listening on a regular basis.
Whatever it is that Bale has done wrong, he deserves to feel slighted over the continued reliance on Benzema. The disadvantage that Bale is at and his continued lack of chances in big games points towards a more political problem. Recent reports in the Spanish media suggest that Bale has been distancing himself from teammates recently won’t help his cause. Zidane is said to be peeved by Bale’s response too, but what does he expect? For all of Zidane’s diplomacy and ability to handle a team full of stars and keep morale high, he seems to be blinded by why Bale is annoyed with his recent exclusions.
Bale’s history of injuries will always haunt him. It’s never too far away and is often at the start and end of anything said about him. But he hasn’t been injured this year and is playing excellent football even if it isn’t always in the biggest games. His nine goals in 15 league games this year matches Benzema’s tally for the entire season.
There is a stubborn myth that won’t go away regarding Real Madrid needing Benzema, and that Ronaldo relies on his movement to open up the spaces he needs to score. It has been perpetuated by Zidane at every opportunity, but Bale could do the exact same job if necessary. In a two-striker system, Bale’s natural appetite to drop deep and get involved could prove just as effective as Benzema’s movement; he might be able to add the odd goal or too as well if counted on.
It looks like the Welshman is on his way out of Real Madrid in the summer, but his treatment at the hands of Zidane is risky as it could also hurt his transfer price. He was close to an exit last year, but decided to stay and fight for his place, which is something he has clearly failed to do. Zidane keeps trying to convince the world, and Bale, that the league is very important and that he needs to be ready but he knows himself that the only one that really matter for Real Madrid this season is the Champions League.
“I’ll continue to defend him to the death,” Zidane said in the same press conference where he defended Benzema back in October. Unfortunately, if he continues to pick him and he continues to play like he has been, death, or elimination from the Champions League as it’s known around the Bernabeu, might come sooner than Zidane might like.