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FEATURE | Imagining Karim Benzema playing international football again

Every time Didier Deschamps – proud winner of two World Cups once as a player and once as a coach – issues a squad list to the press the same question occurs again and again, and the more journalists nag Deschamps with the question “What about Benzema?”.

The truth is that of course Deschamps is never going to call up Benzema to the French NT side ever again. Why? I’m not so sure, wish some “in the know” would come out and tell the whole truth because whatever Benzema did to Deschamps, it must have gotten the latter pretty annoyed for him not to call up one of the best centre forwards in the world for more than 5 years (surely there’s more to it than a sex scandal) and that leaves Benzema at a loss whilst everyone is on international duty.

But here’s the situation: Benzema is still only 31 and really should be doing something else during international tournaments than thinking about how he could win trophies with his club. Owing to FIFA rules, unless France were to recall him, he will never play international football again. Boring: so let’s spend the rest of this article imagining that he could…

Wait for Deschamps to be sacked

This columnist is a firm believer that a coach who has won the biggest trophy in world football – the World Cup – should quit his position and let someone new take the reign. That way you get a new guy with fresh ideas and renewed motivation. Like Aimé Jacquet in 1998, Deschamps should have quit in July after lifting the trophy only he didn’t because he didn’t want to and because the French Football Federation had no one better suited for the job to choose (watch this space if Mauricio Pochettino becomes Real Madrid coach and Zidane is given the boot).

I’m convinced that France won’t do much in the forthcoming Euros but that doesn’t necessarily means that Deschamps will be sacked. Del Bosque and Löw kept their jobs after all within the Spanish and German federation set-ups respectively despite getting knocked out in the group stages 4 years after being crowned world champions.

So Benzema will probably be in his late thirties by the time Deschamps/the FFF calls it a day. Even when Deschamps eventually departs, FFF President Noël Le Graët has shown himself to be resolutely against the return of “KB9”.

The Algerian suggestion

I’ve always been quite puzzled about this issue. Has Benzema really been that vocal about wanting to play for Algeria? There are many other players who have screamed from the rooftops that they’d rather play for the country their parents are from than France (I can appreciate that; this country and its countrymen can be very cruel when things don’t go its way). I never quite got why people hated Benzema for this.

Anyway, if we look at this pragmatically Benzema really shouldn’t opt to play for Algeria. He is born in Lyon, played football in France, spent most of his childhood there, and must have spent 2 years give or take by adding up the holiday sojourns in North Africa in his adoptive country.

Plus, Algeria aren’t historically very good at football, despite winning AFCON this year. If rules were no obstacle, despite Benzema recently hinting in a Twitter post for Le Graët to let him “play for a country he is eligible for” wouldn’t there be a better solution in this imagined scenario?

The Spanish solution

Benzema is currently playing his 11th consecutive season for Real Madrid and is hence eligible for Spanish citizenship and in this imagined world after which he could renounce his French one and go to FIFA pleading that he can legally play for the Spanish national side.

Imagine the scenario in a non-football environment. You work for a company, things go very well because you’re performing and are good at what you do, you get in a row with a colleague and as a punishment your manager sentences you to a closet somewhere in a warehouse expecting you to work hard and maybe you’ll get your original position back. Who wouldn’t swap companies? (This however is not saying that he’ll be a starter for Spain or that the Spanish people would welcome him with open arms. I have no idea, I don’t have a crystal ball.)

Benzema playing for Spain would be the best way to stick it to Deschamps & the French FA and I for one wouldn’t be bitter if he did.

P.B.

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