Karim Benzema has been crowned the Ballon d’Or winner following plenty of anticipation after his stellar 2021/22 season.
The 34-year-old enjoyed a talismanic campaign for club and country, leading the line for Real Madrid in mightily prolific fashion as they clinched another La Liga title and their 14th Champions League crown.
Tributes poured in for Benzema after he was named the winner, seeing off second-placed Sadio Mane, third-placed Kevin De Bruyne and other big names such as Robert Lewandowski, Kylian Mbappe and even Cristiano Ronaldo to clinch the coveted prize for the first time in his career.
He became the first French player since Zinedine Zidane did so in 1998 to win the award, and only the fifth Frenchman of all time to do so in the process, following a campaign that saw him bag 44 goals and 15 assists in 46 games for Los Merengues.
It was Zidane himself who presented Benzema with the award, welcoming him onto the stage in Paris in front of previous winners. Benzema would go on to pay tribute to the 1998 winner and Ronaldo, citing them both as his inspirations.
Speaking in a pre-prepared video for Benzema at the awards, former Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho paid tribute: “Karim is a great character, he’s a great personality.
“He is a team guy. He’s not the guy obsessed with himself. He’s not the guy obsessed with [the] Ballon d’Or. He’s not the guy obsessed with scoring more goals than A, B, or C. He’s just a team man, that developed in a way where the Ballon d’Or becomes a natural consequence [of his abilities].”
Patrice Evra took to Twitter to write a message to Benzema: “Easy bro soo much love and soo proud”.
Former Real teammate Sami Khedira also praised Benzema on Twitter, sharing a picture of himself, Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric with the caption: “Not only one, not only two – now three Ballon d‘Or winners on that picture! Couldn‘t be prouder! After many years of patience you finally got what you‘ve been working for so hard, my friend. Congrats”.
As the tributes continued to flood in online, current teammate for club and country Eduardo Camavinga also spoke on the win, tweeting: “People’s Ballon d’Or” while tagging Benzema.
Raphael Varane took to Instagram to congratulate his former colleague, captioning a photo of the pair of them with: “Congratulations my brother! You earned it. What a player!!”
Even current Real manager Carlo Ancelotti paid tribute to his forward, with his official Twitter account congratulating both Benzema and Thibaut Courtois, who won the Yashin Trophy: “It is an honor to train the best goalkeeper in the world and the Ballon d’Or. Congratulations to my friends Thibaut and Karim.”
The general consensus heading into the evening was that Benzema would finally be rewarded for years of quietly operating at the top level.
While in the past his work had been overshadowed by teammates, his efforts in becoming the main man for Real last season have finally earned him football’s most coveted individual prize.