SportsWhy does Karim Benzema remain an “icon” in Lyon,...

Why does Karim Benzema remain an “icon” in Lyon, despite his departure from OL at the age of 21?

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If you asked a Lyon supporter his greatest footballing emotions, he would be able to give you an obscure OL-Metz (2-0) from January 2005. The reason? In a blow of the sombrero followed by an assist for Bryan Bergougnoux, Karim Benzema had, at the height of his 17 years and with a jersey number 33 not flocked with his name, capsized Gerland from his first professional appearance. Sixteen years later, all of Lyon is preparing to celebrate this Tuesday (8:45 p.m.) the return of its child king, for what should constitute the most exhilarating dimension of this France-Finland. Between OL and Karim Benzema, it’s an almost visceral passionate story, and without the slightest blemish.

We come to ask ourselves a question: how can “KB9” be considered at this point one of the legends of the club – like a tifo from the north turn celebrating 13 players including him in October 2015 – when he left Lyon at only 21? “OK, he left very early, but for great horizons,” recalls Armand Garrido, one of his main trainers at OL. Real Madrid’s opportunity in 2009 [pour 35 millions d’euros] was then too beautiful for everyone. I was the first to have doubts, I told myself that it was crazy to tackle such a thing. And then I totally understood that I had trained an extraordinary guy. “Because the popularity of Brondillant in his region is due at least as much to his four Champions Leagues conquered at Real as his four crownings of champion of France with OL (from 2005 to 2008).

Karim Benzema made his professional debut at 17 with OL, where he scored 66 goals in 148 games. – FAYOLLE PASCAL / SIPA

“He will be attached to the club for life”

“We know how much the Lyonnais are attached to players trained here and who have a successful career at the highest level. There, accumulating so many titles and being seen as a boss for such a long time in such a club, it’s really exceptional “, sums up with admiration Armand Garrido, well aware of” the social impact of his success, he the boy coming from a district “. There was no need to wait for the spontaneous “Allez l’OL” from the Terraillon gone, Sunday at the microphone of Telefoot, to know how much he had remained passionate about his training club.

“Karim broke through thanks to OL and he will be attached to the club for life,” confirms the former Lyon defender Sandy Paillot, who has lived his entire training at his side, from the age of 8, on the grounds of the Plaine des Jeux de Gerland. He always liked to play in front of his friends in Lyon and he often comes back here, it has remained his city. Obviously, all this matters a lot in the eyes of the supporters. “

Karim Benzema notably flew over the 2007-2008 season, with 20 goals and 9 assists in Ligue 1, to lead OL to their 7th consecutive French league title.
Karim Benzema notably flew over the 2007-2008 season, with 20 goals and 9 assists in Ligue 1, to lead OL to their 7th consecutive French league title. – Michel Euler / AP / Sipa

“We identify more with Benzema at Real than with Lacazette with Arsenal”

One of them, Vincent (29), confirms his attachment to Karim Benzema without a hitch: “He was essential at the end of OL’s golden age. It is true that one can wonder why there is such a gap of consideration in Lyon between him and for example Alexandre Lacazette, who perhaps lived more significant moments with his training club. But we identify more with the four Champions Leagues of Benzema at Real than at Arsenal loser of Lacazette ”. The amazing regularity, for 12 years away from Lyon, of the striker of the Blues, is therefore a major criterion in his unofficial status of MVP of “the formidable academy”. So much so that when the Lyonnais evoke “Benz”, we have more the impression that despite the rapid flight to Spain, they vibrate more like a fan of the Reds for Steven Gerrard or a lover of Roma for Francesco Totti than a Marseillais for Samir Nasri, another French talent of the 1987 generation (left at 21 for Arsenal).

When he scored, for his return to Gerland in the Real jersey, in the round of 16 first leg of the Champions League (1-1) in February 2011, Karim Benzema had not celebrated his goal.
When he scored, for his return to Gerland in the Real jersey, in the round of 16 first leg of the Champions League (1-1) in February 2011, Karim Benzema had not celebrated his goal. – DAMOURETTE / SIPA

“It is the true model of our training and the pride of the city,” says Richard, used to the south turn. And then he still often talks about his link with Lyon, he did not celebrate his goal at Gerland in the Real jersey. [1-1 en 2011]… We feel all his respect for OL. I still tell myself that my club could not benefit much from his talent [66 buts en 148 matchs, contre 281 buts en 562 rencontres depuis avec le Real]. But he will obviously have a big ovation at the stadium on Tuesday because in Lyon, we have never had anything to reproach him with. Not even when, from 2015, the case of the sextape of his teammate with the Blues Mathieu Valbuena almost propels the Madrilenian into public enemy number one in France. Vincent deciphers the perception of this interminable episode from the Rhône.

In Lyon, we supported our gone no matter what, and it was okay to be in opposition with the rest of France on the subject. When you see how much he is seen as a model at Real, you had a feeling of injustice about his treatment in his own country. “

Multiple signs, from Houssem Aouar to Mariano Diaz

Lyon supporters also remember each sign of Karim Benzema towards his training club, an Instagram post to praise Houssem Aouar before his outbreak in Ligue 1 to his role of intermediary-facilitator in 2017, in the transfer of Mariano Diaz from Real to OL, through this privileged and uninterrupted connection in time with Bernard Lacombe and Jean-Michel Aulas. What to fantasize again and always a return to Lyon of the prodigal son (33 years), despite his recent extension to Real (until 2023)?

His former agent Karim Djaziri, but also Juninho and Jean-Michel Aulas have continued to maintain hope in recent months. The main interested party was however very clear on the subject last week on RTL: “I have two clubs. I had Lyon, I have Real Madrid. As long as I can play at the highest level, I will continue at Real Madrid because for me, it is the top requirement and I feel great there ”.

“He’s just way too strong for us”

“Why would he bother to come back to France ?, asks Armand Garrido for his part. I do not believe it one second. The supporters will continue to adore him, even if he does not return, so much does he retain an exceptional image here, that of a true icon. Even in the France team, seeing him again this year without the slightest bitterness, despite everything he had to undergo, is the best possible reaction. “

Like Vincent, OL fans indeed seem to have made a point: “We all expected a slight downgrade of Karim after the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from Real [en 2018] and therefore to glimpse a window so that it can be recovered. Except he has since proven himself to be the best number 9 on the planet. We have to admit it: it is just way too strong for us ”.



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