Paris, Oct 17 (EFE).- Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema was named the world’s best soccer player on Monday evening, receiving at age 34 the coveted Ballon d’Or trophy awarded by France Football magazine since 1956.
Fellow Frenchman Zinedine Zidane, who won the Ballon d’Or in 1998, presented the award to Benzema at the Paris gala.
Benzema had an exceptional season last year, the year for which the award was presented, including featuring winning the championship in Spain’s La Liga and in the Champions League, and he follows Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who during the 2021-2021 season received his seventh Ballon d’Or but who was not among the candidates this time around.
The Real Madrid striker becomes the second-oldest player to win the award and is first Frenchman to do so since Zidane received it in 1998 and the fifth French player ever to be so honored along with Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini and Jean-Pierre Papin Benzema was also the top scorer in both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League during the 2021-2022 season with 44 goals, and he also won the UEFA Nations League with France.
He beat out Senegal’s Sadio Mane, now with Bayern Munich, a finalist last year with Liverpool in the Champions League and winner of the Africa Cup.
In third place in the competition, was Manchester City’s Kevin de Bruyne, the Belgian semifinalist in the Champions League and Premier League champion, while in fourth place was Poland’s Robert Lewandowski, currently with Barcelona.
“It’s the people’s Ballon d’Or,” said an emotional Benzema, wearing wire-rim glasses and a tuxedo after receiving the award, saying that Zidane and Ronaldo Nazario were role models who provided his soccer “motivation.”
The crowd at the Paris award gala chanted “Karim! Karim!” when Zidane handed him the trophy.
He thanked his teammates, coach and – most especially – team president Florentino Perez, saying that he considers him “one of the family” and noting that Perez has always shown his confidence in Benzema since he traveled to Lyon to convince him to sign with Madrid.
“This is the dream of every boy, but it’s also a lot of work and there were difficult periods where I wasn’t in the French team but I kept working hard. I’m very proud of my journey here. It wasn’t easy, it was difficult. It was hard for my family as well. To be here today, I’m just really happy.”
“This prize … makes me proud of the work I did from a young age,” he said, adding “I had the motivation, I had two role models in my life, Zidane and Ronaldo. I always had this dream in my mind that anything was possible.”
Benzema, who is from a humble family, dedicated the award to his mother, who came onstage to stand with her son, as did his father and his own son.
Although she has been on the bench for the past few months with a knee injury, Barcelona star Alexia Putellas was handed her second consecutive women’s Ballon d’Or, emotionally admitting in her acceptance speech that she never thought she could win the Ballon d’Or after she missed playing in the Euros with Spain.
Yet another Barca player – Gavi – received the Under-21 Player of the Year, succeeding fellow teammate Pedri, who won last year’s award.
Real Madrid netminder Thibaut Courtois was awarded the Yashin Trophy as goalkeeper of the year, while Manchester City was recognized as the Club of the Year with six total Ballon d’Or finalists, and Sadio Mane received the first-ever Socrates Award to honor gestures of solidarity by players.
The Ballon d’Or is an annual football award presented by French news magazine France Football since 1956. Between 2010 and 2015, in an agreement with FIFA, the award was temporarily merged with the FIFA World Player of the Year (founded in 1991) and known as the FIFA Ballon d’Or, but that partnership ended in 2016 and the award reverted to being the Ballon d’Or.