BY AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE – AFP
The 2021-22 Ballon d’Or winner Karim Benzema brought his glamorous, yet controversial international career with France to a close on Monday in the wake of the Les Bleus’ heartbreaking World Cup final defeat to the eventual champions Argentina.
Benzema, who scored 37 goals in 97 appearances for France, had to withdraw from the World Cup squad before their first match in Qatar due to a left thigh injury he suffered in training.
In his surprise announcement, the 35-year-old Real Madrid forward said on Twitter: “I made the effort and the mistakes it took to be where I am today and I’m proud of it! I wrote my story and ours ends.”
Benzema, who won the Ballon d’Or award for the world’s best player in October, had been desperate to feature in this year’s World Cup having not been selected when France became world champions in Russia four years ago.
He was frozen out of the France team for 5 1/2 years because of his involvement in a blackmail scandal over a sex tape involving his former teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
In a trial over the affair last year he was handed a one-year suspended prison sentence and fined 75,000 euros ($79,500).
For the Qatar World Cup, coach Didier Deschamps opted not to call up a replacement for a squad that included 23-year-old Kylian Mbappe.
Paris Saint-Germain forward Mbappe won the World Cup Golden Boot award with eight goals, including a hat trick in Sunday’s penalty shootout defeat by Argentina after the teams had drawn 3-3 at the end of extra time.
Benzema’s departure, just three days before the first match against Australia, a 4-1 victory, was a turning point for the former Lyon player.
A knock to his left thigh in training while he was recovering from a niggling right thigh problem was estimated to need a recovery time of three weeks.
Not on my mind
However, his hasty departure from Qatar had fuelled speculation of a rift between him and the rest of the squad as well as Deschamps.
Asked about the case of the striker, not replaced and officially on the squad list until the end of the tournament, Deschamps had insisted “these things are not on my mind.”
In any case, his departure made it possible to return to the line-up which was in place before his return just before Euro 2021, with an unrivalled star Mbappe and Olivier Giroud once again becoming the number one centre forward.
Antoine Griezmann, whose star had waned slightly since the last World Cup, also took the opportunity to reassert himself in midfield.
Benzema did nothing to dispel the misunderstanding with mixed messages on social media. Amid encouragement for France, he also posted on Instagram before the final: “I’m not interested.”
That message came after he rejected an invitation from French President Emmanuel Macron to attend the World Cup final.
The injury was just the latest chapter in Benzema’s complicated and turbulent history with Les Bleus.
Benzema, who scored on his senior debut in March 2007 against Austria, never tasted real glory with France, with his only title the 2021 Nations League.
He had numerous run-ins with Deschamps over the years with the player, who is of Algerian descent, at one stage hinting the France coach was being “racist” in keeping him out.
He made a surprise return to the France team just before the COVID-delayed Euro 2020 last year, scoring 10 goals in a year including four in the European Championships which still were not enough to prevent France from crashing out to Switzerland in the last 16.
Freed from the weight of national duty, Benzema will now be able to devote himself to Real Madrid where he has won the Champions League five times and helped them to four Spanish titles.