Karim Mostafa Benzema (born 19 December 1987) is a French international footballer who plays for Spanish club Real Madrid in La Liga. He primarily plays as a striker whose influence can extend out to the wings and is known for his technical ability, powerful style of play, and vast goal-scoring ability. He is described as an “immensely-talented striker” who is “strong and powerful” and “a potent finisher from inside the box”.Benzema was born in the city of Lyon and began his football career with local club Bron Terraillon. In 1996, he joined the biggest club in the city Olympique Lyonnais and, subsequently, came through the club’s youth academy. Benzema made his professional debut in the 2004–05 season and appeared sporadically in his first three seasons as Lyon won three titles in that span. In the 2007–08 season, Benzema became a starter and had a breakthrough year scoring over 30 goals as Lyon won its seventh straight league title. For his performances, he was named the National Union of Professional Footballers (UNFP) Ligue 1 Player of the Year and named to the organization’s Team of the Year. Benzema was also the league’s top scorer and given the Bravo Award by Italian magazine Guerin Sportivo. After another season at Lyon, in July 2009, Benzema signed a six-year contract with Spanish outfit Real Madrid. After struggling to establish himself in his debut season with the club, in the ensuing two seasons, Benzema reached prominence scoring 32 goals en route to helping Real Madrid win the Copa del Rey in 2011 and the 2011–12 edition of La Liga. He has been awarded French Player of the Year for his performances during the calendar year of 2011 respectively 2012.
Benzema is a former French youth international and has represented his nation from under-17 level onwards. Prior to playing for the senior team, he played on the under-17 team that won the 2004 UEFA European Under-17 Football Championship. Benzema made his senior international debut in March 2007 in a friendly match against Austria. On his debut, he scored his first international goal in a 1–0 win. Benzema has represented France at two major international tournaments; the 2008 and 2012 editions of the UEFA European Football Championship. He made two appearances in the former competition against Romania and Italy in the group stage.
Benzema was born in the city of Lyon, France to French nationals of Algerian descent. He observes fasting during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. His grandfather, Da Lakehal Benzema, lived in the village of Tighzert, located in the northern town of Beni Djellil in Algeria before migrating to Lyon, where he eventually settled in the 1950s. Benzema’s father, Hafid, was born in Tighzert, while his mother, Wahida Djebbara, was born and raised in Lyon; her family originated from Oran. Benzema is the third youngest in the family and grew up with eight other siblings in Bron, an eastern suburb of Lyon. His younger brothers Gressy and Sabri are also footballers. The former currently plies his trade at the amateur level with Vaulx-le-Velin in the Division d’Honneur, the sixth division of French football, while the latter plays in the youth academy of a club in the family’s hometown of Bron. Since establishing himself as an international footballer, Benzema has been involved in numerous promotional campaigns. Since 2008, he has regularly appeared on the cover of the French version of the annual FIFA video game. Benzema is sponsored by German sportswear company Adidas and has, subsequently, appeared in several television advertisements for the brand.
On 18 April 2010, it was first reported by French television service M6 that four members of the French national team were being investigated for their roles as clients in a prostitute ring operated inside of a Paris nightclub, with some of the women possibly being underage or transgender. The players were eventually revealed to be Franck Ribery, Sidney Govou, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Benzema. Benzema was alleged to have had a sexual rendezvous with a prostitute when she was 16 years of age, an act Benzema denied through his lawyer. On 20 July, Benzema was questioned by Paris police and indicted on the charge of “solicitation of a minor prostitute.” In November 2011, prosecutors asked for the cases against Ribéry and Benzema be dropped, saying that the players were not aware that the escort, identified as Zahia Dehar, was 16 years old. However, the case has gone on to trial. The first hearing was held in June 2013.
Benzema began his football career at his hometown club Bron Terraillon SC at the age of eight. While at the club, he was nicknamed Coco by friends and, after scoring two goals in an under-10 match against the Lyon youth academy, began attracting attention from the biggest club in the city. According to Serge Santa Cruz, who was president of Bron Terraillon in the 1990s, Lyon officials had visited him directly in an attempt to sign the youngster; however, Santa Cruz refused. After talking with Benzema’s father, the club allowed the player to undergo a trial with Lyon. Following the trial, Benzema officially joined Lyon and was inserted into the club’s academy at the age of nine.
Benzema quickly ascended up the youth categories in the academy. He served as a ballboy during Lyon senior team matches and performed well in school being described as a student who was “discreet and respectful”. At under-16 level, Benzema scored 38 goals in the Championnat National des 16 ans, the domestic league for under-16 youth players in France. Ahead of the 2004–05 season, Benzema was promoted to the club’s reserve team, which was playing in the Championnat de France amateur, the fourth division of French football. Despite only playing with the team during the autumn campaign, he scored a team-high ten goals as the Lyon reserve team finished second in its group.
Benzema was called up to the senior team for the first time under manager Paul Le Guen during the break leading up to the second half of the season. As is customary with new players arriving at Lyon, the young striker had to stand up and speak to his new teammates, which at that time included the likes of Michael Essien, Sylvain Wiltord, Florent Malouda, and Éric Abidal. While speaking, Benzema was subjected to jokes and laughter, which prompted the youngster to declare “Do not laugh, I’m here to take your place”. He, subsequently, made his professional debut on 11 December 2004 appearing as a substitute for Pierre-Alain Frau. Lyon won the match 2–0 as Benzema provided the assist on the second goal scored by Bryan Bergougnoux. He would subsequently sign his first professional contract, agreeing to a three-year deal. After making three more appearances as a substitute, on 2 April, Benzema made his first professional start in a 1–0 win over Lens. He finished the campaign with six appearances as Lyon won its fourth straight league title.
Benzema began the 2005–06 season under the tutelage of new manager Gérard Houllier. Under Houllier, he struggled for meaningful minutes due to the presence of newly signed Brazilian striker Fred, as well as Wiltord. Benzema made his season debut on 2 October 2005 in a league win over Rennes appearing as a substitute. On 6 December, he made his UEFA Champions League debut in Lyon’s final group stage match against Norwegian club Rosenborg BK. On his competition debut, he scored his first professional goal in a 2–1 win. A month later, Benzema scored his first professional double in a 4–0 win over Grenoble in the Coupe de France. On 4 March 2006, Benzema scored his first professional league goal against Ajaccio in a 3–1 win.
Benzema began earning more playing time in the 2006–07 season and made his competitive season debut in the 2006 Trophée des Champions against Paris Saint-Germain. In the French supercup, Benzema converted a penalty, which drew the match at 1–1. Lyon later won the league curtain-raiser 5–4 on penalties. Benzema opened the league campaign on a quick note scoring in the team’s first match of the season against Nantes. Three weeks later, on 26 August 2006, Benzema appeared as a substitute and scored two goals in a 4–1 away win over Nice. He also converted two goals in the Champions League group stage against Romanian outfit Steaua Bucureşti and Ukrainian club Dynamo Kyiv. After appearing regularly during the autumn campaign, on 10 November, Benzema suffered a severe thigh injury. The injury resulted in the striker missing three months of action before returning in February 2007. Benzema failed to score a goal until the final league match of the season against Nantes as Lyon recorded its sixth consecutive league title.