Why did Benzema win the Ballon d’Or? 

Karim Benzema received the Ballon d’Or -2021/22 (now they are awarded for the season – hooray!).  Let’s feel the scale of the Frenchman’s genius through a couple of visual tables.

One of the main advantages of Benzema is the versatility of his qualities.  He is a false nine, a guide for the team in attack, an assistant for flank players, and a free-kick forward all rolled into one.  “Benzema is a great nine, but not only.  More importantly, he is a great football player.  He scores, he plays team football, he literally makes the whole team play better,” – summed up Carlo Ancelotti. Check out the iconic moments in football history.

This is best conveyed through percentiles.  These are data-based rankings of players.  A 99 percentile means a player is in the top 1% in terms of their position over the past 365 days in the top 5 leagues.  Power right in all aspects allows you to call Karim a perfect attacking player:

Percentiles of Karim Benzema

Goals excluding penalties: 98

xG excluding penalties: 98

Hits: 96

Assists: 70

xA: 94

xG (no penalty) + xA: 98

Pre-impact actions: 97

Gears: 99

Gear Accuracy: 99

Promotion transfers: 99

Strokes: 60

Action in someone else’s box: 97

But for the Golden Ball, it is too difficult.  To take the award, you need to dominate in more pop metrics.  For example, goal + pass.  Here Benzema is also in great order.

In the top championships, he lost only to Erling Haaland (who knocked out statistics in a more productive league and in a smaller sample, as he was often injured).  In the Champions League, he also kept the pace noticeably higher than 1 point per match.  Finished in fifth place, but: 1) just remember Real Madrid’s playoff draw;  2) do not forget that Benzema played the most (it is more difficult to keep top indicators on such a sample):

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The best players in goal + pass in the 2021/22 season

Top 5 championships (goal + pass for 90 minutes)

1 – Erling Holland – 1.41

2 – Karim Benzema – 1.35

3 – Kylian Mbappe – 1.34.

Champions League (goal + pass for 90 minutes)

1 – Robert Lewandowski – 1.65

2 – Sebastian Aller – 1.62

3 – Leroy Sane – 1.36

4 – Kilian Mbappe – 1.34

5 – Karim Benzema – 1.31

The second key aspect for the award is team success.  Real Madrid won the Champions League and La Liga, and even Carlo Ancelotti did not deny dependence on Benzema).  The thesis is best illustrated by 0-4 in the Clasico, which the Frenchman conceded, but this trend can also be traced at a distance.  Karim spent 75.8% of the total time – 24.2% without him was much sadder for Madrid:

Real Madrid in La Liga 2021/22

With Benzema, the goal difference is +1.42.  Without a Frenchman, this figure is +0.87.

Difference xG: From Benzema – +0.93;  without – +0.10.

Benzema’s ultra-usefulness in all stages of attack is a long tradition, but last season turned out to be unique even by his standards.  4.30 pre-kicking actions per 90 minutes is a great indicator for a striker.  And Benzema came to him without any standards at all, which inflate statistics for other players.  Here are the figures for Karim’s career (seasons for which data is available):

Benzema’s pre-hit actions:

Season 2017/18 – 3.73

Season 2018/19 – 3.63

Season 2019/20 – 3.38

Season 2020/21 – 3.08

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Season 2021/22 – 4.30

Season 2022/23 – 4.36

For convenience, we have included the current season in the tables, but do not forget the Golden Ball for 2021/22 – look at it first.

Another important aspect for a modern striker is pressure.  Here, Benzema did not knock out unique indicators, because he depends on the team, and Real Madrid does not always rely on high pressure.  But Karim presses very cleverly (remember how he strangled Donnarumma and Mendy?):

In the 2021/22 season, Benzema’s pressing efficiency was 29.1%.  This is the best result of the Frenchman in his career.  A 29.1% success rate means that in so many episodes after Benzema’s pressure, the ball goes to Real Madrid within 5 seconds.  Previously, this indicator was lower.  With Madrid’s style and Benzema’s age, it’s not necessary to go under pressure every episode.  It is more important to choose the right episodes.  Here Karim is a master.

In addition to the versatility of qualities and top quality in every aspect, it is important for the Golden Ball to simply drag the team in places.  Implement from difficult non-obvious positions.  Yes, implementation depends not only on skill, but also on luck, but in a winning year, skill should converge with a bit of luck – and give the team bonus (“unexpected”) balls. 

Benzema calmly punished his opponents in all tournaments, but his “plus” in the Champions League should be singled out separately.  It is even higher than in La Liga, although there are fewer matches.  His ability to drag was necessary for the most difficult meetings.  In total, Karim’s conversion alone gave Real Madrid almost 10 bonus goals last season (that is, without taking into account other benefits from his openings, playing along, and participating in the construction of attacks – only the execution of strikes).

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Benzema is an absolutely fair winner of the Golden Ball.  As his colleague Robert Lewandowski joked, the only way to keep him from being given an award in a year like this is to cancel the ceremony.  But fortunately, this year the ceremony took place and Karim became the 5th Frenchman to win the Ballon d’Or.

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