LOS ANGELES — The last few years haven’t been kind to Karim Benzema. But with one of his idols joining the Real Madrid front office, the French forward hopes that better days are ahead.
The appointment of legendary French midfielder Zinedine Zidane as Real Madrid’s director of football has given the much-maligned Benzema with a mentor in the Merengues locker room. Zidane is not a normal mentor, but his is one of the finest players to have ever played the game, a World Cup winner with France and the engine behind countless trophies for Real Madrid.
Since being appointed to his new title in early July, Zidane has taken a considerable interest in the 23-year-old forward. The duo share many similarities away from the football field. Both are icons for France and Real Madrid, and they also share a common Algerian heritage.
“It’s very helpful for me to have him around because he’s been working with me a lot, which is great because he is one of my idols,” Benzema told a group of reporters on Monday. “I’ve been watching him ever since [World Cup] France 1998, and he has been a player that I’ve always looked up to.”
Since moving to Madrid from French power Lyon in 2009, Benzema has become more well-known for his off-the-field exploits rather than his time on the field. Whether it was being involved in a scandal with countryman Frank Ribéry or being left off France’s ill-fated 2010 World Cup squad, Benzema has dealt with adversity.
Meanwhile on the field, the French forward was not able to establish himself in the squad until last season when head coach José Mourinho began showing faith in Benzema, rewarding him with substantial playing time. With consistent minutes, Benzema began to find his form and ended the 2010-11 campaign with 26 goals in all competitions.
As Benzema begins his third year with Real Madrid, he has appeared far more cheerful this preseason than he has in the past and has already started to increase his production, scoring the club’s final goal against the LA Galaxy last Saturday in a 4-1 win.
Now with the stabling forces of Mourinho and Zidane alongside him, Benzema hopes to repeat the form that led to him being considered one of Europe’s best young strikers. Although he’s spent considerable time alongside his idol, Benzema can’t help but think of the day that he’ll be able to play alongside the French legend — even if only for training.
“It would be a dream for me, if one day, Zidane joins us for a practice,” added Benzema, "but it is not something that I expect to happen."
Adam Serrano writes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter: @adamserrano