No one knows what Karim Benzema has been having for breakfast lately, but whatever it is, he definitely needs to stick to it given the outstanding performances he’s been putting on in the last 365 days. On Monday, the French athlete, of Algerian descent, won one of the footballing world’s most prestigious prizes, the Ballon D’or— a distinction that seeks to reward the best player of the calendar year. The athlete and Fendi brand ambassador accepted the Golden Ball wearing a black Fendi tuxedo and round-framed Jean-Paul Gaultier glasses inspired by the late Tupac Shakur during a star-studded ceremony in Paris.
Last season, the Real Madrid striker was credited for almost single-handedly carrying his team towards European success, winning the much-coveted Champions League against Merseyside English team Liverpool. With 15 goals scored in 12 games, Benzema became the competition’s fourth best scorer of all time. Having scored two hat-tricks back to back in the UCL final, thus rescuing his team from elimination, some of his highlights from the last season also include the winning of La Liga, the men’s top professional football division of the Spanish football league system, where he registered 27 goals in 32 games throughout the season.
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Only getting better with age, the 34-year-old French-Algerian icon became the second oldest recipient of the Golden Ball, after Stanley Mathews, the inaugural honoree of the trophy, in 1956. He is also the second Arab and Muslim footballer to take home the prestigious prize, following in the footsteps of former midfielder French-Algerian Zinedine Zidane, who handed him the trophy at last night’s ceremony in Paris.
Benzema’s winning of the Ballon D’or carried plenty of symbolism and meaning. The striker added his name to a long-list of history-making players at the heart of the French capital, where for over five years, Real Madrid’s famous number 9 was banned from his country’s national team, following his alleged involvement in a blackmailing scandal with teammate Mathieu Valbuena, on top of copiously being labelled as an Islamist or a terrorist sympathizer by several influential personalities in the French political arena.
Also worth noting, Benzema’s triumph came on a significant day for French-Algerians. Indeed, Oct. 17 marked the 61st anniversary of the Paris massacre, where French police officers heavy-handedly repressed pro-National Liberation Front demonstrators (Algeria’s main party supporting their country’s independence from French colonial rule), killing and most notoriously drowning Algerians in the Seine River. Clearly, seeing a French player from Algerian roots reach the football world’s highest summit on that day served as a poignant statement that echoed loud in the hearts of many.