Karim Benzema is the most important Real Madrid icon–spiritually–since Raul

Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid, Karim Benzema (Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Real Madrid, Karim Benzema (Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

The eternal 7 and the immortal 9, when they came together, the world was set alight. It was only but a few moments, but then and there, you knew that the sun shone the brightest. You knew it wouldn’t last long, but it was there… for only but a few moments… after all, what is life, really, if not for just a few fleeting moments?

Rafael van der Vaart, ah that underrated beautiful Dutchman, had injured himself against Real Zaragoza. Kaka was on the bench but Manuel Pellegrini decided to bring on Raul–the spiritual leader of the club–to replace the Dutchman.

It was the spring of 2010 but for some of us, it was the beginning of a new winter. Raul Gonzalez Blanco, the eternal captain of the greatest club of all time, was in his final few days as a Real Madrid player.

So it was about savoring every moment that he was on the pitch. In came the God of Madrid, in came the hopes of the millions of Madridistas. ‘Please, God, let him score,’ I remember praying from the moment he stepped foot on the pitch.

But then, with each chance he missed, you were reminded that the God now bleeds, that he–maybe, just maybe–be human after all.

The heathens, however, were blinded and it took God only a few minutes after half-time to give them sight. Raul, with an injured ankle, that too, scored a proper poacher goal to give Madrid the lead.

Real Madrid, Raul (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Raul (Photo credit should read JAVIER SORIANO/AFP via Getty Images) /

Karim Benzema filled Raul’s shoes, even though some wanted him out

The iconic image of him celebrating with the next number 7 still wanders around in solace in the minds of many Madridistas. That, right there, was the past and the future. That, when everything was said and done, was over 750 goals for the timeless Galacticos.

But this isn’t about the number 7. No, no, this is perhaps deeper, this is… what’s the word? Ah, yes, this is spiritual.

Cristiano Ronaldo is perhaps the greatest Real Madrid player of the modern era. He certainly was a better scorer for Madrid than Raul was. Ronaldo, truly, was the best number 7 anyone could ask for after Raul.

However, he never could fill up the spiritual void left by Raul. That honor goes to the man who eventually replaced the former Spain captain in that match against Zaragoza. It was so poetic, the whole thing.

Raul got injured, scored, and then left the pitch to be replaced by Karim Benzema. Back then, very few people expected Benzema to replace Raul as a player, let alone spiritually. I am going to gloat and reveal that I was among the ones who really saw Benzema as a future legend, even though most of the fans wanted him out by that point.

Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images) /

Karim Benzema excels, yet never makes demands

But how wrong were they? After nearly 12 years, Benzema not only replaced Raul as the striker, he also took over as the most spiritually important icon for Los Blancos.

I have used the word ‘spiritually’ a lot in this piece, so far. What does it mean? How can a player be spiritually important?

In the context of Real Madrid, spirit means the embodiment of what the Galacticos represent. Honor, dignity, respect, dedication, and winning… these are some terms one could use to best describe what the Real Madrid spirit is all about.

But there is one that stands out for me on top of all the aforementioned things: bleeding white.

Make no mistake about it: Karim Benzema bleeds white.

As great a player as Ronaldo was for Madrid, he always had an aura of greater individualism in him. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it as every player has their own way of seeing things.

In Cristiano, Madrid not only had an elite player but also a brand. For Ronaldo, his individual self perhaps mattered more than the club–and, once again, there is nothing wrong with that.

With Benzema, however, there was–and still is–no such thing. This is a man who joined the Merengues as a 21-year-old back in 2009 but had only two contract extensions before he hit 30. If you compare this to some ‘loyal’ players who plied their trade in another part of Spain after being signed in their pre-teens on a napkin paper, the difference is clear.

One might say that the presence of Ronaldo meant that Benzema could never demand a lot since he wasn’t doing the bulk of the scoring. That might have been a strong argument but Benzema’s post-Ronaldo years are a testament to his intense Madridismo.

Indeed, since the departure of the Portuguese, Benzema has been among the top 5 best players in the world and yet, he never demanded anything spectacular. In fact, he is on a rolling contract with the club that only allows for yearly extensions, in line with the policy of not giving long contracts to older players.

Real Madrid, Karim Benzema
Real Madrid, Karim Benzema (Photo by Ion Alcoba/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Karim Benzema never lost the kid who dreamed of Real Madrid

But Benzema is no ordinary ‘older’ player. He is arguably the best striker in the world right now. In any other club, he would be given at least 3 years’ worth of extension but at Madrid, he is treated like any other player.

And still, there are no complaints from his end. On the contrary, he seems happier than ever and completely in support of the club’s policies. Club legends Ronaldo and Sergio Ramos left precisely because they couldn’t accept these policies but with Benzema, that is not the case.

In fact, Benzema still looks like the kid who dreamed about playing and winning for Real Madrid. Despite so many accolades, there seems to be an incredible amount of humility in Benzema, so much that he gives off the vibes that he is lucky to be playing for the Galacticos.

With Ronaldo and perhaps even Ramos, it felt as though Madrid were lucky to have them–which is also 100% true.

dark. Next. The best Real Madrid player to wear every kit number

The winter had come and my heart was worried. Raul had now left the club, leaving me restless… He wasn’t answering my prayers anymore. His absence has left my heart devoid of hope… I was searching for my spirit…

And then, a savior in a White cloak appeared in front of me. His name: Karim Benzema–the most spiritually important Real Madrid icon since Raul.