Karim Benzema France Euro 2020 squad news - Return of the Benz – The move no-one saw coming
France manager Didier Deschamps has picked his squad for Euro 2020 and it contains the name of Karim Benzema. This will be the first time Benzema has been called up by France since 2015. With the help of Cyril Morin from Eurosport France Pete Sharland looks at what this means for Benzema, Deschamps and, most importantly, for France.
'I never said Benzema could not be picked' Deschamps
That’s how long it’s been since Karim Benzema was picked to play for France. In that time he’s had to watch from the outside as France reached the finals of the Euro 2016 and then won the 2018 World Cup.
The fall from grace was dramatic, Benzema was one of Didier Deschamps’ most trusted players when the manager took over in 2012. However, the sex tape scandal involving Mathieu Valbuena, that Benzema will stand trial for in October on the charge of complicity in attempted blackmail, soured the relationship between player and manager, as well as player and team-mates.
Time is a great healer but no-one could have predicted this
It’s not an exaggeration to say that this has completely blindsided people. Morin says "it was impossible to anticipate this and we are waiting for justification as to why now?"
It’s a question on everyone’s lips. France are defending world champions and Benzema has been exceptional for a number of years now, so why now?
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid)
Image credit: Getty Images
On the pitch the reasons appear simple. Benzema’s game has returned to his Lyon levels since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo at Real Madrid. Allowed the freedom to be the main man, Benzema has been one of the best strikers in the world this season. He has few weaknesses in his game and is the perfect figurehead.
It’s important to remember in this discussion that when Benzema broke through at Lyon he was talked about as a successor to Thierry Henry, but even more so given Henry often played better for Arsenal than France. He was supposed to lead France for a generation and beyond. He’s playing like that again now.
So what about off the pitch?
"Off the pitch, it's possible that they finally had a discussion together to put things from the past apart," says Morin.
"The way Deschamps works might suggest that some of France key players should have agreed on this.
Didier Deschamps and Karim Benzema react (Reuters)
Image credit: Reuters
"2015 is far away now, some weren't in France squad at that time.
"He [Benzema] has relays inside the team that are important for Deschamps, such as Rafael Varane or Antoine Griezmann.
"It's just a feeling, not an info, but it's hard to imagine that Deschamps didn't talk about this possibility with some of his closest players."
As Morin predicted there was a talk, between Deschamps and Benzema. "We met, we spoke at length, I then thought very hard and came to make this decision."
I needed this chat, he needed this chat.
"I don't want to make this a specific case. As national team boss, I have always look beyond my personal case. My responsibility is important, but it is bigger than me."
Time is a great healer after all. Adrien Rabiot had a brief absence from the France squad, for not as long a time and for reasons not as serious. But this is what French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet said upon the midfielder’s return.
“With Didier, we talk to each other every day, we had agreed for a long time...I always said, even then, that someone cannot be punished for life. It's a smart decision on Didier's part, I'm delighted.”
Perhaps with Benzema, who has been publicly critical of Le Graet, things are different. But now with this news, perhaps not.
Deschamps and never forgetting
When Benzema was dropped back in 2015 he did an interview with Marca where he accused Deschamps of having "bowed to the pressure of a racist part of France". Deschamps subsequently said he would "never forget" those comments.
In future interviews Benzema spoke about wanting to play for France, although he threatened Le Graet about playing for other countries if he was never going to be picked again. It was always clear he had unfinished business with Les Bleus.
France's Karim Benzema (L) and coach Didier Deschamps smile at the start of their news conference at Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid
"If [Didier Deschamps] has a problem with someone, he calls him and he fixes the problem."
In the interview Djaziri alluded to the fact that the issue was more with Le Graet then Deschamps.
"In July 2017, Karim told me to call the president to organize a meeting with Didier. I called the president, but he did not want to organize this meeting…"
It's unclear following Deschamps' comments what the relationship between the pair is but the important thing is that there has been dialogue and the decision has been made.
Karim Benzema, 2015
Image credit: Getty Images
Don’t forget, elite sport isn’t about everyone getting along, it’s about Deschamps doing what he thinks is best for France.
Squad and system permutations
With Benzema in, somebody has to come out and Manchester United forward Anthony Martial has missed out although Deschamps was keen to stress that absence was down to injury.
Morin does think that Chelsea striker Olivier Giroud "is still viewed as a key player for France", adding "his form with his clubs has always been a debate and he has always answered with goals for France".
What about the system? Deschamps has mixed and matched a bit in the last two years and Morin thinks there are two primary options with Benzema.
“If you take Benzema, you don't keep him on the bench, especially with what happened. So two possibilities:
“The first team might be too offensive for Deschamps with four strikers. So the second one, with a good defensive shape in the midfield, might be more probable. This is how Benzema played sometimes this season with Real Madrid. But next to him won't be clumsy Vinicius but a lethal forward in Mbappé.”
Kylian Mbappe of Paris Saint-Germain reacts
Image credit: Getty Images
They’re both fearsome options. We’d also humbly suggest a 4-4-2 (which Deschamps has used occasionally) that might look like this: Lloris, Pavard, Varane, Kimpembe, Hernandez - Griezmann, Kanté, Pogba, Coman - Benzema, Mbappé.
Clearly Deschamps has no issues about potential chemistry saying "With quality, intelligence and talent you can go far." It's also worth mentioning the various reports saying how happy players like Mbappe and Griezmann are that Benzema is back.
With Benzema in the team you have to make France firm favourites for the Euros (if they weren’t already); they have arguably the world’s best midfielder, two of the best strikers in the world plus a solid back five.
But as Morin warns "paradoxically, it might put more pressure on Deschamps and his team.
"With Benzema's return, at this point of the season, after so many years, it's a huge cliffhanger.
"What will happen if France fail? There will be many critics for sure. And imagine if Benzema doesn't fit...That will be seen as Deschamps biggest failure. It's the ultimate poker move and we won't know the result until July."
Does Deschamps have a full house up his sleeve? Or is he going to lose it on the river? It’s going to be fascinating to watch.