27 May 2015

£35m for Karim Benzema? Bosh! Flimshaw!

Yes, yes, I know. There is an FA Cup final to prepare for. However, even as Arsène denies that he is "not in transfer mode", we all know full-well that the wheeling and dealing behind closed doors and in smoky rooms proceeds in earnest. One of the hottest stories involves a French striker with whom we've been heavily linked in the past and who might be leaving a club that has been selling aggressively in the last few windows—Higuaín, Özil, Di María, Morata. Alonso, to name a few—Karim Benzema. With Carlo Ancelotti having been sacked on Monday, Real Madrid might be tempted to sell. However, is Benzema worth it? A £35m transfer-fee is likely the starting point for negotiations. Let's kick the tires and see what's what.

Benzema's hardly a sterling character, pure as driven snow. Setting aside that whole under-age prostitute scandal (Benzema was cleared of the charges), the man is widely known as a diffident, sulking type whose attitude can undermine a squad both on the pitch and in the locker-room. Despite the departures of Higuaín and Morata (direct competitors for playing time) and the elevation of his mentor Zinedine Zidane to assistant coach, Benzema has hardly set the world on fire, even in the cartoonish role that is scoring goals for Real Madrid. 118 goals were scored by the men in white, a ludicrous sum by any standard until we remember that Real and Barça regularly score in the triple-digits.

As with Özil and Di María, then, we should caveat emptor this transfer-target. Özil is a world-class player but had to struggle through a fitful transition to a new role in a new league. Similarly, Di María is another world-class player who couldn't replicate his feats with Man U. Why should we think that Benzema, arguably cut from lesser-cloth than those two, would make the transition any better than they have? If we're shelling out £35m on a transfer-fee (and, let's be honest, it'll probably end up closer to £50m), shouldn't we be signing a game-changing player? For comparison's sake, we made a tongue-in-cheek bid of £40m for Luis Suarez, who is as loony as the day is long but can turn a match on its head in an instant. Benzema is not that kind of player.

He's a very good player—when he wants to be. The question then becomes, how often does he want to be that good? With Real, the answer has been a resounding meh. Yes, he's found time to score 22 goals this season, but it took him 3,640 minutes to get there. By helpful comparison, his compatriot and erstwhile competitor Olivier Giroud scored 18 goals in 2,362 minutes. For those needing help with their maths, Benzema scored a goal every 165.45 minutes. Giroud scored a goal every 131 minutes. Neither one will take your breath away, so why splurge on a player who might be only marginally better than the one we already have?

If Benzema presented a clear upgrade over Giroud, I might be convinced that we should go for him. However, Benzema hasn't been able to displace Giroud as Didier Dechamps' first option to lead the line. The two have essentially platooned, suggesting that the two are seen as equals. At best, if one is better than the other, the margin is marginal. While Giroud seems to treat any whiff of a rumour of an upgrade as a challenge he should rise to, Benzema seems far more likely to pout under the notion that he's anything but the putative starter. When there was talk of us signing Suarez or Higuaín, Giroud took it not as an affront but as a dare: raise your game or be replaced. If we were to sign Benzema at
whatever transfer-fee and weekly wage he'd demand (if not command), he'd all but insist on being the starter week in, week out, even if his performance didn't necessarily rise to that level. After all, his transfer-fee would be something on the order of four times more than Giroud's. Is he capable of delivering four times the performance?

If you disagree, I hope you won't wall me up in the abandoned coke-oven...