11 August 2015

Özil's overture to Karim Benzema...

MUNICH, Germany—Real Madrid had just finished a disappointing second to Bayern Munich in the Audi Cup when Karim Benzema, upon leaving the locker room, espied an old ally. It was a joyous if accidental reunion for two former teammates as Benzema, the current madridista, crossed paths with Mesut Özil, late of Real Madrid and lately of Arsenal. The French striker, never one to shy away from scoring opportunities, be it in front of Spanish defenses of dubious dependability or on top of French courtesans of curious callowness, approached Özil with a similarly single-minded intent...

     If Özil heard, he gave no signal.
     "Nemo. Mesut!" Benzema's voice took on a sharper, more-urgent edge—betraying, it must be admitted, a bit more desperation than the speaker intended. He looked away. Above all, it was vital that he not appear too eager.
     Finally, as if by chance, Benzema heard the voice that resonated deep within him, registering not so much in his ears as in his heart.
     "Karim! Coco!" It is good to see you, ya? I watch you to play for Real, but you don't score the goals so many times anymore. Still, it is always good to find a friend!"
     "Yes, Mesut, I also am happy. As-salamu alaykum."
     "Wa-Alaikum-Salaam. To what do I owe the honour? It is no longer every day that our paths cross, brother."
     At this, Benzema's shoulders heaved, then sagged, as if struggling to support a heavy weight.  "Mesut, I am not happy."
     Özil recoiled as if he had been punched. "Karim, I know you did not win a trophy in this last tournament, but remember, Real will always win something. Ronaldo demands as much."
     Benzema ran his hand over his scalp or coif, depending on how many installments he's paid on his latest haircut. "No, it's not that. We win and we win and we win. Sometimes, it gets..."
     That one word cut to the chase. Benzema lifted his eyes and peered through furrowed brow at his comrade. "Yes. YES! What is the point of competing if there is no competition? Every week, I go out, I run about, and if I score, it is great. If I don't, someone else does anyway, and we win. Again and again. Only it is Barcelona who slow us down sometimes, but we learn to share. There are so many of us and of them who play for Spain, it is like a népotisme. We take turns, it seems, to win La Liga. I want something deeper, something more meaningful, something—"
     It took just one glance from Özil to check Benzema's diatribe. "Do you? Do you really want this?" Özil looked askance at Benzema. "Think through what you ask. If you leave La Liga, you leave behind security. You will have to fight. Trust me when I say this."
     Benzema scoffed, "Yes, Mesut, but you and I are not alike. You are light, and I am strong."
     "Olivier, he too is strong."
     At the mention of that name, Benzema flinched, but only momentarily. Still, it was enough for Özil to detect.
     "Olivier, he does much of this 'donkeywork' that we need. He wrestles the defenders, he gets elbowed and tugged and groped. Still, he fights. For you, do you want to fight through such things?"
     Benzema stroked his chin and contemplated the floor-tiles at a much-deeper level than they deserved.
     "Schnell! Karim, I admire Olivier for the work he puts in. He does things that no one else in this squad can do. It is not the time to worry about Deschamps or your role for France. We need you. You must set aside for now your rivalry with Olivier and think instead of what we can do. I know that we worry about Angel and Gonzalo. They have not convinced. I will be with you honest: I have not convinced either."
     "But, Mesut, surely—"
     Özil simply raised his hand. "This is the Prem, Karim. It is not like La Liga or Serie A. If you are to come to Arsenal, yes, you and I, we will do many things—but only if you are willing to get grittier than you have ever done with Real. Can I count on you to do this?"
     Benzema studied his boots, as if double-checking that they were laced correctly.
     Özil eyed him, assessing the man's ambitions and abilities. He's an enigma, the German decided, he wants success but worries about his ability to truly fight for it. Is he ready to go to war, or does he prefer the primrose path? Only time will tell...