Paris (AFP) – French football star Karim Benzema provokes passionate opinions, being adored or disliked in equal measure and his one-year suspended sentence on Wednesday will only serve to strengthen those views.
The 33-year-old’s talent on the pitch is indisputable, he has a swathe of league titles with both Lyon and Real Madrid as well as four Champions League trophies.
Yet his talent for becoming embroiled in off the field controversies has only fuelled the opinion of many in France that he is more trouble than he is worth.
That was certainly the view of France coach Didier Deschamps who until a surprise call-up for this year’s Euro 2020 finals kept him out in the cold for five-and-a-half years due to the sex-tape allegations.
The recall was even more surprising given Deschamps had been at the end of unfounded allegations made by Benzema when he was omitted from the Euro 2016 finals squad hosted by France.
Deschamps had “yielded to pressure from a racist party in France,” railed Benzema, who is appealing Wednesday’s sentence over his complicity in the bid to blackmail former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
The consequences of his words impacted on Deschamps, whose house in Brittany was daubed with paint with the inscription ‘racist’.
“It’s a stain,” Deschamps told radio station RTL in January.
“Even if with time it calms down a bit, I can’t forget.
“It’s not just about Karim Benzema. There are statements by other people too that have led to this violent act, which affects my family.”
Fair to say the far right in France have led the charge against Benzema since an interview with French radio station RMC in 2006 he suggested his footballing ambition had been pivotal in choosing to play for France.
“It’s (Algeria) my parents’ country, it’s in my heart,” said Benzema, whose grandfather emigrated from Algeria and settled in Lyon.
“I will be always present for the French team.
“Then it’s more for the sporting side, because Algeria is my country, my parents come from there.”
“After, France … It’s more sporty, that’s it,” added Benzema who has been in fine form scoring nine times since his return.
– ‘Strength to persevere’ –
His parents have been a common theme along with his Islamic faith in being his guiding lights.
“My family inspires me. The values and morals my parents gave me helped me stay the same person,” he told Vogue Man Arabia in 2019.
“My faith also helps me to be focused every day.
“It brings me benefits and it’s my strength for me, my family, as well as for my work -– for literally everything.”
Benzema has needed that strength for he has given his detractors plenty of ammunition down the years.
He and close friend and then fellow French international star Franck Ribery were swept up in a tawdry tale with a prostitute Zahia Dehar.
However, the case against them of having sex with her when she was under age — Benzema denied ever doing so — collapsed in 2014.
His timing on the pitch seems in tune with one of his favourite but unlikely passions — watchmaking.
“It fascinates me to see and understand the different mechanisms, the movements, and the designs,” he told Vogue Man Arabia.
His greatest passion, though, are his two children seven-year-old daughter Melia and son Ibrahim, 4, who he says are his “biggest source of happiness”.
He says he wants them to be proud of him but may need to do some explaining to them after Wednesday’s sentencing.
However, Benzema is blessed with a thick skin and it may be this that gets him through his latest fall from grace as his mantra on life reflects.
“Without trying, you can never achieve anything,” he told Vogue Man Arabia.
“Even when you fail, you will always be stronger than if you hadn’t tried.
“Living your life on a ‘What if…’ is never going to give you the strength to persevere.”