Real Madridâ€™s Karim Benzema is enjoying one of the best seasons of his career. But off-the-field matters threaten to jeopardise his on-pitch form, and itâ€™s not the first time itâ€™s happened.
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Today, the blackmail court case thatâ€™s cast a shadow over one of footballâ€™s superstars.
Stepping away from Tielemans, Mbappeâ€¦ to Benzema, works the angle, works the finish. Game on, Karim Benzema!Sky Sports Football commentary
Karim Benzema is currently enjoying a blistering start to the season.Â
11 goals and seven assists in just 12 games for Real Madrid is pretty good going. And on the international stage, he was an influential figure for France in their victory over Belgium in the final of the Nations League earlier this month.
Heâ€™s got an outside chance of winning the Ballon dâ€™Or next month â€“ and all this is despite the departure of his team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo from Real Madrid three years ago.Â Did his form deteriorate? If anything, it improved.
He may be supremely talented, but Karim Benzema is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Little has ever been easy or straightforward for Benzema.Â
He grew up alongside eight siblings in a tough neighbourhood outside Lyon.Â Heâ€™s of Algerian descent, and though he elected to play for France, heâ€™s caused controversy amongst some fans by sometimes refusing to sing the French national anthem before kick-off.Â Â Â
So it should perhaps come as no surprise that while heâ€™s thriving on the pitch, off itâ€¦ he isnâ€™t. Thatâ€™s because heâ€™s involved in a court case involving blackmail.Â
Once, Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema were regular team-mates for France. They played 34 times together between 2010 and 2015, that was untilâ€¦
France have suspended Karim Benzema until an investigation into his alleged part in a blackmail and sex tape scandal has been resolved. The countryâ€™s football federation confederation confirmed the suspension would include 2016, in the case involving team-mate Mathieu Valbuena is settled.Goal
In 2015 Mathieu Valbuena, asked a man in Marseille, Axel Angot, to transfer the content of his mobile phone to a new device.
Angot found sexually explicit material on the phone, and he and another man, Mustapha Zouaoui, allegedly tried to blackmail Valbuena by threatening to make the contents public.
Angot and Zouaoui are alleged to have eventually enlisted the help of one of Benzemaâ€™s friends, Karim Zenati, who is accused of getting Benzemaâ€™s help as a â€śmiddlemanâ€ť to contact Valbuena.
He is accused of complicity in attempted blackmail â€“ something heâ€™s not only denied but ridiculed, describing the charge against him as a â€śmasqueradeâ€ť.Â He faces up to five years in jail and a â‚¬75,000 fine if convicted.Â
The court case started this week in Versailles but Benzema didnâ€™t show up.
His lawyers said it was impossible for him to attend, as heâ€™d played for Real Madrid the night before in Kyiv. All the other defendants in the case did show up, and outside the court, Mathieu Valbuena said: â€śI see everyone is here â€“ almost. Karim isnâ€™t, which is a shame. But weâ€™ll go all the way: this has gone on for six years and weâ€™re here for as long as it takes to put it behind me.â€ť
I said earlier that things are never easy with Karim Benzema.
Controversy has been his companion.Â Not only did he refuse to sing La Marseillaise, he was accused in 2010 of â€śsolicitation of an underaged prostituteâ€ť â€“ charges that were dropped.Â
In 2017, a documentary charting his life, called Le K Benzema, was released. Iâ€™d recommend you watch it, if you can find it. It shows Benzema as a slightly withdrawn figure, extremely close to his family and inner circle, and virtually no-one else. In two hours, you donâ€™t really learn too much about the actual character of Karim Benzema.Â
His life has seemingly been in a cycle of excelling at football, controversy, then excelling again.Â
His start to the season has been brilliant â€“ but, if the Benzema cycle is repeated, it may be tinged with yet more problems.
Todayâ€™s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Studio Klong.
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