Karim Benzema crowned the best season of his career by winning the Ballon d’Or on Monday, becoming the first Frenchman to claim football’s top individual honor since Zinedine Zidane in 1998.
With an astounding 44 goals in 46 appearances, Benzema helped Real Madrid win La Liga by 13 points and the Champions League for a record-extending 14th time. He also re-established himself as one of France‘s key players ahead of the 2022 World Cup.
Benzema succeeds Lionel Messi, who won the award last season for the seventh time.
“Seeing this award in front of me makes me really proud of the work I’ve done,” Benzema told the adoring audience at the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. “It was a childhood dream … I had two role models, (Zinedine) Zidane and Ronaldo, and I always had this dream in my mind that anything is possible.”
Benzema, one of the most decorated players of his generation, saved his best performances for the Champions League, scoring 15 goals, including hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in back-to-back knockout ties.
The 34-year-old is just the fourth different player to win the Ballon d’Or since 2008. Teammate Luka Modric – who took home the trophy in 2018 after leading Croatia to the World Cup final – is the only other player to break Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo‘s hold on the prestigious honor.
Ronaldo ended up in 20th – the lowest he’s ranked since 2005 – while Messi missed the shortlist altogether.
France Football’s voters – a cast including journalists from FIFA’s top 100 nations – now recognize a player’s accomplishments over the preceding European season. Previously, voters took into account each nominee’s performances over the last calendar year.
2022 Men’s Ballon d’Or rankings
Sadio Mane, who finished as runner-up in the Champions League final with Liverpool, placed second in Ballon d’Or voting. Kevin De Bruyne, a key member of Manchester City’s Premier League-winning side, came third. Robert Lewandowski, who famously missed out on the award in 2020 and 2021, finished fourth.
Benzema waited years for his moment in the spotlight. The striker joined Madrid as a promising 22-year-old from Lyon in 2009, arriving at the same time as Ronaldo, and largely played in the shadow of the Portuguese superstar in the years that followed. Benzema helped Ronaldo win the Ballon d’Or four times during their time together in the Spanish capital, serving as a provider rather than goalscorer while pulling defenders away from his teammate.
Ronaldo’s exit in 2018 allowed Benzema to take ownership of the team. With youngsters Federico Valverde, Vinicius Junior, and Rodrygo by his side, Benzema finally became the focal point of Madrid’s attack. His scoring record increased year after year, culminating in last season’s career haul.
Before Ronaldo left Madrid, Benzema never ranked higher than 16th in Ballon d’Or voting. On Monday, everyone expected him to win.