France gets even scarier with return of Karim Benzema, also more blackmail-y

Well this is awkward.
Well this is awkward.
Illustration: Getty Images

With club seasons stumbling to their final weekend, and the normal curtain-closer Champions League Final now less than two weeks away, attention and anticipation starts to turn to the postponed European Championships, which are still called “Euro 2020” even though it’s 2021. And also seems to be losing venues. But that’s not why you called.

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The clear favorite for the trophy are the current World Cup holders, France. France’s subs could probably get to the quarterfinals by themselves. Throw in their likely first 11, and it becomes so frightening, and so turn-key, that even a dummard like manager Didier Deschamps wouldn’t seem to be able to fuck it up. He couldn’t last time.

And France got even stronger today, somehow, with the inclusion of Karim Benzema. Benzema has unquestionably been Real Madrid’s best player this season, as he was last season. For as good as France are, and were just three years ago, central striker is one spot you could kind of look at and think, “Maybe they could turn that spot from ‘pretty damn good’ to ‘otherworldly,’” like all the other spots on the field. Antoine Griezmann and Kylian Mbappé are great, but both are better playing from a wider position than through the middle. Benzema solves that.

If you didn’t follow the team before 2018 or 2016 or so, you might wonder why a forward like Benzema, certainly one of the best strikers in Europe for a decade now, who has racked up Champions League medals like candy in Madrid, wouldn’t have been on the French squad before. Well buddy, have we got a story for you.

Benzema has played 81 times for his country, and scored 27 goals. He even scored three times in the World Cup in Brazil in 2014. Then things got a little funny. Benzema was implicated in a blackmail scandal that involved pressuring French teammate Mathieu Valbuena to pay to keep a sex tape from going public. Benzema was allegedly approached by a childhood friend to act as an intermediary between him and Valbuena. Instead of paying, Valbuena contacted the police. Benzema, who denies any wrongdoing, will still face a trial over the accusations along with three other defendants.

Obviously, one teammate allegedly blackmailing another isn’t exactly great for workplace morale, and even those in the French government were calling for Benzema to be excluded from the team. Deschamps had done so before reversing course ahead of this summer’s tournament. Other players with the national team have been supportive of Benzema’s return, and Valbuena hasn’t been anywhere near the squad for years. It still makes for some awkward viewing that there still hasn’t been a resolution in the case and Benzema getting to suit up for France again, but apparently not awkward enough for Deschamps to keep the exile going.

The thought of a front line of Mbappe-Benzema-Griezmann (or Kingsley Coman, or Ousmane Dembélé, or whatever other obscenely talented alien they just have lying around) latching onto passes from a midfield with N’Golo Kanté and Paul Pogba is terrifying for anyone who might have to come across them. France were the favorites before, and now we can probably push that to “overwhelming” favorites.

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Benzema’s teammates might want to keep the phone cameras tucked away during off-hours, though, just to be safe.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.