In Karim Benzema's beautiful mansion in Ciudalcampo, an exclusive community on the outskirts of Madrid, there has been a space reserved for the Ballon d'Or trophy in his trophy cabinet. For years, the Frenchman has hoped of actually displaying the trophy of his dreams there, with all the Champions Leagues and the rest of his prizes and medals.
And in Monday night's ceremony, the dream of a lifetime and his crowning achievement finally happened. Even when he went through bad times, when things were not going great at Real Madrid, when he was not being picked by Didier Deschamps for France and even as he was getting older, Benzema, officially crowned the best player in the world, never stopped working, believing or dreaming of winning that illustrious prize.
"This is the people's Ballon d'Or," he said during the ceremony on Monday night in the Theatre du Chatelet in Paris. He didn't mean it in a political sense; rather, he felt it was an example for anyone who, like him, have dreams and ambitions of any kind. People who, like him, started from the bottom and with nothing, only to go on and reach the pinnacle of their profession. People who, like him, have been written off only to rise again. People who, like him, have talent and don't give up, putting in the hard work in addition to using their gifts to the fullest. Benzema is a voice and model in this respect.
"Karim is football," said Carlo Ancelotti on Monday night. The Real Madrid manager is right, too, because the France forward is arguably everything you love about the game: elegance and class, altruism and intelligence, talent and leadership. He is the most complete striker of his generation, a player capable of miracles, as we saw last season in the Champions League, in which he scored 15 goals to carry the Merengues to another European triumph -- his fifth CL title since joining the club from Lyon before the 2009-10 season.
Zinedine Zidane, who is like an older brother to Benzema and was the perfect person to hand him the trophy, added something even more powerful than Ancelotti: "If you can't appreciate Benzema's greatness, then you don't understand football."
The Ballon d'Or given to Karim the Dream (as he is called) marks a reward for a long career in which he's played a different style of football, one with flair, awareness, creativity and brains. Players like him have been rare through the history of the game because they see things differently. At 34 (he turns 35 at the end of December), he is the oldest Ballon d'Or winner since Stanley Matthews in 1956, a legend of a bygone era. He is the first Frenchman to win it since Zidane himself back in 1998. He came close last year, but following the greatest season of his career, there were no doubts this time around.
After his win was announced, he asked his mum Malika to join him on stage because he wanted to share the moment with her. She always believed in him, ever since he was a little boy obsessed with football in their council estate in Bron, near Lyon. His 5-year-old son Ibrahim (he also has a daughter, Melia, who is 8) was there, too. He is growing up in a very different way than his dad did, given Karim's fame, but the values stay the same. The Benzemas are a big and tight family: the most important lessons shared always involved teaching their children to respect people, work hard and be loyal. Now Karim is passing those to the next generation now too.
Of course, Benzema made mistakes through his career, including the saga involving former teammate Mathieu Valbuena, which resolved in June. Without them, he might have won this Ballon d'Or sooner, or maybe not. He certainly learned from them to become a better player and a better person.
On Tuesday morning, only a few hours after the ceremony, KB9 was back at training at Valdebebas to prepare for the game away at Elche Wednesday night. Did he party after being crowned the best player in the world? Of course not. Did he enjoy some champagne to celebrate the accomplishment? No, just water.
When Karim Djaziri, his longtime agent, asked Benzema at 15 while he was still playing for Lyon's U17 side what his dreams were, the striker replied: "I want to buy my mum a house with a fireplace, I want to play for Real Madrid and I want to win the Ballon d'Or." Eighteen years on, all the dreams have now been fulfilled.