eligibility, fitness… Four questions surrounding Karim Benzema’s possible participation in the Olympic Games

The French striker was enthusiastic on Tuesday at the idea of ​​joining the Bleuets to compete in the Olympic football tournament.

France Télévisions – Sports Editorial


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Karim Benzema in the Al-Ittihad jersey, in Najran (Saudi Arabia), September 14, 2023. (AFP)

“The Olympics? Of course, why not? It could be great”. Asked by The Team, Tuesday March 19, Karim Benzema made an in-depth appeal to Thierry Henry, the coach of the French Olympic team. If this call were to materialize, it would be a huge surprise to find the ex-international (97 caps) among the list of 18 selected in Blue. Benzema, 36, had in fact ended his career with the France team after the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, in which, injured, he was unable to participate. However, is this return, via the framework of the Olympic Games, actually possible?

Is he eligible for Olympic selection?

In principle, Karim Benzema, like dozens of other players, can of course be selected by Thierry Henry to compete in the Olympic tournament (from July 24 to August 9). As a reminder, the regulations provide that the selection must be made up of players under the age of 23, to which three older players may be added. Due to his experience and his track record, the former Real Madrid striker can naturally apply for a place in the group. But this is not the only criterion to respect.

Does his Al-Ittihad club have a say?

To be able to participate in the Olympic Games, players must be released by their club, since the competition is not part of the Fifa calendar. They alone are the decision-makers in this matter. Real Madrid recently made it known that it would not accept that its players could join their team at the Olympics. Which could mean the end of the Olympic dream for Kylian Mbappé, strongly expected to sign for the Madrid club at the end of the season. Likewise, Atlético de Madrid, if less categorical than its neighbor, does not seem favorable to the idea of ​​letting Antoine Griezmann leave, who has also expressed his desire to compete in these Games. The non-participation of at least one of these two stars would, de facto, free up a place for Karim Benzema. Especially since Thierry Henry makes no secret that he is looking for experienced players in attack. But would the “KB9” club, Al-Ittihad, with which the Habs are linked until 2026, agree to let their center forward leave?

What is his condition?

This is perhaps, ultimately, the biggest obstacle to a possible return of Karim Benzema to the national team. Since joining the Saudi league, the 2022 Ballon d’Or has not particularly shone. Currently injured in his back, he has missed his team’s last three games. And his statistics so far, 12 goals and 7 assists in 23 games, remain disappointing. In addition, the end of the Saudi championship is scheduled for May 27. Which would leave a fairly long period without competition for Benzema still looking for the right rhythm.

Who will be the final decision-maker?

Thierry Henry, the Bleuets coach, must speak at a press conference on Thursday, on the eve of the match against Ivory Coast in Châteauroux, and there is no doubt that he will be questioned on the Benzema hypothesis, 37 goals in the team of France, and on his unofficial candidacy. If the Espoirs coach remains the sole master on board, if all the obstacles (clubs, form, etc.) are removed, can we imagine him calling a player for whom he has “great admiration”, as he confided in 2021? He also admitted, Tuesday on the microphone of “Tout le sport” and a few minutes before the announcement of the former Madrilenian, dreaming of a Mbappé-Giroud-Griezmann attack: “But then I wake up.”

Could Didier Deschamps play a role at the time of choice? Because, it’s no secret, relations have often been stormy between the current coach of the A and his striker, the end of the adventure in Qatar being only a new episode in their tumultuous collaboration.

Furthermore, can his sentence in 2021 to a one-year suspended prison sentence and a 75,000 euro fine in the “sextape” affair against Mathieu Valbuena also weigh in the balance?

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