Karim Benzema, the Real Madrid and France striker who won the Ballon d’Or on Monday, said he had grown more ambitious with age and dedicated his trophy “to the people.”
Benzema, who turns 35 the day after the World Cup final, is five months older than Lionel Messi, who won football’s most prestigious individual award for the seventh time last year.
He also won the UEFA Nations League with France, capping off a remarkable career comeback for a player who had been barred from the national team for five and a half years due to his involvement in a blackmail scandal involving teammate Mathieu Valbuena.
“I’ve had difficult times when I wasn’t playing for the national team and was therefore alone at Valdebebas (Real’s training ground) because everyone else was away playing for their respective countries.
“I’m very happy and proud of the work I’ve done.”
On stage, Benzema referred to his award as “the Ballon d’Or of the People,” a statement he later clarified as “just a nod to where I come from” rather than “political.”
Among those who publicly congratulated Benzema was French President Emmanuel Macron, who did so via Twitter.
“Thank you, Mr. President. That’s wonderful, “Benzema explained.
“When I play football, I don’t go out with the intention of pleasing anyone.
“I just try to give people emotion; I know people are proud of me today, which is why I said it is their Ballon d’Or.”
Benzema won ahead of Sadio Mane, with Kevin De Bruyne completing the podium and Robert Lewandowski finishing fourth.
He is now aiming for the World Cup with France in November and December after missing out on
trophy in Russia in 2018.
“I am still ambitious, and I want to play in the World Cup with France,” he said.
“There are still things to be done, and I hope to be in the squad for Qatar, to go to the World Cup, and do everything I can to win it.”