Spanish giants Real Madrid have continued their rebuilding project with the conclusion of a €35m deal for 21-year-old striker Karim Benzema. Although hours before Olympique Lyon had denied reports of a deal for the French international, both clubs' websites confirmed this morning that an agreement had been reached.
"Real Madrid C.F. and Olympique Lyonnais have reached an agreement for the transfer of Karim Benzema. The player will have his medical examination in the next few days, which will be followed by the signing of the contract with his new club," read Madrid's statement.
Benzema is expected to sign a six-year contract. This would see him become the fourth signing of the summer for the Spanish club, after Kaka, Raúl Albiol, and Cristiano Ronaldo. The striker will cost Madrid an initial €35m, rising to a possible €41m based on performance.
A Lyon youth product, Benzema scored 66 goals in 149 first-team appearances for the club, as well as six goals in his 24 caps as a fully-fledged France international. He was part of the Lyon teams that won four consecutive Ligue 1 titles during his time at the club, and also performed admirably in the UEFA Champions League, scoring 12 goals in just 19 appearances, including a magnificent strike against Manchester United in the Round of 16 in 2008.
On the back of these performances, Benzema has become one of the most coveted prospects in Europe. Despite the firm interest of Manchester United, Barcelona and Internazionale, among others, Real Madrid managed to close the deal on the man many regard as the future of French football.
Due to his Algerian descent, grace and explosive talent on the ball, Karim Benzema has often been anointed as the successor to Zidane since his arrival on the international scene. The player himself, however, idolizes the French playmaker's former Real teammate Ronaldo instead.
The comparison is perhaps more apt than with Zidane, who masterfully orchestrated the midfield rather than leading the line. Benzema's powerful physique, blazing speed, superb control and, of course, prolific goal-scoring record all deservedly earn him the comparison with the Brazil legend.
Benzema will presumably play as a lone striker for Madrid in a 4-2-3-1 formation, most likely contingent on the rumored signing of Xabi Alonso from Liverpool, or as the centre forward in a 4-1-2-1-2 formation supported by the legendary Madrid captain Raúl.
At Lyon Benzema frequently played up front alone with great success, but his versatility across the forward line should help him adapt to whatever formation Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini intends to use with his new-look Madrid team.
While Benzema's performances in France have been extremely impressive over the last few years, some pundits have raised the question of whether a move to a bigger club at this time poses a risk. Benzema has never played outside of France, which is admittedly a league of a lower quality than La Liga or the Premier League, and at only 21 years of age has only played three full seasons at the highest level.
Still, with his extraordinary natural talent and service most strikers could only dream of from the likes of Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema seems poised to stake his claim to greatness on a stage more appropriate to his immense potential.
Time will tell whether he will join the ranks of France legends like Michel Platini and Zinédine Zidane, but with the World Cup looming over the horizon, Benzema will never get a better opportunity to prove himself.