Karim Benzema and Vinicius Junior, Europe’s in-form duo, are leading Real Madrid as they go in pursuit of Champions League success. After a 3-1 first-leg win over Chelsea, Los Blancos are in the driving seat, but the job is not done and they have to finish the Premier League side off at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu.
The Frenchman and the Brazilian are a de facto pairing. It takes very little for them to understand what one wants from the other and vice versa.
A look, a gesture and all it all clicks. In the past, it looked like there was no hope for the pair together, but one chat changed everything.
The master (Benzema) acknowledged his mistake and the gifted pupil (Vinicius) learnt from what had happened, something that has since been evident in the continuous improvement in their play and which has led them to be the absolute focus in the attacking play of Carlo Ancelotti‘s team.
Benzema and Vinicius are a fundamental part of the current Real Madrid team. So far this season, Real Madrid have scored 93 goals in the five competitions in which they have participated since the start of the season, with 54 of those goals having been scored by the two players: 37 by the No.9 and 17 by the winger. With Saturday’s assist, Vinicius has reached assist number 17, four more than Benzema‘s tally. The numbers are frightening, scary, but it all stems, curiously, from a critical moment.
Now, Real Madrid would not be Real Madrid without the presence of each. In the current Champions League, Benzema, with 11 goals, is one behind top scorer Robert Lewandowski. Vinicius, with five assists, is two behind Bruno Fernandes, who has more than anybody. Four of those passes ended in a goal for the Frenchman, who with 18, is the player with the most shots on target. Incidentally, Thibaut Courtois leads the ranking of saves in the Champions League with 39.
A conversation between Benzema and Ferland Mendy in October 2020, at half time in a Champions League match between Real Madrid and Borussia Monchengladbach, in which the French striker questioned Vinicius‘ performance, changed everything.
When it was made public it seemed like the beginning of the end, as Benzema had been criticising Vinicius, but the situation turned on its head.
The day after the incident and as soon as they set foot in Valdebebas, Benzema sought out Vinicius. The striker’s apology was sincere, as time has shown. The France international told him that for him, he was like a son and that is how he considered him.
The truth is that when Vinicius arrived it was Benzema who took him in. Marcelo and Casemiro were not in Madrid because they had been part of the Brazilian national team at the 2018 World Cup. From the very first day, he was there for Vinicius, acting as a guide and a teacher of what Real Madrid was all about.
A heart-to-heart talk
The conversation was sincere and what was said in the dressing room tunnel, after listening to Benzema, was taken by Vinicius to be another of those that footballers have during a match, in which they end up questioning everything and everyone when things aren’t working out.
The shock came when the words shared between the Frenchmen were made public, but Vinicius accepted the apology and the consequence of that is that from that moment onwards the understanding between the two grew.
Vinicius still sees Benzema as his great reference on the pitch. That conversation served to break down the existing wall of respect, giving way to full trust in what is now the most decisive pair in European football.
They look for each other, they understand each other and above all they need each other. The best version of each appears alongside the other.