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Game over: Is Benzema's France career finished?

The Local/AFP · 5 Nov 2015, 15:46

Published: 05 Nov 2015 15:46 GMT+01:00

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Just as France was about to step up preparations for next year’s Euro 2016 Championships on home soil, the team has been thrown into turmoil.

The alleged involvement of Karim Benzema in a plot to exhort money from his own teammate Mathieu Valbuena after a sex tape fell into the wrong hands, has dropped a bombshell in the team.

What exactly the prolific Real Madrid striker has done of course remains unclear.

While sources close to the investigation say he has admitted “involvement” in the plot to blackmail Lyon's Valbuena, the striker’s lawyer insists he is innocent.

But with Benzema being officially charged on Thursday, or "placed under formal investigation", it means investigators have strong grounds to take their investigation further, perhaps even to trial.

If he's found guilty on all charges he faces a prison a sentence of at least five years.

Thursday’s events have rocked the world of French football just as the international team were preparing for two key clashes in its build up towards Euro 2016.

The scandal has had an immediate impact on the team with both Benzema and Valbuena omitted from the France squad to play Germany and England in the coming days.

While the official line was that Benzema was injured, it is distinctly possible that the player, who has had a troubled history, might never play in the national team again.

Although Valbuena is not a guaranteed starter in the team, like Benzema, he is a regular in the squad and the idea that both could one day line up alongside each other now seems fanciful.

Football squads are a delicate bunch, especially in France, where players caused outrage by going on strike at the 2012 World Cup.

Even if Benzema ends up being proved innocent, whoever is in charge of the team may decide that selecting the striker will only invite trouble into the team.

That means the idea that the striker, who could probably walk into any squad in the world, would finally fulfill his potential at Euro2016 in front of his home crowd lies in tatters.

Before last year's World Cup, Benzema was lauded for his new-found maturity and responsibility and touted as a changed man who could be a leader and ambassador for his country's football team.

His sordid and difficult past included the accusation that he had paid for sex with an underage prostitute, a charge on which he was acquitted.

But having seemingly put that affair behind him, Benzema has failed to leave his scandal-tainted history in the past.

Only last month he was caught driving without a valid licence in Madrid, while two years ago he was fined €18,000 ($19,600) and had his licence revoked for speeding.

Story continues below…

But this latest incident could be the most damaging yet for Benzema's reputation.

And whereas in the past he could be excused for youthful naivety, at 27 years of age, such a justification looks paper thin.

To make matters worse, the man born in Lyon to an Algerian immigrant family has never really been a fan favourite. He has often been criticised by those on the right and by fans for refusing to sing the French National anthem before games and has been accused of having a poor attitude.

After France's disastrous Euro 2008 campaign, international teammate William Gallas criticised Benzema for being arrogant.

When he suffered an incredible 1,222-minute drought in front of goal for the national team he was at times jeered by France's fans, who accused him of not trying hard enough for the shirt.

If manager Didier Deschamps was able to dodge the issue thanks to Benzema’s injury this time round, he’ll have to make a big decision in the coming months.

“We are concerned for his future in the French national team,” one of Benzema’s close friends told Le Parisien newspaper on Thursday.

As more details of the alleged extortion plot will no doubt leak out in the weeks to come, it may turn out their worry is not misplaced.

The Local/AFP (ben.mcpartland@thelocal.com)

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