Karim Benzema and Alexia Putellas win the Ballon d’Or

PARIS (AP) – Karim Benzema won the men’s Ballon d’Or for the first time on Monday after a brilliant season with Real Madrid that included the Champions League and Spanish league titles.

Spain’s Alexia Putellas won the women’s trophy for the second consecutive year after another outstanding season with Barcelona.

Benzema had the best season ever in Madrid, he was the top scorer in both leagues. He scored 44 goals for Madrid, including 15 in Europe’s top competition, and tied with Raúl González as the club’s second top scorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

Benzema, at 34, became the oldest winner since the first winner in 1956, Stanley Matthews.

“For me, age is just a number,” he said. “People play until they’re old, and I still have that burning desire. That drive kept me going and never let me quit.”

Benzema won ahead of Sadio Mané and Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne. Mané played for Liverpool last season, and in the summer he moved to Bayern Munich.

“I’m really proud, it’s a lot of work and making children’s dreams come true,” Benzema said.

He succeeds Lionel Messi, who won the award for a record seventh time last year, but was not nominated this time after his first season at Paris Saint-Germain.

For the first time this year, the Ballon d’Or is based on achievements from the previous season. Previously, he was awarded based on performances during calendar years.

Awarded by France Football magazine, the Ballon d’Or has been awarded to men for 66 years. The women’s trophy was created in 2018, and both were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Benzema became the fifth Frenchman to win it after Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini, Jean-Pierre Papen and Zinedine Zidane, who was crowned in 1998 when France won their first World Cup.

Benzema was not part of the France squad that triumphed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia but, barring injury, will compete in the tournament in Qatar next month.

After a nearly six-year hiatus following his involvement in the sex tape scandal, Benzema was recalled by France coach Didier Deschamps last year ahead of the European Championships and has played regularly ever since.

“There were many more difficult moments for me, when I wasn’t selected (with France) and I didn’t give up,” Benzema said after Zidane, his former coach at Madrid, presented him with the trophy. “I’m really proud of my career. This is the Ballon d’Or of the people.”

Leading an attack that also included Vinícius Júnior and Rodrygo, Benzema played a key role last season in leading Madrid to a record 14th European title, and their fifth since joining from Lyon in 2009. The Frenchman was the tournament’s top scorer and found the back of the net when it really mattered, with 10 of his goals in the knockout stages.

Putellas scored 42 goals and recorded 22 assists last season. She became the first player to win the award twice.

With Barcelona, ​​she won the Spanish league and reached the Champions League final. She has been sidelined since July after injuring her left knee and undergoing surgery ahead of the European Women’s Championship.

“When I got injured, I didn’t think I’d be here today, but it makes me proud to be rewarded for all that hard work,” she said. “I miss playing so much and doing what I love the most.”

Putellas beat fellow Arsenal and England players Beth Mead and Chelsea and Australia’s Sam Kerr to the award at a ceremony in Paris. A committee of international journalists selected the winners.

Among other awards, the Kopa trophy for the best under-21 player went to Barcelona’s 18-year-old midfielder Gavi, while Robert Lewandowski won the Gerd Müller award for the best striker of the year.

The Lev Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper went to Thibaut Courtois from Real Madrid.

The organizers of the Ballon d’Or added a humanitarian award named after the late Brazilian midfielder Socrates. The trophy went to Mané for his charity work in Senegal, including building a hospital and donating to schools.


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