France have announced their squad numbers for Euro 2020:
Of note is the inclusion of Karim Benzema, who hasn’t featured for the country since 2015 for non-footballing reasons but has impressed for Real Madrid despite the club not winning any major silverware in 2020-21 – though, of course, with a new head coach replacing Zinedine Zidane, next season could be different. Real are likely to be near the top of the table again but you never know what might happen – the Premier League relegation odds for 2020-21 are interesting.
At the last major tournament in which Benzema featured for France, he wore the number 10 shirt, as he had done at Euro 2012. However, in his absence, that shirt has become the property of Kylian Mbappé and the Paris Saint-Germain star, now the team’s talisman, was never going to be asked to give up such a prestigious shirt to somebody returning after a six-year absence.
For Real, Benzema has the number 9 shirt, but since Euro 2012 that has belonged to Olivier Giroud for France. With 7 (Antoine Griezmann), 8 (Thomas Lemar) and 11 (Ousmane Dembélé) all being worn by the same players as in the 2018 World Cup win, Benzema had to be satisfied with a number outside of the first 11 but the choice made is a logical one – the addition of his club number with his old international one to get 19.
It is a number he previously wore for his first club, Olympique Lyonnais. Benzema made his debut for Lyon in January 2005 as a 17-year-old, with the number 44 on his back. This was allowed given his youth status but French league rules stipulate that a first-team squad should be numbered between 1 and 30, with 1, 16 and 30 reserved for goalkeepers. So it was that Benzema traded down to 19 for his first full season, 2005-06, and then, after the departure of Florent Malouda for Chelsea in the summer of 2007, the attacker took the number 10 shirt as he claimed a fourth successive league medal. Two years later, Real Madrid would come calling for Benzema.
While he is now inextricably linked with the number 9 shirt at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu, it was only in 2010-11, his second season in Madrid, that he got to wear it – this despite the fact that Javier Saviola, wearer of 9 for Real in 2008-09, left the club at the end of that season. The reason for Benzema having to wait to claim 9 was a knock-on effect of another player biding his time before inheriting a favoured digit.
During his time at Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo had become part of the legend of the club’s number 7 and the ‘CR7’ brand was growing by the time of his world-record transfer to Real in 2009. However, club legend Raúl González had had the Madrid number 7 shirt since the introduction of squad numbers in Spain in 1995 and so Ronaldo opted to wear number 9 for what would prove to be Raúl’s last at his boyhood club before joining Schalke. That meant that Benzema’s options were in turn reduced and so he had number 11 on his back in that first campaign.
Raúl leaving allowed for the cascade effect to take hold – for 2010-11, Ronaldo was ensconced in the number 7 and Benzema was able to swap 11 for the 9 more fitting for his role as a centre-forward. Taking 11 that season was midfielder Esteban Granero, who had previously had 24. After him, the 11 would be worn by Ricardo Carvalho – unusually for a defender – before the arrival of Gareth Bale in 2013 saw the birth of the ‘BBC’ partnership which would help drive Real to four Champions League wins in five years.
Of that trio, Benzema is the only one still part of the Real first team – Bale is still at the club but out of favour and set to leave in the summer. However, Benzema shows no signs of slowing down and he will hope that his return to the international fold can help bring about more success. In Euro 2020, held in 2021, will a number 19 be influential?