French Football Federation president Noel Le Graet called the decision to suspend Karim Benzema for his alleged involvement in the Mathieu Valbeuna sex-tape blackmail, "heart-breaking."
Although he is head of the FFF, he is also a French football fan, and is all too aware of the impact the striker’s absence will have on the team.
The decision is understandable, given the severity of the charge, one that could see Benzema spend up to five years in prison. However it is a move that leaves France without arguably their best player heading into a European Championship on home soil.
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Fantastic French forward
Although he leads the line for one of the world’s most successful clubs, Benzema is often stepped on – especially given the mega stars who surround him at Real Madrid.
Despite the media storm and ongoing investigation, his form has not tapered for Los Blancos with 15 goals in 15 matches this season, including a hat-trick against Rayo Vallecano.
For his country, he found the net nine times in 2014, and scored twice in his last appearance in a friendly against Armenia before his injury. However of late, good performances alone are not sufficient to guarantee a spot in Les Blues’ squad.
Keeping him in check
Off-the-field problems have derailed previous tournaments for France, so the powers that be have kept a keen eye out to avoid such problems in the future, which includes leaving troublemakers behind. Samir Nasri was omitted from Didier Deschamps’ 2014 World Cup squad due to his attitude and past outbursts.
Real Madrid have not taken the same approach and allowed the forward to continue playing, but things are different in France. It is also questionable whether the striker and Valbuena can ever be in the same squad following this mess. In a recent IFOP poll, only 10% of the French public believed that Benzema should play at the Euros given the current evidence.
Of course, there is every chance proceedings could come to a premature end and he will once again become available to France, but until then Deschamps must explore other options.
Life after Karim
Despite the Real Madrid striker’s exclusion, 2015 has been a great year for French strikers. As such, Deschamps will have a wealth of quality options from which to pick should Benzema remain unavailable.
Olivier Giroud is one of the obvious names to fill Benzema’s spot. The Arsenal striker is currently the highest-scoring Frenchman in 2015 with 33 goals this year including six goals in his previous four games.
Second on that list is Antoine Griezmann, with 30 goals; he has started his second season with Atletico Madrid in fine fashion.
Andre-Pierre Gignac is a prolific and experienced option, while Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman have both been handed caps recently and provided youthful exuberance. Should Alexandre Lacazette rediscover some form, his name will surely be in the mix.
All are adequate replacements, however Benzema is indisputably the country’s best striker. From a purely footballing perspective, is hard to escape the overwhelming feeling that Benzema has let the country down months before one of their most important tournament in decades.
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