x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Jose Mourinho will not bend on Karim Benzema

While other coaches would shirk a battle, go with the media mood or the president's wish for an easier life, Real Madrid coach Mourinho sets his own agendas and makes his own decisions.

Jose Mourinho is a man who thrives on conflict. While other coaches would shirk a battle, go with the media mood or the president's wish for an easier life, Mourinho sets his own agendas and makes his own decisions. He is an ultra confident figure of assured arrogance - which he backs up with a list of the game's major honours.

Mourinho has been in Spain for half a season. Nobody expected him to come quietly and journalists were eagerly anticipating the outspoken headlines that were likely to follow.

They were not disappointed and the Real Madrid manager has seldom been out of the news for his verbal spats with everyone from rival coaches to his own superiors at the club.

The latest issue concerns his use of Karim Benzema, the French striker. Whichever way you look at it, the former Lyon forward has not been enough of a success in Madrid to justify his €30 million (Dh147m) transfer fee and €6m annual wage. There were initial excuses justifiably advanced for this: problems with the language, accommodation and assimilating into the dressing room.

Watchers claim that he is not a Real Madrid striker and never will be, that his style is not suited to the club, that he takes too many touches and is not clinical enough.

They will list conflicting opinions of what a Real Madrid striker should be and state that his link-up with the talismanic Cristiano Ronaldo is unconvincing. The only common theme is that Benzema is not the departed legend Raul.

Benzema, 23, was a big-money signing in 2009 alongside Ronaldo and Kaka, but he was a callow youth compared to the other celebrated arrivals. He needed to be nurtured at the higher level in Spain and still does.

Benzema scored an unsatisfactory nine league goals from 33 appearances last season, but his position has really come into focus this term.

Despite Gonzalo Higuain being injured, Mourinho has not made Benzema an automatic starter. Instead, the Real coach has agitated for a new striker, with the seemingly bizarre prospect of the 35-year-old Ruud van Nistelrooy returning on loan from Hamburg, though the German side have so far rejected advances from Real.

Senior officials at the club, such as Jorge Valdano, the sporting director and a former player and coach, feel that the solution is on their doorstep.

The Argentine believes that given Benzema's high wages and talent he should be starting. But he is not the coach.

Mourinho is and he feels differently. While the issue would be kept private at most other clubs, in Madrid it has become a very public spat, with each twist spelt out in unsavoury bullet points.

Under Mourinho, Benzema has started just six of 20 league games. A more frequent starter in Europe and the Copa Del Rey, eight of his 10 goals have come outside league duties, including a hat-trick against Auxerre in the Champions League.

Benzema hopes to start against his former club Lyon in the last 16 tie next month. And he should have a chance to add to his cup total this week when Real take on Sevilla in the first leg of their Copa Del Rey semi-final.

In the league, Benzema has been on the bench 12 times, but injuries to Higuain, Xabi Alonso and Sami Khedira and the failure so far to bring in a striker in the January transfer window meant that he started Sunday's game at home to Mallorca.

Benzema replied by netting the game's only goal. That gave power to Valdano's argument that Benzema will flourish if he is given enough minutes. Valdano was smiling after the game, but Mourinho chose to continue his sniping.

Asked if he had spoken to Valdano about Benzema, the Portuguese coach replied dismissively: "I only report to the president and Jose Angel Sanchez [the general director]."