Lionel Messi has found an unlikely ally in Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema, who believes those criticising the Argentinian’s form at Paris Saint-Germain know nothing about football.
Messi joined PSG on a shock free transfer from Barcelona in August after the Blaugrana came to the realisation they simply could not afford to pay his wages in line with their reduced salary cap.
The move was seen as another big step for PSG in their quest to finally win the Champions League, as he was joining a team that already boasted Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in attack.
But Messi is yet to truly take off in Paris. While his haul of five goals in as many Champions League games is a good return, in Ligue 1 it has been a different story, netting just once in 11 appearances.
Unless he has an incredible second half to the season, Messi will fall well short of the 38 goals he scored across all competitions for Barca last term.
As for his creativity, Messi ranks third in the PSG squad for chances created (32) and his assists total of four is rather less than many would expect of him, particularly when Mbappe has 12 to his name.
But there have been extenuating circumstances given he did not have much of a pre-season, he has suffered with injuries and illness, and he is settling into new surroundings for the first time in his senior career.
As such, Benzema feels criticism of Messi – who could make his first appearance of 2022 on Sunday after a bout of coronavirus – is unfair.
— Paris Saint-Germain (@PSG_English) January 23, 2022
Asked if Messi will be a success at PSG, Benzema told TF1: “How won’t he succeed?
“It is just a period of adaptation, because he is not scoring a lot of goals. But watch what he does on the pitch.
“In any case you can’t criticise a player like that. In fact, he who criticises Messi, knows nothing about football.”
Messi claimed his record-extending seventh Ballon d’Or last year, an award that many had tipped Benzema to win over the course of the year.
Ultimately the Frenchman finished fourth in the running, also behind Robert Lewandowski and Jorginho, which was seemingly a source of frustration for him.
Winning the prize remains a goal of Benzema’s, though he does not think he could have done any more than he did over 2021.
“Fourth, third or second is the same as 30th,” he said. “The main thing is to win it.
“I was told that I hadn’t won enough trophies, but I couldn’t do more. It remains a goal and each season I will try to do better than what I did last season.”
Everything points to the 34-year-old being in contention again at the end of 2022 as he sits atop LaLiga’s goalscoring chart with 17, five more than anyone else in the division.
That haul has helped him to 303 goals for Madrid, which leaves Benzema just five behind club great Alfredo Di Stefano in third, while Raul (323) is not much further ahead in second – Cristiano Ronaldo (450) is way out in front.
Benzema never expected to get anywhere near Di Stefano’s haul, which makes the achievement even more satisfying.
“It’s a source of pride but I want to continue,” Benzema added. “When I arrived, I saw [Di Stefano’s record] so far away.
“I did not see these records as an objective, but today to be close to these legends is exceptional.
“When we arrive at Madrid, we don’t tell ourselves that we will stay 10 or 15 years, we just want to win titles.”