Is Benzema Able to Switch Allegiance from France?

Published December 4th, 2019 - 05:09 GMT
Karim Benzema
Karim Benzema

Karim Benzema is one of the most accomplished and prolific strikers in world football, shining for Real Madrid over the course of the past decade.

However, his success at club level - which includes four Champions Leagues, two Liga titles and four Club World Cups - has not been mirrored at international level with France.

The Madrid frontman missed out on Euro 2016, in which France - the hosts - were beaten finalists, and he was forced to watch on in envy as Les Bleus clinched their second world title at the 2018 World Cup.

With no end in sight to his France exclusion, there have been suggestions that he could potentially play for another national team, but is it possible? Goal takes a look at the story.

Why is Karim Benzema not playing for France?

Benzema's exile from the France squad began in the aftermath of an acrimonious sex tape dispute with former Les Bleus team-mate Mathieu Valbuena in 2015.

The Madrid striker has not featured for the national team since then, having been placed on an apparently indefinite suspension by the president of the French Football Federation (FFF), Noel Le Graet.

Despite assertions from France icons such as Zinedine Zidane in 2019 that Benzema merits a recall to the international team, Le Graet insists that the "adventure with France is over" for the forward.

That pronouncement from the FFF chief prompted a furious response from Benzema, who subsequently challenged the federation to allow him to play for another country.

“Noel, I thought that you did not interfere with the decisions of the national team coach!" the striker wrote on Twitter.

“Know that it will be me and me alone who decides when my international career is over.

“If you think that I am finished, let me play for a country that I am eligible to play for and we will see.”

Which international teams is Karim Benzema eligible to play for?

Benzema is currently only eligible to play for France, strictly speaking. The reason for that is because he has played competitively at senior level for Les Bleus, meaning he is effectively cap-tied.

FIFA eligibility rules for national teams dictate that, once a player has been capped competitively at 'A' level - in other words, at senior level - they cannot switch to a team they may have also been eligible to play for.

In addition to France, Lyon-born Benzema was previously eligible to play for Algeria thanks to his familial links to the north African country.

In 2006, prior to his senior debut for France, he was approached by representatives from the Algerian football association (FAF) who sought to persuade him to play for them.

However, he declined the invitation, telling RMC: "Algeria is my parents' country and it is in my heart, but I will play for the France national team."

Interestingly, following Benzema's comments in November 2019, Algeria coach Djamel Belmadi simply replied: "I'm very happy with the players I have."

Had Benzema not played competitively for France or any other national team, he could well have become eligible to represent Spain due to his long-term residency in the country while playing for Real Madrid.

The striker has been living in Spain for over a decade and would be able to apply for Spanish citizenship, which is the first step in being eligible to represent La Roja.

Can Karim Benzema switch international team?

Unfortunately for Benzema a change of international team is not likely any time soon, unless FIFA makes an exceptional ruling in his favour.

The fact that he has played competitively at senior level for France means that he is not free to switch allegiance to another team under world football's universally applied eligibility rules.

FIFA's position on not allowing competitively capped players to switch international team allegiance was upheld as recently as 2018 when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled against Munir El Haddadi.

The former Barcelona forward played only once for Spain - in a competitive match in 2014 - and wished to change allegiance to Morocco. However, his case was dismissed by FIFA and subsequently by the CAS.

Benzema has played 81 times for France (roughly half of those being competitive games), scoring 27 goals - a strike tally that places him in the top 10 goalscorers of all time in the history of the national team.

However, he has not featured for Les Bleus since the 4-0 friendly victory over Armenia in October 2015, a game in which he scored twice.

Under current eligibility rules, the only way Benzema will be free to change national team allegiance is if he suddenly loses his French nationality without his consent or against his will.

Failing that, it would require a rule change or an extraordinary allowance made just for him by FIFA.

By Ryan Kelly

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