Sadly, another UEFA Champions League season finale is upon us. We will have to wait for other several months for those moments; the goosebumps and the feeling inspired by the competition’s anthem.
But more importantly, the final of this season’s competition, which the beautiful edifice of Stade de France in Paris will grace on May 28, could potentially decide who will be crowned the next king of football in the world.
Many have argued that the European Champions League is bigger than the Euro Nations Cup. The elite club competition characterizes class, grit, quality, masterstroke, and many more.
The competition this season has been more memorable than what we have witnessed in recent times–the outstandingly brilliant performances by the record winners, Real Madrid, spearheaded by captain Karim Benzema.
Since 2018 when Cristiano Ronaldo bowed out at the Santiago Bernabeu, Benzema has shown that he can be mentioned in the same breath as the five-time Ballon d’Or-winning Portuguese superstar, with whom he won four Champions League titles at the club.
The Frenchman has been extra-terrestrial this campaign and in La Liga Santander. To begin with, the 34-year-old has scored 43 goals for the Los Merengues in 43 matches across all competitions this season. He has also assisted his teammates 14 times. All he touched this term has turned to gold. He has done stuff that we thought only Lionel Messi and Cristiano in their peak could only do.
Benzema has scored 15 goals in 11 matches in the Champions League this season, including a pair of hat-tricks against Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea in the Round of 16 and quarter-final stages respectively. Against Pep Guardiola’s almighty Manchester City, he netted a brace at the Etihad Stadium and added a crucial goal at the Bernabeu in the second leg of their semifinal tie. He is just one goal shy of equalling Ronaldo’s 16 record goals in one UCL season, which the Manchester United attacker achieved in the 2015/16 season while they were teammates.
The striker scored 10 goals in the knockout phase alone en route to the final. He guided Real to their 35th league title with matches to spare, finding the back of the net 26 times in 30 appearances and grabbing astonishing 11 assists also.
But there is strong competition in Liverpool teammates Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane, both of who have been inconsistently imperious form for the English side.
Liverpool still has the chance to win a quadruple this season because of these two Africans. Salah has contributed 30 goals and 16 assists for The Reds in 48 appearances this campaign. It is not just about his goals this season, but the lightning speed at which he takes on the opponents’ defense and how he finds the ease to put the ball beyond the reach of goalkeepers.
Salah’s eight goals in 12 Champions League games helped Liverpool to their ninth final of the competition. He is more certain to win the Golden Boot in the Premier League this campaign, topping the scorer’s chart with 22 goals, a feat Benzema though has also already accomplished in Spain.
He might not have been as prolific as Benzema, but the Egyptian king has been consistent. He netted 31 goals in 51 matches in the last campaign and has picked up the Football Writers Association Men’s Player Of The Year Award in April. The 29-year-old has personally argued his case, saying he is not only the best in his position at Liverpool or any other team, but he is the best in the world.
Mane too has been on fire. Both Africans have particularly dragged attention to themselves this season because of sustaining their level of destruction of other teams, especially in the league, and how they have made Liverpool formidable. The Senegalese have scored 22 goals in 48 matches for the Jurgen Klopp’s side this campaign.
Mane’s exploits with the Terenga Lions could even position him better for the highly coveted Ballon d’Or. The 30-year-old helped his country win its first-ever Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in Cameroon earlier this year. He was also crucial to ensuring they picked a ticket to the 2022 World Cup against Egypt, whom they also beat to lift their maiden AFCON title. Ex-footballers, including former Manchester United goalkeeper, Edwin van der Saar, have tipped the former Southampton star to win the prestigious individual prize.
It is a World Cup year and Qatar is the venue. Benzema will be on the plane with the Les Blues to the Middle East for the tournament, same as Mane for Senegal, bearing no injuries to either or both players. However, Salah will be absent at the first Mundial to be played in the region.
As seen in the past, the tournament could, without doubt, play some role in the crowing of the new best footballer, with the regular politicking behind the stage. But first, we await the outcome of the battle in France; the second final between Liverpool and Real in four years. The stakes are higher for the three, maybe more for their clubs. Liverpool is chasing a seventh title, while the Spanish champions are eyeing a record-extending 14th title.
What's Your Reaction?
Ashaolu Olufemi is a graduate of mass communication from Kaduna Polytechnic, and also a member of NIPR. His love for media and writing has become stronger with experience over the years.