When you wear No9 for Real Madrid CF, pressure is just something you have to live with. When the spotlight has become white hot Karim Benzema has looked to his family to escape the glare. On the occasions when his game has faltered, he could always rely on his mother to insist that he was still worthy of the famous white shirt.
These days, he looks to the younger members of the Benzema clan to bolster his confidence. "Pressure has been part of my life since I was at Lyon, though it is more intense here because this is the best club in the world," he said. "I don't take the pressure into the game with me, otherwise I would freeze and wouldn't be able to play at all. I get rid of it by chatting with my little brother."
When he plays without tension, the results are there for all to see. In the three years since Benzema left Olympique Lyonnais for Madrid he has evolved into a more complete, more serene, attacker. His support network within the club, which includes coach José Mourinho, Zinédine Zidane and club president Florentino Pérez, has helped him to express his talent freely.
Yet like many actors who dazzle under the spotlight only to close up when the cameras stop turning, the France striker is nowhere near as confident away from the pitch. "In general I'm quite timid," he added. "I think that when people get to know me, they find out that I like to have fun and that I'm always laughing, but when I don't know the person I stay in my corner."
Mourinho has helped Benzema overcome his stage fright with a mixture of man-management and tactics. Benzema says the Portuguese has made him consider his psychology during a match. "The coach made me work a lot on the mental part of my game," said the 24-year-old. "I'm now stronger in this respect. I've had many ups and downs since I arrived in Madrid, but I'm still here. Mourinho is a great coach and he's supporting me."
Benzema is in optimistic mood as he prepares for the next UEFA Champions League match, at Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday. Is the experience any different to other games? "It's about the environment. There is more pressure." So does he have a special routine or does someone help him prepare mentally? "No, I have no one for that," he concludes. "I am just here with my little brother, my agent and we have a laugh."
For more from Karim Benzema, view the video above or read the interview in full in the new edition of Champions Matchday, the official magazine of the UEFA Champions League.
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