Inside story of Deschamps’ decision to recall Benzema after bitter France feud

Karim Benzema is back in France's squad for the first time since 2015 and, after featuring in their two warm-up games, he could start in their Euro 2020 opener against Germany.

Benzema's return comes after he enjoyed a prolific season in front of goal for Real Madrid, netting 30 goals in 46 appearances in all competitions.

The 33-year-old first made his debut for France in 2007 and he remained a key member of the international setup in the years that followed, representing them at three major tournaments.

However, Benzema was axed from the France squad in 2015 after he was arrested by French police and questioned as part of an investigation into a blackmail case over a sex tape involving fellow player Mathieu Valbuena.

In December, the president of the French Football Federation, Noël Le Graët, announced that Benzema had been suspended and he would not be considered for France's Euro 2016 squad.

The case has dragged on and the public prosecutor's office in Versailles announced in January that Benzema will stand trial in October charged with conspiracy to attempt blackmail.

Giving his first public comments on the affair, Valbuena admitted feeling “deeply disappointed” that someone he considered a friend and team-mate might be involved in the alleged plot after Benzema encouraged him to meet one of the alleged blackmailers.

“He wasn’t aggressive, and he didn’t speak to me firmly, directly about money, but when you insist that I meet someone … hmmm. Personally, I’ve never known of anyone willing to destroy a video for free just because they love me! You can’t take people for idiots,” Valbuena told Le Monde at the time.

“Afterwards, he said several times that I was dealing with ‘big bandits’ and he added: ‘After all, the video is hot. If it was me, with my family and all … you’d have to be strong.’

“He would say: ‘I can introduce you to my friend …’ It kept coming back to that. Then when he was about to leave Karim said: ‘What shall I do? Shall I give him your number? Should I give you his number?’

“He was inciting me. He was saying, indirectly: ‘You will have to pay.’”

Benzema responded to his omission from France's Euro 2016 squad by telling Marca that he thought manager Didier Deschamps had "bowed to pressure from a racist part of France."

Deschamps later hit back at Benzema's accusation, telling RTL : "It's a stain. Even if with time it calms down a bit, I can't forget.

"It's not just about Karim Benzema. There are statements by other people too that have led to this violent act, which affects my family.

"When it concerns me, on my choices as coach, the tactics, the technical aspect, it has to be accepted and it does not matter.

"There, it crosses the white line. It touches my name, my family. For me, this is unacceptable.

"Saying certain things necessarily leads to verbal or physical aggression. I suffer the consequences. We cannot forget. I cannot forget. I will never forget."

Benzema was also left out of France's squad for the 2018 World Cup, which they went on to win, and he took aim at Le Graët.

Taking to Twitter ahead of the start of the tournament, Benzema wrote: "Mr Le Graët with all due respect, you have lost an opportunity to keep silent because I am discovering your true face which is not the one who said he loved me a lot and did not get involved in the selection and the choices of the coach !"

In 2019, Le Graët stated that Benzema's "adventure with France is over", prompting the forward to hit back once more and suggest he could switch allegiances to play for Algeria.

"Noel, I thought that you did not interfere with the decisions of the national team coach!" he 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."

Ultimately, nothing materialised and Benzema was brought back from the cold last month when he was named in France's squad for the Euros.

He made his first appearance for Les Bleus since August 2015 last month in their friendly game against Wales.

When quizzed on Benzema's return to the international fold, Deschamps refused to go into great detail but revealed that he had met with the striker and had a lengthy conversation.

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He said: "There were a few steps before he came back into the France team. But I won’t go into detail. It is between me and him.

"The first step was having the opportunity to meet and have a long talk. Then I went through a whole thinking process. So he’s here now.

"He is happy to be with us, I am happy to have him here, and so are the squad because our purpose is the same. We all want to be as competitive as possible.

"What can he bring to the team? What he does. What he’s been able to do with [Real Madrid] over the past few years, and what he used to do with France even if it was quite a long time ago and he is a different player now.

"He has improved, he is more mature, for sure. But that doesn’t just apply to Karim – it is the same for all players.

"It is a matter of experience. But he can do a lot. He is a leader from a technical point of view."

From Valbuena's point of view, he seemed to indicate a willingness to move on if Benzema made the first efforts to restart their relationship.

Valbuena said in November2019: "If he [Benzema] comes over and offers his hand, I'll shake it. I'm a man, I shake his hand, I look in his eyes.

"But I won't be the first to offer my hand. I'm going to see. Because maybe he won't give me his hand."

Away from the off-field controversy, Benzema has remained a prolific goalscorer and a serial winner in Madrid and, having missed out on France's World Cup triumph three years earlier, he will be hoping he can help his nation come out on top at the Euros.

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