Karim Benzema and Alexia Putellas win the Ballon d’Or

Paris –

Karim Benzema won the men’s Ballon d’Or for the first time on Monday after a brilliant season with Real Madrid.

Spain player Alexia Putellas won the Women’s Cup for the second consecutive year after another outstanding season with Barcelona.

Benzema had his best season so far in Madrid, finishing as top scorer in both leagues. He scored 44 times for Madrid, including 15 in Europe’s top competition, and tied with Raul Gonzalez as the club’s second-highest scorer behind Cristiano Ronaldo.

At 34, Benzema became the oldest winner since the first recipient in 1956, Stanley Matthews.

“Age is just a number to me,” he says. “People are now playing into old age and I still have this burning desire. It’s that drive that has kept me going and never let up.”

Benzema won ahead of Sadio Mane and Manchester City playmaker Kevin De Bruyne. Mane played for Liverpool last season and joined Bayern Munich in the summer.

“I’m really proud, it’s a lot of work and a childhood dream come true,” said Benzema.

He succeeded Lionel Messi, who won the award for the seventh time last year to extend the record but was not among the nominees this time after his debut season at Paris Saint-Germain.

For the first time this year, the Ballon d’Or was based on performances from the previous season. Previously, it had been awarded based on performance over the calendar years.

Awarded by France Football magazine, the Ballon d’Or has been awarded to men for 66 years. The women’s cup was launched in 2018, both were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.

Benzema became the fifth Frenchman to win it, after Raymond Kopa, Michel Platini, Jean-Pierre Papin and Zinedine Zidane, who was crowned in 1998, the year France won their first World Cup.

Benzema was not part of the France squad that triumphed at the 2018 World Cup in Russia but, barring an injury, will feature next month’s tournament in Qatar.

After a nearly six-year hiatus following his involvement in a sextape scandal, Benzema was recalled by France coach Didier Deschamps ahead of last year’s European Championships and has played regularly ever since.

“There were much more difficult moments for me when I wasn’t selected (with France) and I didn’t give up,” Benzema said after Zidane, his former Madrid coach, presented him with the trophy. “I’m really proud of my career. This is the people’s golden ball.”

Benzema led an attack that also included Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo and played a crucial role last season in guiding Madrid to a record-breaking 14th European title and his fifth since joining from Lyon in 2009. The Frenchman was the tournament’s top scorer and found the net when it mattered, with 10 of his goals in the knockout rounds.

Putellas scored 42 goals and provided 22 assists last season. She was the first player to win the award twice.

With Barcelona she won the Spanish league and reached the final of the Champions League. She has been out since July after injuring her left knee and undergoing surgery on the eve of the European Women’s Championship.

“When I got injured I didn’t think I would be here today, but it makes me proud to be rewarded for all the hard work,” she said. “I miss playing and doing what I love to do so much.”

Putellas beat Arsenal and England strikers Beth Mead and Chelsea and Australia’s Sam Kerr at the awards ceremony in Paris. A jury of international journalists selected the winners.

At other awards, the Kopa Trophy for Best Under-21 Player went to 18-year-old Barcelona midfielder Gavi, while Robert Lewandowski won the Gerd Muller Award for Best Striker of the Year.

The Lev Yashin Award for Best Goalkeeper went to Real Madrid’s Thibaut Courtois.

Ballon d’Or organizers added a humanitarian award named after the late Brazilian midfielder Socrates. The trophy went to Mane for his charity work in Senegal, including building a hospital and making donations to schools.