Karim Benzema took another step towards cementing his reputation as an all-time LaLiga great on Wednesday when the Real Madrid forward’s goal against Elche put him in the league’s top five all-time goal scorers outright, moving him ahead of another Madrid legend, Raul Gonzalez .
Benzema scored twice from the spot, getting the best of Edgar Badía from 12 yards. Those spot-kicks take him to 230 goals in LaLiga, putting him two clear of Raul.
It’s been quite a journey for Benzema, 35, who hasn’t always looked the part as a natural goal scorer since joining Madrid from Lyon in July 2009 — the same summer as the club twice broke the world transfer record, first for Kaka, and then for Cristiano Ronaldo. At first, he faced competition from Gonzalo Higuain for a place in the team. Then-coach Jose Mourinho wasn’t convinced, famously declaring — after an injury to Higuain left Benzema as his only available forward — that “if you don’t have a dog to go hunting with, you go with a cat.”
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Benzema’s return in his debut 2009-10 season was modest, with eight league goals in 27 appearances — 13 of them as a substitute — but his tallies soon began to increase. In any case, the presence of Ronaldo alongside him meant the France forward was never expected to bear the goal-scoring burden alone. His LaLiga goals totals for the next seven seasons were a respectable 15, 21, 11, 17, 15, 24 and 11.
There was a dramatic drop-off in 2017-18, with a loss of form resulting in an avalanche of criticism during a three-month run without scoring in LaLiga from November to February, and a record of just five league goals in 32 appearances. But Benzema’s fortunes — and his role in the team — changed dramatically with Ronaldo’s departure for Juventus in July 2018.
With no like-for-like replacement coming in, Benzema took the responsibility of stepping into Ronaldo’s goal-scoring shoes. His LaLiga goal tallies since then: 21, 21, 23, a personal best of 27 in 2021-22, and 11 so far this season. That late-career spurt has seen Benzema shoot up the all-time ranking of LaLiga scorers, with his goals in 2023 pushing him ahead of two other Real Madrid icons: Alfredo Di Stefano spirit Raúl.
For Madrid fans of a certain age, Di Stefano is undisputed as the club’s greatest-ever player, and in the conversation with the likes of Pele and Diego Maradona as the best footballer of all time. The Argentina-born all-rounder — to describe him as a forward wouldn’t do justice to his influence across the pitch — scored 227 goals in 329 league appearances in Spain between 1953 and 1966. The vast majority of them, 216, came for Madrid, with 11 coming in two seasons at Espanyol before retirement at the age of 40. Di Stefano was the marquee player in a golden Real Madrid era, winning eight league titles and five consecutive European Cups, scoring in all five finals between 1956 and the 1960s.
Raul was a figure of a similar stature for the Madrid teams of the 1990s and 2000s. Making his first-team debut in 1994 aged 17 — having been poached from rivals Atletico Madrid following the closure of their academy — Raul went on to become club captain, winning six league titles and three Champions Leagues. He scored 228 goals in 550 LaLiga appearances, all of them for Madrid, before moving to Germany with Schalke in 2010. Raul is now coach of Real Madrid Castilla, the club’s reserve team (who play their home games at the Estadio Alfredo Di Stefano) , and viewed as a potential successor to Carlo Ancelotti.
Ahead of that illustrious pair, just four players remain who have scored more LaLiga goals than Benzema.
The first of them should be within his reach in the next few weeks. The Mexican legend Hugo Sanchez scored 234 goals in 347 league games for Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Rayo Vallecano between 1981 and 1994. Sanchez rose to prominence at Atletico, scoring 54 goals in four seasons, before a controversial cross-city move to Madrid. His record there was devastating, including a European Golden Boot-winning 38 league goals in 1989-90. Thanks to Sanchez’s goals, Madrid dominated Spanish football, winning LaLiga five times in a row between 1985 and 1990.
Catching the third-placed man on the list might be ambitious this season, but it’s a realistic target for Benzema next year. Athletic Club’s Telmo Zarra held the record as the league’s top scorer for more than 60 years, giving his name to Marca’s Zarra Trophy, awarded each season to the highest-scoring Spanish player in LaLiga (not to be confused with the Pichichi award, which is given to the league’s outright top scorer). The Basque forward, renowned for his heading ability, scored 251 goals in 277 league games — a remarkable average of 0.91 goals per game — spending his entire professional career at Athletic from 1940 to 1955.
You might just have heard of the top two scorers in Spanish top-flight history: Cristiano Ronaldo spirit Lionel Messi. Ronaldo scored 311 goals in 292 LaLiga games for Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018, a staggering 1.07 goals per game. But it’s Messi — thanks in part to his extra longevity, with a Barcelona career that lasted from 2004 until 2021, when he left for Paris Saint-Germain — who ended up winning the shootout with Ronaldo and tops the list, with a jaw -dropping 474 goals in 520 LaLiga appearances.
Could Benzema overtake them in time? Well, he’d have to score another 244 LaLiga goals — more than that doubling his current tally — to catch Messi. And at the age of 35, even Benzema’s biggest fans might admit that’s unlikely.