PARIS (AP) " Can Emmanuel Macron save Karim Benzema?
Banned from the national team since November 2015 because of his suspected involvement in a corruption scandal, the Real Madrid striker may have found an unexpected supporter in the new French president.
Benzema told L'Equipe newspaper on Wednesday that he met Macron before he started his political career and that they "stayed a bit in touch via messages."
Benzema, the most talented striker of his generation, is facing charges relating to an extortion scam over a sex tape featuring France teammate Mathieu Valbuena. The case has been dragging on, with Benzema suspected of pressuring Valbuena to deal with blackmailers.
When the story broke in 2015, Benzema faced a deluge of criticism and then Prime Minister Manuel Valls landed a heavy blow when he said the former Lyon player had "no place" in the national team. Former French President Francois Hollande was also quoted as saying in a book last year that Benzema was not an example of morality.
Benzema said he is not expecting Macron to intervene in his favor, but hopes the new president won't pillory him.
"Maybe he'll speak about me in better words," Benzema said. "When your name is quoted by the prime minister (Valls), then by the French president (Hollande), it gets difficult."
The 29-year-old Benzema, who will feature in his third Champions League final next month when Madrid takes on Juventus, added that he met Macron "three or four times" and had dinner with him.
Benzema has achieved another excellent season with Madrid and believes there is no obvious sporting reason for his repeated absence from France coach Didier Deschamps' lists of players. Benzema, whose last game with France dates back to October 2015, is not expected to make the cut when Deschamps announces his players for France's next three games on Thursday.
"If the coach tells me straight into the eyes that it is because of soccer, then I will keep working," said Benzema, who has 27 international goals in 81 appearances. "If it's for another reason, then he should tell it to my face, and I will be done with him."