Karim Benzema virtually ruled out a return to France at a later stage in his career in a wide-ranging interview in which he also discussed his continued absence from the national team.
Real Madrid signed the striker from Lyon, where he had won four Ligue 1 titles, in 2009, for an initial fee of £30million. Since then he has become the club’s fourth-highest all-time scorer, trailing only Cristiano Ronaldo – who joined the same summer as Benzema – Raul, and Alfredo di Stefano.
Though a dip in form last year prompted speculation that he could leave Madrid, he has bounced back this season to score 30 goals, and his 21 league goals are enough to put him joint-second in La Liga’s scoring charts for the season with one game left to play.
That return to form has put all talk of a move to rest, and even though Los Blancos are set to sign a striker this summer it will be to complement Benzema rather than immediately replace him, as the 31-year-old has been Madrid’s only consistent scorer this season.
And Benzema wants to continue to play at “the best club in the world” instead of entertain talk of a return to his home country.
“Come back to play in France? I am in the best club in the world,” he said on French TV show Quotidien. “It’s hard, I always want to play at the highest level.
“In France, I only have Olympique Lyonnais in my heart, where I left such a great image. I would love to leave it as such. At this moment, the answer is no.”
Despite his success at Madrid – he has won four Champions League titles and two La Liga triumphs during a glittering decade in the capital, in a total haul of 17 trophies – Benzema has been in exile from the French national team following a dispute over his supposed involvement in the alleged extortion of former France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena.
His last appearance for France came in 2015, meaning he missed out as the team won the World Cup last summer – but Benzema insists he has no regrets.
“The French national team has a new group — a new generation. They are world champions. It is what it is and it must be respected,” he said.
“I saw the final in Lyon at my mom’s house — with my family. Because I’m close to (Madrid team-mate Raphael) Varane I was happy.
“I would have loved to be there, which is normal for any footballer passionate for the game.
“I’ve had my great moments in Real Madrid, but it’s also good that they [France] won this World Cup. I don’t have a single regret.”
Bale has been absent since last month’s defeat to local rivals Rayo Vallecano but coach Zidane has confirmed the 29-year-old will be back in the squad for the visit of Betis.
With speculation rife that Bale’s six-year stay in Spain could be about to end, the match may well be the last time he is seen in Madrid colours.
Zidane refused to speculate about what the summer might hold for the club’s record signing, though, saying: “He’ll be part of the squad tomorrow and that’s all I can tell you.
“You’ll see the team that we put out. I don’t know whether this will be his last game.
“We’re at the end of the season and next year there’ll be changes, but I don’t know whether this will be his last game or not”.
Bale is not the only Madrid player whose future is uncertain as the Spanish giants lick their wounds after a campaign which, aside from winning the FIFA Club World Cup in December, has been a huge disappointment.
The likes of Keylor Navas, Toni Kroos and Isco have been linked with moves away as Madrid look to regroup after failing to mount a genuine La Liga title challenge or reach either the Champions League or Copa del Rey finals.
The 13-time European champions have already lost 11 times in La Liga this season – their worst record this millennium – and are certain to finish third, well behind arch-rivals Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
It has been a tough time for a club used to winning silverware and Zidane, who became the team’s third coach of the season when he returned to the helm in March, is now hoping his side can at least finish on a positive note.
The Frenchman told his pre-match press conference as reported by the Spanish media: “We want to sign off with a good performance and a win in front of our fans.
“They always win a lot of things here, and it’s very difficult when you’re not playing for anything, but we want to have a good game against a good Betis side who will also want to finish the season well.”
Betis travel to the capital knowing a victory would guarantee them at least 10th place in the table.
They claimed a 1-0 win on their last to visit to the Bernabeu, Antonio Sanabria netting a dramatic late winner in September 2017, and coach Quique Setien is hoping for something similar this weekend.
He said on his club’s website: “It’s a very important game for us because it could allow us to gain a place in the table and leave a good memory at the end of the season at such a difficult stadium.”
The 27-year-old has endured a tricky campaign since his summer move from Chelsea and was even dropped when Zinedine Zidane returned to the club in March.
However, Courtois has regained his spot over the popular Keylor Navas in recent fixtures with news from Madrid also confirming the Costa Rican stopper will depart over the summer.
That leaves Courtois as the undisputed No1 at the Bernabeu and despite a tough season both for player and club, the Belgium international says he is thriving under the pressure.
“It would be good to give one last joy to the fans, go on vacation with a victory and finish the year well to prepare the next season,” Courtois said in an interview with Codere [h/t Goal.com].
“We are training with a lot of enthusiasm because we know it was not the best season, but we are improving, we are training very hard to prepare for the next season and we are looking forward to finishing well.
“It’s very nice, it’s a dream to be able to play in a big stadium, when I’m in the goal and I see the Bernabeu from there it’s very beautiful.
“It gives more adrenaline, more desire to play well, it’s pressure too but I like to play like that.
“To the fans I ask you to continue supporting us, we know that this year was not the best but the following year we will go for all of them [trophies] again.”
Los Blancos will finish third in La Liga this term and close out their campaign by hosting Real Betis on Sunday.