Paris, Dec 13: Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema has been voted the French player of the year by France Football magazine after scoring 32 goals in 56 matches for club and country in 2011.
Benzema, who scored crucial goals to help France qualify for next year's European Championship, won the magazine's vote ahead of Barcelona defender Eric Abidal and Lyon goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, who was third.
“When I see the former No. 1's, the likes of (Zinedine) Zidane, (Thierry) Henry and other great players, it makes me feel proud,” Benzema told France Football on Tuesday.
Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri, last year's winner, finished in fourth place.
The 23-year-old Benzema scored after just 21 seconds in Saturday's “clasico” against Barcelona, but it was not enough as Madrid lost 3-1.
Benzema has scored 13 goals in all competitions so far for Madrid this season.
He has set his sights on winning FIFA's player of the year award, also known as the Golden Ball, in the future.
Barcelona forward Lionel Messi won the award the last two years and is favorite to beat Cristiano Ronaldo, Benzema's Madrid teammate, to win it again.
“Every year I try and get closer to (winning) the Golden Ball,” Benzema told France Football. “I want to walk in Zizou's (Zidane's) footsteps.”
Zidane has tipped Benzema to “go very far” in his career, while Madrid president Florentino Perez was glowing in his praise, saying he is “convinced we have someone on our hands who will become one of the best football players in history.”
Benzema's Madrid career got off to a difficult start when he joined from Lyon three seasons ago.
But he has finally won over coach Jose Mourinho, who was sometimes ruthless in his assessment of Benzema's shortcomings last season. France coach Laurent Blanc joined Mourinho in criticizing Benzema, saying he needed to shed weight in order to fulfill his potential.
Rather than sulk, Benzema lost considerable weight and traded in his nonchalant approach for a more steely attitude.
“At the start of the year, we couldn't imagine Karim would reach the level he's at today,” Mourinho told France Football.
“But thanks to his hard work, his efforts, his character, he's managed to achieve this new status.”
The turning point in Benzema's Madrid career came between February and March this year, when he scored 10 goals in an eight-game spell, many of them clinically taken. That also won him the respect of the Madrid fans.
He has not looked back since and is now Mourinho's first choice in attack alongside Ronaldo, with Argentina striker Gonzalo Higuain now behind Benzema in Madrid's pecking order.